Rick Eckert‘s perspective as a race car driver has changed through the years. He entered the racing world as an exuberant grinder, pushing to rise through the motorsport ranks in ARCA and on dirt. That competitive fire and enthusiasm remain to this day, but now at 52 and on the back-nine of his career, Eckert has mellowed.
“I don’t worry about as much stuff as I once did,” Eckert said this past weekend at Port Royal Speedway. “But I still have the desire to race and win. As you get older, you get a little [calmer] as you once were.”
Eckert has raced over 30 years on the Super Late Model scene and will keep going as long as he’s competitive. He’s been borderline competitive so far in 2018, mustering just one top five in 15 races leading up to Memorial Day weekend. Eckert, a World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series regular for the 15th straight year, used the WoO off-weekend to race in the Northeast Ultimate Super Late Model Series doubleheader at Port Royal Speedway and regain victory mojo.
He did just that, romping the field on Saturday and Sunday for back-to-back victories as the WoO tour resumes Friday night at 411 Motor Speedway in Tennessee.
“You have bad streaks and good streaks. We haven’t been on a great streak. We’ve been OK, but not great. [This weekend], our car was really nice all night long,” Eckert said. “We made the changes the right changes.”
Eckert led every circuit of the 30-lap and 35-lap features, winning by sizeable margins (4.766 and 7.000 seconds) in two different conditions. On Saturday, temperatures touched 90 degrees, which made the track dry and slick. On Sunday, temperatures dipped below the 70’s and a rain shower made for a sticky, blazing-fast surface.
“What’s nice is it was two different conditions. We definitely learned something [about our car],” Eckert said. “That was why we came: To learn some stuff and get better. Don’t get me wrong, we came to try and win. That was why we came.”
It was no national touring event, but the NE Ultimate SLM Series attracts some of the stiffest regional racers around. Eckert topped Hall of Famer Gary Stuhler by nearly five seconds Saturday. Pennsylvania perennials Dylan Yoder and Jeff Rine followed, and nine-time WoO Sprint Series champion Donny Schatz finished fifth.
Jason Covert, Coleby Frye, Kyle Lee, Jared Miley, Dan Stone and Ross Robinson — all winners at the national level or track champion in the Mid-Atlantic area — raced, too.
“There were some really tough local guys here. Don’t kid yourself,” Eckert said. “There’s six or eight of them that could’ve won this race. … We beat some really good cars.”
Eckert is hoping this momentum carries into the summer months. Through 10 races on the WoO tour, he has just one top five and sits fifth in the standings, 90 points behind leader Chris Madden. In his 15-year WoO run, he’s finished outside of the top five season standings just twice and has won five or more races 10 times during the span. And for the first time since 2014, Eckert goes into June with zero WoO wins. It also doesn’t help five of the 15 WoO events have been rained out.
“It’s just been a nightmare weather-wise,” Eckert said. “It’s not helping out for sure.”
Fortunately for Eckert, the WoO season isn’t even a third of the way through. Thirty-six races remain on the schedule for the York, Pa., native looking to capture his first series title since 2011. This past weekend obviously doesn’t count toward his WoO standing, but it was an important step nonetheless.
“It’s awesome,” Eckert said, “because it sucks not winning.”