PORT ROYAL, Pa. – When Rick Eckert parted with car owner Paul Crowl at the end of 2019, the split that ended his long run with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series, many thought the 55-year-old was in the twilight of his career.
As it turned out, that was far from the case.
Two years removed from Crowl’s operation, the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer is arguably busier than ever. This year, Eckert has more than 70 races planned between local events in his own car and events around the country for car owner Allen Murray.
He’s still faster than ever, too, and because of that his will to win still shines brightly.
“My wife said to me, ‘I thought you were slowing down?” said Eckert, who made Sunday’s late model feature at Port Royal but encountered issues during the 35-lapper and finished 26th. “Well, there’s still racing to do. As long as I can win races, I’m going to race. When I get to where I can’t win any races, I’m going to call it off.”
The Eckerts are a busy couple. Rick’s wife, Kristal, owns three Firehouse Subs franchises in Pennsylvania. Rick, meanwhile, is occupied with running a race team and traveling to and from St. Louis, where Murray’s shop is located.
Occasionally, Rick will help his wife make sandwiches at her local shops, too.
The Eckert family has also navigated an unfortunate situation over the past six months.
Last September, Eckert’s five-year-old grandson, Lennox, was severely burned in a freak accident at Port Royal Speedway and has undergone numerous surgeries since.
As Eckert’s car was being fueled, static electricity sparked a fire and flames shot into Eckert’s hauler, where Lennox sat playing with toy race cars.
He was airlifted to a local burn center and was in serious condition. Six months later, Eckert’s grandson is doing much better. He’s had four successful laser surgeries and awaits four more.
“Fortunately they’ve all gone well,” Eckert said. “Hopefully the last four go well. Then we’ll figure out what’s next. He doesn’t complain. He’s OK. We’re all good.”
When the accident went down, immediate awareness was made and fundraisers went viral on social media. Drivers such as Brad Sweet, and even Dale Earnhardt Jr., wrote posts to social media in support of Lennox and the Eckerts.
“That was pretty amazing,” Eckert said. “We’re in the middle of a time where everybody seemed like a bad person in the world, then that happened and you see all the good people in the world. They stood up and gave us a hand, which is awesome.”
The support of his grandson has only reminded Eckert why he’s still racing more than ever. The 2011 World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion has yet to pick up a win in 19 races this year, but he’s been fast.
Eckert has a pair of top fives with the World of Outlaws this year and looked like the car to beat last weekend at Port Royal Speedway before a mechanical failure derailed his hopes.
Locally, Eckert will primarily race at the Port Royal half mile, which now stands as the highest-paying weekly late model track in the country.
He was supposed to race in the Bristol Dirt Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway this past weekend, but couldn’t get a car prepared in time for the event.
Eckert will race the World of Outlaws event at Bristol on April 9-10, as well as other big events including the Lucas Oil Late Model Nationals at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway in September.
Another big week is ahead for Eckert. After the late model feature at Port Royal on Sunday, Eckert hit the road to St. Louis to prepare for the upcoming Bristol Bash.
He’ll work in Murray’s shop all day Monday before hitting the road to Ohio Tuesday to test at a few tracks in the area. Next weekend, he’s set to be back in Pennsylvania.
That’s good news for Eckert, who isn’t planning to slow down anytime soon.
“Every race you go to, that’s the next goal,” Eckert said. “That’s what I go by. It’s what I enjoy.”