By Kevin Kovac
EVANSVILLE , IN Sept. 20, 2007 Brian Ruhlmans second career Sunoco American Late Model Series championship had a little different look than his first.
This time, he did it his way.
Ruhlman, 37, of Clarklake , Mich. , captured the title of the UMP DIRTcar Racing-sanctioned tour for the first time in 2005 while driving Mike Lawrences No. 11. He repeated this season as largely an owner/operator, entering his own Rocket No. 49 in 12 of the 16 events.
Its very satisfying to win it with our own stuff this year, said Ruhlman, who also drove a No. 1 car owned by Ron Zeller of Delta, Ohio, in the four ALMS shows held in 2007 at Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio. I drove the Lawrence car from 2002 until we split halfway through last season. I came back with my equipment to finish the season and just missed winning the championship (placing second to Rusty Schlenk by five points in 2006), but we got the job done this year.
There was one other noticeable difference between Ruhlmans points crowns: in 2005 he won five features en route to the title, but this year he came out on top of the standings without the benefit of a single victory.
Yes, it was a steady approach that brought Ruhlman the ALMS championship by 12 points over Duane Chamberlain of Richmond , Ind. , whose three triumphs tied him with Jeep VanWormer of Pinconning, Mich. , as the tours winningest driver in 2007.
Ruhlman registered five top-five and 11 top-10 finishes en route to the $5,000 title, including runner-ups on June 1 at Indiana s Gas City I-69 Speedway, June 22 at Attica ( Ohio ) Raceway Park and June 23 at Oakshade. His best shot at a win was probably on Aug. 5 at Oakshade, where he was solidly in command of the feature when mechanical knocked him out late in the distance.
You always like to win races, but we won it with consistency this year, said Ruhlman, who ranks fourth on the alltime ALMS win list with 16 career victories. Last year we won twice but didnt win the championship, so you never know. Ill take it any way I can get it.
The title wasnt decided until the season finale, the 25-lap Johnny Appleseed Classic on Sept. 2 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg , Ohio . After overtaking Chamberlain for the points lead the previous night at Oakshade with a drive from the 19th starting to eighth at the finish, Ruhlman knew the ALMS trophy would be his if he merely stayed on Chamberlains back bumper. He did better than that, however, finishing fifth to Chamberlains 14th to clinch the championship.
Going through the schedule without a win was the furthest thing from Ruhlmans mind after his second title was secured.
Only two other guys have won more than one (ALMS) championship Kris Patterson (six) and Shane Yoder (two), said Ruhlman, whose car is powered by a Malcuit engine and carries sponsorship from Zeller Towing and St. Henry Night Club. Winning it a second time puts us in some pretty select company. Its something for us to be proud of.
Ruhlman is a big proponent of the ALMS, which has been in existence since 1995. This years tour visited 11 tracks in four states ( Ohio , Michigan , Indiana and Illinois ), and 11 different drivers scored feature wins.
Its a working mans series, said Ruhlman. You dont have the real big hitters running the series because the purses arent real big, but you get a lot of good regional guys who like to travel to some different tracks without going too far from home.
Its the kind of series that fits our program. We really dont have a big crew its just my wife Heather and I at a lot of the races but we can do this series.
Ruhlman has been chasing the ALMS religiously for the past decade. It was a perfect fit for him after he moved in late 1995 to Toledo , Ohio , from the Jamestown , N.Y. , area, where he had grown up and launched his racing career in 1986 in the Cadet division at Stateline Speedway in Busti , N.Y.
Ruhlman cut his racing eye teeth on the Erie, Pa.-area circuit that includes Stateline, Eriez Speedway in Hammett , Pa. , and Raceway 7 in Conneaut , Ohio . He entered the dirt Late Model ranks for the first time in 1991 behind the wheel of a No. 1* car fielded by current World of Outlaws Late Model Series star Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., and promptly won the track title at Eriez, stamping him as a rising star at his local ovals.
A lucrative job opportunity led Ruhlman to relocate in Toledo . Ruhlman, whose younger brother Chad, 30, still lives in Bemus Point, N.Y., but drives a dirt Late Model thats based in western Ohio, spent 11 years working as the engineering manager of an automotive engineering company that did design work for such firms as General Motors, Ford and Dodge, providing him a comfortable living and the means to fulfill his dirt Late Model racing appetite.
