When the last of the late models had run their two qualifying laps around Eldora Speedway's 1/2-mile clay oval on June 8, Brian Ruhlman of Maumee, like more than half of the 245 drivers who had taken part in the time trials, wasn't happy. He had missed the cut.
The quickest 120 cars and drivers would move on and take the next step in the quest for the Eldora Million, and Ruhlman was listed as the 125th fastest.
After winning his nonqualifiers race that Friday night Ruhlman sacked out at the track in his camper. Upon awaking the next morning, Ruhlman was informed that an error had been made and that he had qualified for that night's program with the 101st fastest time. Rather than bump the driver who was originally listed in the 120th position, Ruhlman started 21st in his heat and finished 16th.
After parking his blue-and-red No. 49 late model for the night, Ruhlman said, "We didn't tear anything up, we made a little money and we got a trophy, so it was all right."
Early in his 16-year racing career the 31-year-old Ruhlman competed primarily at two dirt tracks near his home in northwestern Pennsylvania, Eriez and Stateline speedways. In 1994, he loaded up his late model and began racing at tracks in 13 states on the STARS circuit. To bankroll his travels he and his younger brother Chad built and repaired race cars at their shop. Brian finished the STARS tour by being named the club's rookie of the year.
With eight track championships (multiple awards at Eriez and Stateline and one at Ace High Speedway) to his credit, Ruhlman moved to the Toledo area to do engineering work for Chrysler at Applied Technologies at the end of 1995.
Since coming to northwest Ohio, Ruhlman has become what is known in the racing world as an "outlaw," meaning that he calls no track or sanctioning body home.
Come Friday afternoons Ruhlman and his crewman, Derek Grieselding, Perrysburg, are off to the races. "Basically we travel all over."
Last year Ruhlman put more than 20,000 miles on his Dodge Ram pickup truck, pulling a 24-foot box trailer that houses his late model to dirt tracks in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Michigan, Indiana and anyplace else that is paying a good purse and allows him to be home in time for work on Monday.
Although keeping his 430-cubic-inch Malcuit engine-powered, Rocket chassis, 2001 Pontiac Grand Am dirt-track late model (he also has a backup car) competitive takes a big bite out of his free time and his wallet, Ruhlman said:
"I race for fun. I like to go to different tracks. It gives you the opportunity to race against different people, on different surfaces. If you can be competitive traveling, you can be competitive anywhere."
Ruhlman hasn't raced every weekend this season. His late model sat idle the weekend of May 25-27. The Sunoco American Late Model Series events slated for that Friday and Sunday at Attica Raceway Park and Eldora Speedway were rained out. On Saturday he attended his brother Jason's wedding.
For ticket information, call track manager Greg Riddle at 727-1100.
The ground-pounding winged sprint cars of the All Stars Circuit of Champions headlines Friday's race card at Attica Raceway Park.
The USAC sprint cars are in action both Friday and Saturday nights at Eldora Speedway. The USAC midgets will be joining the sprint cars on the Saturday night portion of Old Timer's Weekend.
Flat Rock Speedway will see racing action both Saturday and Sunday. The late models will take part in the Royal Truck & Trailer/G Tec Truck Equipment Gold Cup 100 on Saturday. Also on the program are figure 8's and street stocks. Sunday afternoon there will be a 250-lap enduro at the Michigan short track.
The Sunoco American Late Model Series shares Saturday's race card with the sportsman/trucks and bombers at Oakshade Raceway.