ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Story and photo by Race Chaser Online Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell – Audio by Associate Editor Kyle Magda and Marshall Gabell –
It may have taken a little assistance, but at the end of 40 laps from Boardwalk Hall on Saturday night, Erick Rudolph claimed his second-career Gamblers Classic win (his first since 2012) and officially locked up the 2015 Len Sammons Motorsports Productions Indoor Racing Series championship.
Rudolph, 23, gained the upper hand after passing pole sitter Patrick Emerling for the lead with 20 laps remaining in heavy lap traffic – a move that would carry him to Victory Lane and a five thousand dollar bonus.
“It means a lot,” Rudolph said about winning the 2015 Gamblers Classic. “(It means a lot) not only to me, but the entire team – it just means a ton. We haven’t been (at Atlantic City) for a couple of seasons, but my first ever time with Lafler Chassis (in 2012) we came here and got a win.”
“But to come back here and be the quickest in time trials and practice just shows that we are where we need to be – our cars and motor program are where they need to be. You know, I am starting to get more and more accustomed to this track and I just think I am starting to get (a handle) on this indoor racing.”
While it took a few switches on-board to overcome a fading race car, the Ramsomville, New York driver remained focused, running each lap to perfection until the checkered flag flew.
“I started to get symptoms of an ill-handling race car (in the closing stages),” Rudolph explained. “So I started making some in-car adjustments, turning some knobs here and there and I was able to get the car back handling properly.”
“I think I was actually slower at the end of the race then I was towards the middle. Nevertheless, I just held on, hit my marks and here we are in the winners circle.”
The former NASCAR WHELEN Modified Tour driver was the first to send thanks to his entire Lafler Chassis organization after his first win of the 2015 season.
“Like I mentioned, Mark Lafler is our team owner – he is the heart soul of the team,” Rudolph said when giving thanks to his team. “The crew guys definitely make it happen in the shop, just (their efforts) to get this thing ready to go racing indoors. It’s just everybody – that is who I would really like to thank.”
Ryan Flores, a regular pit crew member on Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, finished second after being unable to reel Rudolph down in the final stint.
“We started third and just got flushed out to about seventh,” Flores said. “We just got a little to tight there on that final run. We had just been good on the short runs all race, but I just am very fortunate to be able to be running this car.”
Though happy with finishing second, Flores circled what kept him from triumphing – his restart position late in the race.
“Yeah, the rubber came up, you couldn’t even get a good restart,” Flores said of starting from the outside lane on the restarts. “So it definitely helped a lot when we were able to restart on the inside.”
After battling the flu throughout the weekend, Jimmy Blewett closed his Gambler’s Classic weekend in the third position, a result the Howell, New Jersey driver was pleased with under the draining circumstances.
“It has been nothing but a lot of hard work,” Blewett expressed. “It has been a tough weekend. It took a lot out of me mentally just to be able to pull through. But you just have to dig deep, that is how bad I wanted it. I worked hard and wasn’t going to give up that quick. We had a strong car tonight though, stronger then in the past.
Friday’s preliminary night feature winner Andy Jankowiak, who was battling for the lead in the beginning stages of the Gambler’s Classic, was unable to sweep the weekend and finished fourth, with Emerling capping the front five positions.
WHELEN Modified Tour veteran Ted Christopher, Ryan Susice, Neal Williams, Joey Payne and Tim Buckwalter rounded out the top ten.
Surprisingly, unlike the heats forecasted, there were just seven cautions during the event and only five drivers who were unable to make it to the checkered flag.
Rudolph took the Indoor Series championship after ending up deadlocked with Flores for the points lead following tonight’s race (Rudolph’s win gave him the tiebreaker).
In other feature action, Donnie Nall, a dirt racer from North Carolina, won the 25-lap Champ Kart feature after holding back Chris Daley on a restart with just three laps remaining.
After starting 16th, Nall was emotional while celebrating and said the win would bring him back to Boardwalk Hall for the 2016 Gambler’s Classic.
“This was a big deal,” an ecstatic Nall commented. “I have been (to Atlantic City) twice and I am definitely going to be coming back next season. It is a real prestige event. My help is really what got me here – just a team effort.”
Jay Hartman won the 30-lap Slingshot feature after Demetiros Drellos was black-flagged and subsequently disqualified following an accident with Gary Heiber while battling for the lead.
After the disqualification, Hartman then overcame a one lap shootout en route to the checkered flag over John Gilroy and Jesse Hartman.
Audio with TQ winner Erick Rudolph:
Audio with TQ runner-up Ryan Flores:
Audio with TQ third-place finisher Jimmy Blewett:
Audio with Champ Kart winner Donnie Nall:
RESULTS: Gambler’s Classic; 2015 TQ Midget Series; Boardwalk Hall; January 31, 2015
- Erick Rudolph
- Ryan Flores
- Jimmy Blewett
- Andy Jankowiak
- Patrick Emerling
- Ted Christopher
- Ryan Susice
- Neal Williams
- Joey Payne
- Tim Buckwalter
- Rob Vivona
- Jon Gambutti
- Andrew Nye
- Matt Janisch
- Mike Litchy
- Chad Jones
- Anthony Sesley
- Earl Paules
- Brett Michalski
- Geoff Sutton
- Shawn Nye
- Zane Zeiner
- Kyle Reinhardt
- Matt Roselli
- Pat Bealer
- Tim Nye