BARBERVILLE, FL – Jan. 27, 2012 – Rick Eckert seemed to get his groove back at the end of last year’s UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Racing Equipment and rode the momentum to his first-ever World of Outlaws Late Model Series title.
This year the veteran star from York, Pa., hopes to step up his performance even more and return to his old winning ways at Volusia Speedway Park, which hosts six consecutive nights of DIRTcar Late Model racing from Feb. 20-25 as part of the 41st UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit. Four DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned events (Feb. 20, 21, 22 and 24) and two WoO LMS programs (Feb. 23 and 25) comprise the full-fender portion of the annual short-track spectacular in the Sunshine State.
“I gotta get back on a roll there,” Eckert said of the sprawling half-mile oval located less than a half-hour outside Daytona Beach, Fla. “We closed out last year’s (DIRTcar Nationals) strong, but it’s been a long time since we’ve won a race there. This year we’re gonna try to change that.”
For the eight-year period from 1999-2006, Eckert, 46, was a pretty solid bet to reach Victory Lane at least once during each edition of the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit. He captured seven Late Model features in that span, going winless only in his 2000 and 2003 trips to Florida.
Eckert’s run of success at Volusia was so impressive that he remains atop the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit win list since 1999 despite being shut out for the last five years. Only Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., who won his seventh career DIRTcar Nationals A-Main last year, matches Eckert’s checkered flag total.
“Volusia was really good to us for awhile,” said Eckert, whose triumphs came in DIRTcar UMP (five), UDTRA/Hav-A-Tampa (one) and unsanctioned (one) races. “I still like the place, but it feels like we haven’t won there in forever.”
Eckert certainly hasn’t been a non-factor since his last win at Volusia, on Feb. 17, 2006. Over the past five years he’s recorded seven top-five and 14 top-10 finishes during the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit, including runner-up outings in ’08 (WoO LMS) and ’09 and ’11 (DIRTcar UMP).
But the Volusia victory lull has proven frustrating for Eckert, never more so than during the first four nights of last year’s competition. He struggled to get his self-owned Team Zero by Bloomquist car up to speed, registering consecutive DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned feature finishes of 13 th, 24th and 17th and placing a quiet 13th in the WoO LMS season opener.
Eckert’s disappointing runs sent him into the final two evenings of last year’s action needing a turnaround not just for his morale but also, he quipped at the time, so he’d have “enough money to buy diesel fuel to get back home.” An engine change prior to Friday night’s competition got him back on track, propelling him to an uplifting second-place finish in the 40-lap DIRTcar UMP finale and a fifth-place finish in Saturday night’s 50-lap WoO LMS A-Main that put a badly-needed $7,050 in his pocket and set him off on a championship season.
“We started the week with a fresh motor, but we fought some issues with it and really struggled,” said Eckert. “I was too hard-headed to change it, but we finally changed to our other motor on Friday afternoon and we instantly ran better. It had laps on it, but it actually ran better and made our car better. It turned our week around.”
Not surprisingly, Eckert plans to go back to what worked for him during last year’s UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit.
“Right from the start of the week this year we’re gonna run a motor that’s similar to what we used the last two nights last year,” said Eckert. “It might not be the same exact motor, but it’ll be the same size and the same combo. We’ll probably run another motor at the first two tracks we go to (the season-opening WoO LMS events on Feb. 10-11 at Georgia’s Screven Motor Speedway and Feb. 16-18 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.) and then change to the one we think will be best for Volusia.”
Just over three months removed from clinching the $100,000 WoO LMS crown during the Lowes Foods World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C., Eckert is ready to begin another championship chase. He knows he can’t afford a slow jump out of the starting gate with the national tour running a record six events at three tracks during the month of February.
“Having more races in Georgia and Florida is good for the series, but it’s definitely harder on the regulars,” said Eckert, who has entered all 313 WoO LMS events contested since 2004. “There will be probably 60 or more cars at all six races, so we have to be on our game. You better get off to a good start this year or you’ll be in trouble.”
Eckert is confident that he’ll be in the mix for checkered flags at Volusia, a D-shaped track he always enjoys visiting.
“It’s a fun place,” said Eckert, who displayed his newly-skinned No. 24 in the DIRTcar Racing booth during last weekend’s VP Racing Fuels Motorsports 2012 show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa. “It’s big, but yet it’s still racy. I think because it’s round it just races good – usually side-by-side racing, which is cool.
“It’s been really good the last several years,” he continued. “It didn’t use to be as racy as it is now. I remember being there when guys would draw bad (time trial) numbers and then just didn’t race that night. But now the racetrack’s good enough where you can draw a bad number and still rebound. They (the track-prep crew) just do a lot more work (to the surface) than they used and that’s great for us and the fans.”
Of course, Eckert isn’t merely a proponent of the racing at Volusia. He’s likes the whole atmosphere that envelopes the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit.
“It’s always fun to race in front of a big crowd,” said Eckert, “and it’s fun to get to see all the (DIRTcar Big-Block) Modified guys (who race from Feb. 22-25) that I probably only see one time a year. We’ll hang out with them after the races, cook out a little bit, have a few beers and talk about racing. That’s what makes the week even more fun.”
The UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit is a 12-night short-track blockbuster that features nightly doubleheaders. Joining the DIRTcar UMP Late Models (30-lap A-Mains paying $7,000 to win on Feb. 20, 21 and 22 and a 40-lap, $10,000-to-win finale on Feb. 24) and WoO LMS (50-lap A-Mains for $10,000 to win on Feb. 23 and 25) on the schedule are the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series (Feb. 17-19); the UNOH All-Star Sprint Car Series (Feb. 15-16); the Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds (Feb. 22-25); and the UMP Modifieds (Feb. 14-21).
For more information on the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit – including special pricing on advance-sale tickets and details of the ‘Free Pit Pass With Every Ticket’ offer that allows fans to get up-close-and-personal with the race teams every night of the DCN – visit www.DIRTcarNationals.com or call 704-795-7223, 386-985-4402 or 877-395-8606 (ticket hotline).
For more information on the WoO LMS, visit www.worldofoutlaws.com.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is brought to fans across the country by many important sponsors and partners, including Arizona Sport Shirts (Official Apparel Company), Armor All (Official Car Care Products), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), STP (Official Fuel Treatment), Vicci (Official Uniform), VP Racing (Official Racing Fuel), DirtonDirt.com (Hard Charger Award), McCarthy’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning (Raye Vest Memorial Pill Draw Award), Chizmark Larson Insurance, Factory Value Parts and RacingJunk.com; in addition to contingency sponsors Comp Cams, Eibach Springs, JE Pistons, MSD Ignition, Ohlins Shocks, Pro Power Engines, Quartermaster, Rocket Chassis, R2C Performance, Superflow Dynos, Wix Filters and Wrisco Aluminum.