Column By: DYLAN FRIEBEL / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – When it comes to racing, everyone who puts the helmet on and straps in to a racecar wants to win. On Saturday night at Lebanon Valley, John Ruchel was ‘oh so close’ to that elusive first career win. He was two corners away.
While the night was long and crazy at the Valley of Speed, it featured a few flips, some rain, and a little bit of other stuff, but the Modified feature had a $5,000 payday for the winner.
When the green flag flew, it was Brian Berger and John Ruchel who led the field to green. After a long rain delay, the track was tacky and had lots of grip. With such a fast track there wasn’t a lot of slipping and sliding and it looked as if it would be a fairly caution-free event.
That it was until the leader Ruchel was coming to take the white flag. Kolby Schroder slowed on the frontstretch with a flat tire, bringing the caution out and put seventh-place starting LJ Lombardo and Keith Flach on his heels.
On the ensuing restart it seemed as if John had gotten a good launch but a good run through one and two and down the backstretch into three. That’s when Lombardo threw a slide job, beating Ruchel to the line to pick up the win.
For Ruchel, this was a tough one to swallow as he’s what you would call a journeyman driver.
“We were doing pretty good up the caution,” Ruchel said. “We needed to get a good restart and I didn’t know where they were. I have never led this many laps before. It really sucked to see that caution come out. On the restart, I thought if I got a good restart and protected the bottom, we would be alright. But, he (Lombardo) went down in three and did a ‘slide for life’ type of deal and I never saw it coming. This is going to burn for a while.”
Racing can be one of the most bittersweet sports in the world and Ruchel, once again, got a bitter taste.
“I’ve never won anything in my career besides some heats,” he said. “Second place was our best a couple years ago. 15 laps was the most I’ve ever led before tonight. When I saw five to go, I just kept thinking ‘Don’t screw up, don’t screw up.’ I was hoping the 99 would have made it into the pits. We burned the (right rear) tire off of it. With five to go, I had to start moving around because it felt like I lost forward drive on the car. There’s a lot of talent here and I seem to be short on that. When you have a good run like this every once in a while, you don’t know if you will ever get it again. I’m 48 and have been doing this for 30 years.”
It can be tough to keep at something for 30 years, but for John the answer to what keeps you coming back if you have not won yet was simple.
“It’s my friends and family,” he said. “When I was younger, it was partying and having a good time. As I have gotten older it’s about all the people I have been around, all the people around me and the friends I’ve made. We have a good time. I’ve wanted to win really bad the last few years, especially here. A good friend of mine, Don Ackner, said ‘Why don’t you go climb Mt. Everest. It would be easier.’ It’s been a tall, tall task to win but they do say you have to lose one to win one.”
A saying often heard in racing is ‘It’s not over until the fat lady sings.’ It’s so very true in many ways and so many examples, it’s going to hurt guys like Ruchel for a while that one got away. However, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet.
John Ruchel’s one of the true heroes of our sport. He may not have 900 wins over 40-50 years. He’s just your typical weekend warrior who had one slip away from him Saturday night. However, the way he’s been running, it’s only a matter of time.