St. Charles resident Tim Ludke entered Sycamore Speedway’s Sept. 15 Late Models season finale with a 17-point lead on his nearest challenger for the circuit title.
One racer can pick up as many as 19 points on another in a given week. Barring the cruelest of disasters, Ludke knew Somonauk’s Jordan Jackowiak could not play the ultimate game of leapfrog.
“If I had done absolutely nothing and if he had set fast time [in qualifying], won the heat and won the feature, I’d have been in trouble,” Ludke said. “It was nice that by the time the heat races were done, I had sewn it up.”
Ludke was ready for a breather after his 2011 season, which sent him spiraling to rebuild his No. 20 car after a late May crash left all but its structural roll cage totaled. Ludke recovered to finish third in his Late Models debut, and largely kept the car upright in 2012, posting just one “did not finish.”
Still, car trouble had an important impact on his recently-completed season. If not for locating a bent axle at the car’s right rear, Ludke might again have lived up to his former nickname of “Deuce,” a nod to a glut of runner-up feature finishes at the start of 2011.
The 24-year-old Ludke had been trailing the younger Jackowiak for nearly the first half of 2012. Before he officially diagnosed the axle problem, the car had been dragging at the rear, limiting his horsepower and finishing strategies.
A hammer and a new axle took care of that. Ludke tied for the points lead after winning the Kane County championship Aug. 11, then vaulted into first place with a feature win on 97.9 “The Loop” Night the following week.
“That fix totally turned my season around and put my confidence at an all-time high,” Ludke said. “We had been running second all season until those two weeks and that really boosted my confidence to go out and get it all.”
Ludke shared the Spectator title with friend Jimmy Stephens in 2010, and credited that experience and last year’s trials with helping him outduel Jackowiak.
“Jordan ran a good year all year,” Ludke said, “but toward the end of the season when I took the lead, it seems like he gave up. He congratulated me on the championship before I even won it.”
A handful of Ludke’s co-workers at Al Piemonte Chrysler Jeep Dodge in St. Charles attended the season finale, but those who weren’t on hand figured out the news before coming to work the following Monday.
“Lay low, save money and get ready to take it again next year” is how Ludke outlined his offseason plans, although he already has seen his share of broken axles and other car parts outside of his job as a mechanic.
On Saturday, his first weekend clear of racing since May, Ludke ventured to Joliet’s Route 66 Raceway to watch a friend compete in a Tournament of Destruction team demolition derby event.
Sycamore Speedway has scheduled a series of demos for Saturday, but don’t expect to see Ludke anywhere but the stands.
“That stuff’s crazy,” he said.
• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.