By Kevin Kovac, WoO LMS P.R. Director: WINCHESTER, VA – Aug. 21, 2013 – There are many races that Rick Eckert wants to win, but there’s one in particular that he’d love to win.
The event Eckert craves so badly isn’t the richest or longest or most prestigious show in dirt Late Model racing. But in his world, nothing can top it.
For Eckert, the fourth annual Raye Vest Memorial – a 50-lap, $10,000-to-win World of Outlaws Late Model Series A-Main presented by Ernie D’s Enterprises that will be contested this Saturday night (Aug. 24) at Winchester Speedway – holds deeply personal significance. It was Vest, after all, who served as Eckert’s car owner/second father for 14 years before passing away in November 2009 at the age of 76.
“I’ve never won Raye’s race yet so that makes me a little bitter,” said Eckert, a 47-year-old WoO LMS regular and former champion from York, Pa. “Actually, I haven’t even been close to winning it, which is pretty disappointing because of how much Raye meant to me.”
Perhaps Eckert’s fortunes in his late car owner’s tribute race will change with the event becoming part of the WoO LMS for the first time this season. He has competed in all three previous Raye Vest Memorials, which were run in the fall on weekends that the WoO LMS was silent, but he managed only quiet finishes of fifth in 2010 (winner: current WoO LMS points leader Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va.), sixth in ’11 (Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga.) and ninth in ’12 (Mark Pettyjohn of Milton, Del.).
“We just weren’t very good (at Winchester) the last three years in my own stuff,” said Eckert, who became an owner/operator following Vest’s death. “But I’ve been better there this year. That makes me feel pretty good about my chances.”
Eckert has been almost perfect this season in a handful of appearances at Winchester. He’s made four starts at the one-third-mile oval and scored two wins and a pair of runner-up finishes – all behind the wheel of the Paul Crowl-owned Rocket No. 7 that he drives in selected non-Outlaw events near his Keystone State home. Eckert said the Crowl machine has performed so well at Winchester that he’s contemplating entering it in Saturday night’s action under his Rick Eckert Racing banner.
“It’s hard for me not to take that car there,” reasoned Eckert, who ranks fourth in the 2013 WoO LMS points standings with one win to his credit. “It’s been that good.”
Whatever increases Eckert’s odds of capturing the Raye Vest Memorial, he’s all for. He wants so badly to win in Vest’s honor, to stand in Victory Lane and have all his fond memories of the universally respected man from White Plains, Md., come rushing back to him in a flood of emotion.
“He was a great guy and he sure loved racing,” said Eckert, who started every WoO LMS A-Main from 2004-2009 behind the wheel of Vest’s familiar orange No. 24 cars. “He went to most of the races and would give you whatever you needed to go race, which is something you miss a lot more when you don’t have it.
“But more than anything, he was fun to be around. We went on vacations together, hung out together. And he called the shop or I called him every day. I talked to him more than I ever did my own father. We had a lot of great times, that’s for sure.”
Eckert still often thinks back fondly on how he ended up becoming Vest’s driver in 1995 – a partnership that developed into one of the closest and longest-running owner/driver combinations in the history of dirt Late Model racing.
“I knew of him because he owned cars around home when I was starting out,” Eckert said of Vest. “I was friends with Nathan Durboraw and he drove for (Vest) and won a lot of races. They decided they were gonna go on the road and run the STARS deal. I was running it, and it just happened that we ended up running together (down the road) a lot. It got to the point where Kristal (Eckert’s wife) was scheduling our hotel rooms and theirs, and we just became friends.
“Then, at the end of that year, Nathan and Raye separated and then he hired (Rodney) Franklin. Franklin drove for him for about six months in 1995, and then Raye called me up just out of the blue one day and said, ‘Hey, do you wanna drive for me?’ I was like, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘Drive down here tomorrow night and we’ll talk.’ I went down there and we talked, and it was funny – he was never the most patient guy, but he said, ‘Now, I don’t wanna race for about a month or two. Just come down and get everything and then in about a month we’ll break it out and race it.’
“I figured that would be good because he had a lot of different stuff that we had to go through, stuff that was different than I was running. I got his stuff on like a Wednesday, went racing that weekend with my own stuff and came home, and he called me on Monday and said, ‘Well, what do you think about us going to race this weekend?’ I was like, ‘Well, O.K., no problem.’ We rushed around and got everything ready to race that weekend and we were on our way.”
Nearly two decades later, Vest is gone but certainly not forgotten. His name remains prominently displayed on Eckert’s cars – both the hood and rear spoiler sport odes to Vest – and Eckert still can hear Vest’s distinctive voice every time he glances at the phone in his race shop.
And if Eckert were to pull off a victory in Saturday night’s Raye Vest Memorial, there’s no doubt that he’ll feel like Vest is standing right alongside him one more time in Victory Lane.
Winchester Speedway’s pit gates are scheduled to open at 3 p.m. on Saturday night. Hot laps are set to begin at 6:30 p.m. and competition will start at 7 p.m.
Admission to the program, which also includes racing for the Pure Stock, 4-Cylinder and U-Car divisions, is $30 and $5 for children ages 6-12. Pit admission will be $45.
The winner of the only previous WoO LMS event at Winchester was Josh Richards, in 2011. Last year’s scheduled tour stop was rained out and not rescheduled.
Additional info on Winchester Speedway is available by logging on to www.winchestervaspeedway.com or calling 301-481-8855 (office) or 540-667-8143 (raceday).
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is brought to fans across the country by many important sponsors and partners, including: American Racing Custom Wheels (Official Custom Wheel), Arizona Sport Shirts (Official Apparel Company), Armor All (Official Car Care Products), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), KMC (Official Custom Truck Wheel), STP (Official Fuel Treatment), Vicci (Official Uniform), VP Racing Fuel (Official Racing Fuel), DirtonDirt.com (Hard Charger Award) and McCarthy’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning (Raye Vest Memorial Pill Draw Award); in addition to contingency sponsors: Butlerbuilt, Cometic Gasket, Comp Cams, Dominator Race Products, Edelbrock, Eibach Springs, JE Pistons, JRI Shocks, Klotz Synthetic Lubricants, MSD Ignition, Ohlins Shocks, QuarterMaster, Roush Yates Performance Parts, Superflow Dynos, Wrisco Aluminum and XS Power Racing Batteries; along with manufacturer sponsors Capital Race Cars, Integra Shocks, GRT Chassis, Jake’s Carts, Racing Electronics, Rocket Chassis, TNT Rescue, and Warrior Chassis.