The Northeast began their season a little earlier than usual and the fans came to show their support. In front of a standing-room-only, capacity-crowd, Erick Rudolph had events fall his way to take another indoor racing trophy back home to Ransomville, New York.
Luck indeed played a factor at the inaugural Allentown Indoor Race at the recently built PPL Center located in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. Rudolph maneuvered his way to the front in his heat race and then drew the pole. From there it appeared to be clear sailing, but like most top-performing cars, it took some tuning to get the Three-Quarter (TQ) Midget to be a winning one.
“Earlier on we were a so-so car, a top 10 car, and I knew it wasn’t going to be enough,” Rudolph told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We thought about it, made some changes; the track came to us at the same time, I was able to go out and start right from the pole, and drive smooth the whole race.”
Near the conclusion of the 40-lap feature, a longer green flag run added the need for Rudolph to navigate slower traffic. Nevertheless, it did not seem to hinder the soon to be 24-year-old driver who has been in the same situation several times now.
“Indoor racing there’s always going to be lapped cars,” Rudolph said. “You try to do it quick so the guy in second doesn’t have a chance to catch up to you, but it is part of the game.”
The driver in second late in the going was Davidson, North Carolina’s, Ryan Flores, regularly a tire changer for Penske Racing during the racing season. It appeared to be déjà vu from the most recent indoor race in Atlantic City last January.
Flores had to advance from eighth starting position and then contend with his longtime friend Jimmy Blewett to capture the runner-up spot before even setting his sights on the leader.
“I grew up, since I was 14, working for Jimmy and spotting for him,” Flores explained. “I knew he wasn’t going to be easy to pass, but it’s a pleasure to race with him. He’s my big brother.
“Once I realized he was all the way there I said ‘I’ve got to get up now; I can’t run him down’,” Blewett interjected regarding the ultimate pass for second, which involved Flores getting into the inside tires on the first couple attempts. “He’s got a race to win,” added Blewett.
“He says it every time we’re in the shop,” Flores continued about the battle with his teammate. “He sets them up; he does the work on it, and he says when we go to the track we’re there to race against each other.”
Mike Lichty was also able to get by Blewett in the closing laps and it was evident that he had one of the faster cars after some early race contact sent him toward the back of the field. Despite the ongoing skill to be consistent and stay out of the major wrecks, he suggested an option for restarts similar to the style the Innerkip, Ontario driver is used to in the ISMA Supermodifieds.
“I think we were actually quite comparable to the leaders at the end there,” Lichty mentioned. “It’s just tough with the way these guys drive and whatnot. I would like to see at the beginning, start double file, and after that just go single file. I think it would put on better racing.”
While the indoor track layout that most often serves as a hockey rink looks similar to others on the surface, Lichty went on to point out one unique trait that this newer surface had.
“Usually everybody prefers the inside at Atlantic City and Trenton, but here actually it seemed like the outside was an advantage, until you got single file and had to drive the track accordingly,” Lichty explained. “I think we learned some things and we’ll be pretty decent for AC.”
The Indoor Racing Series moves to the Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall in New Jersey in a few weeks. After one race in the books, drivers have been taking notes on what needs to be done to catch and pass Rudolph. At the same time, it still can sometimes come down to the luck of the draw.
“Hopefully I can pick a better pill and Erick doesn’t pick the pole, because it’s getting too easy every time he picks the pole,” said Flores, who lost the indoor points title in a tiebreaker with Rudolph a year ago. “We just have to figure out how to not get it tight at the end. It picks up a little bit of a push at the end. I probably could have went more; we’re going to figure it out and we’re going to keep running. It’s good to be consistent, but when he’s consistently winning that sucks.”
Meanwhile, Rudolph hopes to continue his success at a track he has won at multiple times, including last year’s Gamblers Classic victory which netted him his second Indoor TQ Midget Series championship.
“I definitely feel like we’ve got the momentum,” Rudolph said. “Honestly, I couldn’t say anything bad about the car right now. It did exactly what I wanted it to do in the race.”
As for Allentown, many echoed Rudolph’s statements about the successful first event that was put together at the PPL Center.
“It was great to see the packed stands out there and it seemed like everyone had a good time. Maybe we’ll be back.”
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Allentown Indoor Race Results
1 1 22 Erick Rudolph 40
2 8 15 Ryan Flores 40
3 9 1 Mike Lichty 40
4 3 76 Jimmy Blewett 40
5 16 7 Tim Buckwalter 40
6 12 74 Rob Neely 40
7 15 16 Anthony Sesely 40
8 21 07 Patrick Emerling 40
9 13 9 Jonathan Reid 40
10 22 8 Earl Paules 40
11 20 21 Bobby Holmes 40
12 14 38 Ryan Susice 39
13 23 9x Jimmy Zacharias 38
14 7 75 Lou Cicconi 27
15 4 49 Andy Jankowiak 27
16 17 449 Dakota Kessler 25
17 24 17 Patrick Van Varick 15
18 11 15i Sheldon Iudicello 15
19 6 323 Neal Williams 8
20 10 13 Ted Christopher 8
21 18 48 Matt Janisch 8
22 2 51 Justin Bonsignore 8
23 19 77 Alex Bright 6
24 5 27 Andrew Krause 1