While Josh Berry was putting together one of the most dominating performances in the history of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, McLeansville, North Carolina native Dustin Rumley emerged as a potential upset winner by climbing inside the Top 3 before settling for a ninth-place finish.
Rumley admitted that he was not sure what to expect from his brand new Brad Kurth-prepared Late Model before it hit the track for qualifying, but the consistency that the car showed during the weekend has given Rumley confidence heading into the $10,000-to win Rodney Cook Classic at his home track of Ace Speedway.
“It’s probably not the smartest move to bring a new car to Martinsville, but we did,” Rumley said. “You never know what you’re going to get out of a new car because every car is different from the next. It was a pleasant surprise that the car was as fast as it was and that we were able to bring home such a strong run.”
Rumley’s partnership with Kurth led to several strong runs in Ace’s weekly Late Model division that included two thirds and a second, but he often struggled with the handling and the setup of the car during the season and was ready to try something different with Kurth for Martinsville.
Rumley and Kurth spent the next four weeks actively preparing the new car for the former’s first attempt in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 since 2014, which showed up to Martinsville with immediate speed when Rumley posted the sixth-fastest time in the Friday qualifying session with a 20.079.
Although Rumley qualified faster than several former ValleyStar Credit Union 300 winners that included Tommy Lemons Jr., Timothy Peters, Jason York and others, he knew he would have to be patient during the opening two stages of the race, but he successfully avoided trouble and found himself in fifth for the final 50-lap sprint.
Rumley managed to hold his own with a talented group of Late Model drivers that included Peters, Bobby McCarty, Lee Pulliam and Peyton Sellers during the closing stages of the race and was proud of how his weekend at Martinsville turned out despite being outside of the Top 5 when the checkered flag flew.
While Rumley does not believe he had anything for Berry at the finish, he expressed optimism that the consistent speed prevalent in his #88 at Martinsville, combined with his past experience at Ace, will make him a favorite for the victory in the Rodney Cook Classic on Saturday night.
“Ace is on a few minutes from my home, but we’ve always run good there,” Rumley said. “As Rodney would say, it’s a driver’s track. You have to use the brakes, get the car through the center, and you need to approach Turns 1 and 2 differently than 3 and 4. It’s a place that’s always suited my driving style, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to run there so frequently.”
Rumley could only muster a finish of 13th during the Rodney Cook Classic in 2018 and was mainly a witness to another dominating performance in the form of Justin Carroll, who drove his car from fifth to the lead in less than 10 laps to run away with an easy victory.
Rumley is intent on changing his fortunes for the 2019 edition of the race with Carroll and other former winners in Blake Stallings and RD Smith entered alongside a handful of top Late Model competitors, as he wants nothing more than to win the most prestigious event at his home track in honor of his late friend.
“We’ve worked really hard this year, and haven’t gotten the runs we’ve hoped for,” Rumley said. “Rodney and I always had good battles at Ace, so it would be really neat to win the race that was established in his memory, but we’re working hard on this car to get it where it needs to be so we can be fast [on Saturday.]”
As with Martinsville, Rumley believes patience will be a crucial factor in deciding who will win the 140-lap Late Model race of the 2019 Rodney Cook Classic, which is expected to get underway following several other features that will include Limited Late Models and Mini Stocks on Saturday evening.
Cover photo by Jaden Austin.