CANANDAIGUA, NY – Observed nationally as ‘Decoration Day’ for the first time in 1868, the Memorial holiday tradition has long been established as a time to honor and remember those U.S. military personnel who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces in their pursuit of preserving the many freedoms we enjoy today.
Third-generation standout Erick Rudolph will certainly recall Nardozzi Companies / Sherwin Williams Paint Night at Land Of Legends Raceway held the final weekend in May 2023, first watching his father Charlie Rudolph earn space on the Wall of Fame, then fittingly charging to victory in the Pepsi Big-Block Modified main boasting power from an engine prepared by his grandfather Jim Rudolph.
“Thank all the crew, have a few extra because its my dad’s night tonight, he’s proud of it,” Rudolph remarked after scoring his 16th career Big-Block win to put him within one of Charlie on Canandaigua’s all-time list. “We’re just looking ahead to some races coming up. Like how the momentum is for our team right now and hopefully keep it going.”
The May 27 ‘Saturday Spectacular’ was just as memorable for open-wheel veteran Karl Comfort as he rallied to score his 24th career victory at Canandaigua in the Stirling Lubricants Sportsman feature while full-fender favorite C.J. Guererri reached the winner’s circle at the Ontario Co. Fairgrounds oval for the first-time in six years following his Eldredge & Sons Scrap Recycling Street Stock triumph. Reigning division points champion Frank ‘Bubba’ Burnell Jr. returned to victory lane in Lloyd’s Contracting Hobby Stock competition and Kyle Swart made his first-ever appearance at the fairgrounds worhtwhile in the Maguire Ford of Canandaigua New Legends Sportsman finale.
In contrast, the final show of the month on the Canandaigua clay is one that rookie wingman Dillon Paddock would rather forget as his mount came up light on the scales to deny him his first-ever win and hand over the MighTea Boba 305 Sprint Car A-Main trophy to Ethan Gray.
As recipient of the weekly 50/50 benefit fund on this night, American Foundation For Suicide Prevention also shared the spotlight as LOLR continued its season-long 70th Anniversary celebration of auto racing.
Charlie Rudolph became the newest addition to the Land of Legends Wall of Fame on Saturday as the Western New York chauffeur was recognized amid family, friends and fans in a special pre-race ceremony held behind the main grandstands.
Joined on this momentous occasion by his father Jim, himself a former Modified champion on asphalt, and son Erick, currently a top Canandaigua contender, ‘Chargin’ Charlie also collected checkered flags on both surfaces. After earning his Mechanical Engineering degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology, he debuted in dirt track racing in 1980 and over the next eight seasons racked up 49 wins and four track titles; including 17 Big-Block victories at LOLR where he finished among the top-3 in points each year from 1983-86 utilizing a home-built chassis.
Rudolph book-ended his career with Super DIRT Week rookie of the race (finished 7th) laurels in 1980 and the coveted overall Mr. DIRT Championship in 1986, ultimately culminating with his selection into the New York State Stock Car Hall of Fame (2010) and Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame (2014).
A consummate competitor on the blacktop, closer to his Ransomville (NY) home he captured three point titles and is credited with 34 feature wins at Lancaster Speedway —Jim & Erick both with 4 victories at the same Gunnville Road oval— where he was rookie of the year in 1978. He also drove briefly in NASCAR’s formerly named Winston Cup circuit in 1987 with his highest finish of 13th-place registered at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. He retired from driving in 1995 and today remains owner and crew chief for Erick, while Jim continues to keep the family tradition alive providing home-made power under the hood.
Rudolph now joins 2018 WoF charter members Donald ‘Dutch’ Hoag, ‘Barefoot’ Bob McCreadie, DIRT Motorsports founder Glenn Donnelly and still active ace Alan Johnson, Class of ’19 inductees Steve Pesarek, Milt Johnson, Gary Montgomery and Gary & Donna Spaid, ’21 honorees Steve Paine, Paul Guererri, Mike Welch and Fred Taney, along with last year’s recipients Danny Johnson, Gary Tomkins, Tom & Kim Ewing and Brad Ovens.
Three more inductees will be honored in Canandaigua’s Class of ’23 on June 24, July 22 and August 12 as the LOLR legacy carries on at the fairgrounds.
Making his own mark in speedway lore at the fairgrounds, the youngest Rudolph racer had his #25 NMCC-Stirling Lubricants-Highmark-Big Woods Tobacco/Bicknell ride dialed in from the start. Despite winning his qualifying heat, the first handicapped feature of the season put him in starting position 13 yet his drive to the front in the 30-lap feature proved anything but unlucky.
Pole-sitter Daniel Johnson Jr. led the 25-car starting field in the early going before front row partner Zach Payne grabbed the top spot on a lap four restart. Rudolph cracked the Top-5 by lap 10 and methodically carved his way through traffic running both high and low as lanes opened up to his liking.
By the midway point veteran Pat Ward had pulled into second followed by fast-moving Alex Payne while Rudolph continued to run down the leaders as the laps clicked off. Ward jumped the turn two cushion on lap 19, opening the door for both Payne and Rudolph to advance, and Rudolph took over second with 10 to go.
As the front runners rounded turns three and four on lap 22, Zach Payne hung low yet got caught behind the lapped car of Derrick Podsiadlo, giving high-riding Rudolph the room he needed to forge the final lead change. Two-time defending points champion Justin Haers rallied to steal third from Alex Payne on the final lap while Ward rounded out the front-five ahead of season-opening winner Peter Britten in the fast-paced affair.
“Had a really good car in the heat race, come feature time had to change the set-up a little bit from the week before due to the different track conditions,” noted Rudolph, who overtook early season points leader Britten atop the current standings. “Really happy with how the car ran tonight and hopefully we can keep it rolling.”
“Seemed like (car) really wanted to be on the top but when I had to run the bottom it certainly was hooked up down there. The car the crew provides for me is really stable and it stays underneath me,” added Rudolph, who pocketed an additional $250 bonus from Speed Connection for his second straight win.
Land of Legends Raceway Event Summary – May 27, 2023
70th Anniversary Season Celebration
Nardozzi Companies and Sherwin Williams Paint
present ‘Saturday Spectacular’
Pepsi Big-Block Modified
*Feature (30 laps): 1. 25-Erick Rudolph ($2,000), 2. 7z-Zach Payne, 3. 3-Justin Haers, 4. 70a-Alex Payne, 5. 42p-Pat Ward, 6. 21a-Peter Britten, 7. 27j-Danny Johnson, 8. 34-Kevin Root, 9. 19-Tim Fuller, 10. 27jr-Daniel Johnson Jr., 11. 14j-Alan Johnson, 12. 39-Kyle Coffey, 13. 19w-Justin Wright, 14. 70p-Eldon Payne Jr., 15. 27z-Dylan Zacharias, 16. 11j-James Sweeting, 17. 88-Dave Allen, 18. 32r-Zach Sobotka, 19. 132-Dalton Martin, 20. 11n-Ricky Newton, 21. 21-Derrick Podsiadlo, 22. 29ny-Greg Birosh, 23. 18-Ryan Macartney, 24. 7-Troy Sperring, 25. 17-Marcus Dinkins, 22g-Gil Tegg Jr.(DNS).
Heats (8 laps)
#1: A.Johnson, Haers, Britten, Wright, Sweeting, Dinkins, Zacharias, Sobotka, Sperring.
#2: Root, D.Johnson Jr, Ward, Allen, Fuller, Macartney, Newton, Tegg, Podsiadlo.
#3: Rudolph, A.Payne, Z.Payne, D.Johnson, Martin, Coffey, E.Payne, Birosh.