This weekend at the U.S. Nationals, Jerry Eckman was given the opportunity of a lifetime.
Eckman is driving a Pro Stock car for Steve Kent, trying to qualify at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Eckman, a past NHRA Pro Stock national event winner, recently re-licensed as a Pro Stock driver, a privilege he lost 15 years ago. His license was revoked following unsafe practices during the 1997 NHRA Springnationals in Columbus, Ohio.
“It was exciting, especially at Indy, the biggest race of the year,” said Eckman about what he was feeling during his first qualifying run Friday. “It was kind of special for me. I won this race back in 1990. None of this would have been possible without the kindness of Steve Kent and Rodger Brogdon and the whole crew here. They kind of voted me in the seat again. It was a big surprise to me and it is a thrill of a lifetime. I want to thank them of course and all the fans who stood behind me all these years. This is kind of like a Cinderella story for me.”
Eckman clocked a 6.771-second run at 201.55 mph Friday on his first qualifying lap. That elapsed time left Eckman 18th on the qualifying ladder.
“I tried to relax,” Eckman said. “The one thing I worried about was if I still had that driver instinct. Where you feel the car moving and you make the correction and that came right back. I left the starting line and it went right and I was already correcting it as it was moving and I’m glad I have that ability still. I could feel the car. As far as the rest of the stuff, I was a little rusty here and there. You get in a new car that you have never been in, the pedal doesn’t fit here and this doesn’t fit there, but I have that all ironed out now and I’m pretty relaxed.”
Eckman made his second qualifying pass Saturday. Eckman clocked a 6.727-second time Saturday. That left him 20th on the ladder.
“It would be unbelievable,” said Eckman if he could qualify for the U.S. Nationals. “It has been a Cinderella story up until this point, and that would be like finding the glass slipper. I’m just thrilled to death and we will have to see what happens.”
Eckman does the clutch and transmission work on Kent’s Pro Stock car.
Back in ’97 in Columbus, the car Eckman was driving had a nitrous bottle hidden in the car’s oil tank and when he fired the car for a warm-up it exploded. NHRA officials impounded the car and immediately fined and suspended team owner Bill Orndorff and Eckman.
In July of this year, in a surprise move, the NHRA lifted the suspension against Eckman, so he could drive in competition once again.
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