Ruhlmans life underwent a change in 2006, however. For starters, he moved to Clarklake , Mich. one hour north of the Ohio border to be a bit closer to his wifes work site. The more drastic change came in June one day after he split with Lawrence s racing team, Ruhlman learned that he was being laid off from his engineering job.
After considering his employment options, Ruhlman rolled the dice and made the sport he loved his livelihood: he decided to open Ruhlman Race Cars, a fully-stocked speed shop in Clarklake that serves as a dealer and repair center for Rocket Chassis Late Models and Modifieds.
We had to scramble around, but we said we were gonna try to make this work, said Ruhlman. We already had a good reputation from the setup and repair work we had done as a hobby in the past, and before you knew it, people started showing up. Weve been swamped ever since.
One year later, Ruhlmans new business is booming and hes a champion again with the Sunoco American Late Model Series.
What a whirlwind its been for Ruhlman, who isnt content with just winning the ALMS crown in 2007. He leads the UMP DIRTcar Racing Late Model East Region points standings with just two weekends of action plus the UMP DIRTcar Racing Nationals (at Eldora on Oct. 5-6) left in the points season, and hes intent on securing that title.
Wed like to win that UMP championship too, said Ruhlman, who has three Late Model and two UMP open-wheel Modified feature wins in 2007. If we can do that, it would make our season just a little bit better.
For more information on the Sunoco American Late Model Series, visit www.americanlatemodelseries.com.
Additional info on UMP DIRTcar racing is available by logging on to www.umpracing.com.
Final 2007 Sunoco American Late Model Series Points Standings:
1. Brian Ruhlman 498
2. Duane Chamberlain 486
3. Aaron Scott 419
4. Casey Noonan 387
5. Jerry Bowersock 363
6. Tyler Boggs 361
7. Dusty Moore 341
8. Rick Delong 331
9. Ky Harper 258
10. Rusty Schlenk 242
11. Ronnie Perrine 237
12. Hillard Miller 226
13. Mike McKnight 223
14. Jon Horner 189
15. Tim Sabo 180
16. Chuck Hummer 173
17. Brad Eitnear 151
18. Bill Hahn 150
19. Kris Patterson 126
20. Dan Wallace 121
2007 Sunoco American Late Model Series Feature Winners:
April 20 Kankakee (IL) Motor Speedway (Wes Steidinger)
April 21 Kamp Motor Speedway/Boswell, IN (Mike Mataragas)
April 22 Vermilion Co. Speedway/Danville, IL (Kevin Cole)
May 11 Limaland Motorsports Park/Lima, OH (Duane Chamberlain)
May 26 Oakshade Raceway/Wauseon, OH (Jeep VanWormer)
May 27 Eldora Speedway/Rossburg, OH (Casey Noonan)
May 28 Midway Speedway/Crooksville, OH (Bart Hartman)
June 1 Gas City (IN) I-69 Speedway ( Steve Casebolt)
June 22 Attica (OH) Raceway Park (Duane Chamberlain)
June 22 Attica (OH) Raceway Park (Duane Chamberlain)
June 23 Oakshade Raceway/Wauseon, OH (Rody Schroyer)
June 29 I-96 Speedway/Lake Odessa , MI (Aaron Scott)
June 30 Thunderbird Race Park/Muskegon, MI (Elex Leyton)
Aug. 5 Oakshade Raceway/Wauseon, OH (Casey Noonan)
Sept. 1 Oakshade Raceway/Wauseon, OH (Jeep VanWormer)
Sept. 2 Eldora Speedway/Rossburg, OH (Jeep VanWormer)
Sunoco American Late Model Series Champions:
2007: Brian Ruhlman, Clarklake , Mich.
2006: Rusty Schlenk, Jackson , Mich.
2005: Brian Ruhlman, Clarklake , Mich.
2004: Kris Patterson, St. Johns , Mich.
2003: Kris Patterson, St. Johns , Mich.
2002: Greg Johnson, Edinburgh , Ind.
2001: Shane Yoder, Holland , Ohio
2000: Kris Patterson, St. Johns , Mich.
1999: Jerry Bowersock, Wapakoneta , Ohio
1998: Kris Patterson, St. Johns , Mich.
1997: Kris Patterson, St. Johns , Mich.
1996: Shane Yoder, Holland , Ohio
1995: Kris Patterson, St. Johns , Mich.