When Dale Eckert arrived at Lancaster Speedway Friday for the final drag racing points night of the 2018 campaign he found that the only drivers standing between himself and his 12th championship in the last 13 years were Jan Winkowski and Mike Swinarski.
By the time the Top ET class reached the third round of eliminations, Eckert was the sole survivor still alive and with his two rivals already eliminated in the earlier rounds, Eckert claimed the title, his second Lancaster Top ET title in a row. Previously in his storied career he amassed 10 Lancaster Mod ET championships.
Eckert made it all the way to the semifinals Friday before losing.
It is not an overstatement to proclaim that based on his career statistics, Eckert is one of the greatest drivers to drag race at Lancaster over the many decades of straight-line competition there.
"I just try to keep my head on straight and keep my focus," Eckert said. "I came from behind to get this championship and I'm thrilled to win my second Top class championship in a row. I still love it. I'm going to be running and gunning with these guys again next year."
Eckert came into Friday trailing Winkowski by 10 points and tied with Swinarski for second. Winkowski lost in the first round and both Eckert and Swinarski were victorious in their matchups to earn 10 round win points each, advancing to the second round and pulling into a three-way tie atop the Top ET standings heading to the second round.
In the second round, when Eckert earned more points by besting Kevin Frank and Swinarski suffered a red-light loss, Eckert earned the title. Both Eckert and Swinarski had teammates in 2018, Clay Ricketson and Pete Maduri Jr. respectively.
Drag bike racer Mike Peters also continued his banner career Friday by notching his fourth Lancaster Bike/Sleds championship in the last five years including the last three consecutively. Peters' girlfriend, Sara Taulbee, serves as his team's crew chief.
"I broke a transmission early in the season and I actually started at the bottom of the pack," Peters said. "I had to work my way up. If you go one or two rounds every week, that's what gets you up top. It took awhile this year but I climbed right back up. I finally got the point lead two weeks ago and made it work.
"Without Sara none of this would be possible. She's my No. 1 crew chief and the best girl I've ever met in the world. A huge thank you to her and my parents."
Taulbee was equally happy. The Peters team won four times at Lancaster this season.
"I've been with Mike's team three years and this is our third championship in a row together," Taulbee said. "We make a good team. I was more nervous about winning this championship today than he was all day but it's all good now."
Two other champions were crowned Friday. Mason Fix and his teammate, Joe Busch, came into the event having already clinched Street ET and the team of Jeff Kerl and Keith Banas claimed the Mod ET honors when Kerl won his third round race.
Race winners Friday were: Joe Passero, Top 8; Ken Wischman, Street ET; Vic Puglia (Bikes/Sleds); Banas, Mod ET.
Packman says goodbye
Friday's drag racing was the last on-track activity staged during the three-year reign of outgoing track president Tim Packman. He is leaving to pursue other career opportunities. Ironically Friday, when a staffing shortage occurred at Lancaster, Packman found himself reliving his past by rolling up his sleeves and manning the concession stand, cooking for the race patrons.
As a young man, Packman also worked in the concession stand when he first came to Lancaster in 1980. In October of 2015 Packman left a long career behind in marketing and communications for many NASCAR teams and returned to the area to become Lancaster's president.
"We had some people call in tonight so it was me and two other girls doing the cooking for awhile," Packman said laughing. "I cooked hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages for old times' sake. It was kind of funny that I'm ending it here the same way I started here back in 1980.
Along with the drag race program, Packman was also pleased with last weekend's U.S. Open Weekend stock car season finale.
"The U.S. Open had a great crowd, car counts were good and the racing was phenomenal," Packman said. "It was a great way to end the stock car program here this year. Our drag racing program also grew again this year.
"I think it's a testament to what everyone's done here. You know my name is on the presidency but there's 60 other people and it's those people that make this place happen. I couldn't have done it without them. I appreciate all of them.
"I also appreciate the many capital improvements that Gordon Reger (track owner) authorized. Lancaster has been a part of me since 1980 and it's in my DNA. I plan to visit here occasionally in the future when I can and they'll probably make me pay to get in. What the heck."
Details from this past weekend's Race of Champions Weekend, held at Lake Erie Speedway will appear in this Thursday's Buffalo News Speedweek column.