Column By: LAURIE FALLIS / RPW – MALTA, NY – With Erick Rudolph picking up the big win Friday evening at the Albany-Saratoga Speedway, he admitted, up until Thursday, he never really liked the track…not really successful, but that all changed with a single checkered flag.
Even with little prior success at the Malta oval, Rudolph has been successful behind the wheel of a Dirt Modified pretty much everywhere he goes. I asked him if his program changed much with the success he and his team enjoyed last season…most notably after his track championship at the Land of Legends and being runner-up on the Super DIRTcar Series.
“Not much has changed,” Rudolph said. “We were just more prepared as a team last season. We definitely gained a lot of experience that has helped us into this year. Last year, we travelled a lot and have been doing the same this season.”
Success followed him in 2019 as he brought home two more track titles, at Ransomville and Utica-Rome, behind the wheel of his potent Bicknell Chassis #25. The 27-year-old son of racing legend Charlie Rudolph says his dad is a big part of the team.
“He’s my crew chief,” he said. “Dad’s at the races 99% of the time which is a big part of our success. He’s my right hand man in the shop. I can honestly say I would never have had the success I’ve had without him, but that also goes for the whole team. This is a total team effort.”
Ironically, Erick was never able to see his father turn a lap. Charlie had already retired before he was born, but his experience is invaluable.
“It certainly helps having someone as smart and having so much experience in my corner,” he said. “Dad’s let me learn on my own, but does give advice here and there. But he knows I have to learn on my own.”
After his Small Block win at Malta on Friday, I wanted to know how he could put that knowledge towards the Big Block Modified race on Saturday.
“Honestly, it’s all about confidence,” he said. “As I said before, I’ve never had much success at Malta. This is a Big Block race and it’s fair to say there’s going to be stiffer competition…lots of tough regulars and the best of the Super DIRTcar Series. However, I can certainly say it was a big confidence booster.”
Did he think he had a shot to capture the $10,000 win?
“I’ll say that I always expect to do good no matter where we are,” he said. “Hopefully we run well, but I hope to run good at all of the places we go.”
Rudolph did let it be known that he won’t be participating in the Fonda 200 this coming weekend at the Track of Champions. He stated it was a team decision.
“With the differences in the motor program, it just doesn’t make sense for us,” he said. “Also, there’s a big event at our home track the same weekend. “It’s a Memorial race honoring someone very special to our family so we’ll be at the Land of Legends.”
The Gerald Haers Memorial “Build Your Bank Challenge” is special to the Rudolph’s. The father of Modified racer Justin Haers, who passed away a short time ago, was instramental in Erick’s father’s racing career. Charlie drove for Gerald at one time and the family feels it’s important to be there to support the Haers’ and help make this race successful.
Shortly after that is another big event on Erick’s schedule…Super DIRT Week. He has high expectation for all of the races during the week as, even with all of the satellite events, the tracks he’ll be running are all where he’s had pretty good success at. Oswego itself has been a little tough on the young gun but feels this year he has just as good of a chance as any to add his name to the record books.
“That’s a race that can make someone’s career,” he said. “Why not us?”
Back to Malta Saturday. After our conversation had concluded, he went to the fan autograph session and then strapped into his Modified for the night. Unfortunately, the night didn’t turn out the way he had hoped. He started 18th and searched for the fast line all feature long, but never really got hooked up, bringing his #25 home 14th.
As we all know, this sport can be very humbling. One night you’re on top. The next you’re not, but Erick Rudolph and his team are certainly contenders, and possibly favorites, at any track they go to. Don’t be surprised, at all, if you see his name as the winner of any race coming up.
He’s got momentum. He’s got talent. He’s got the drive. Why not him?