California Sprint Car driver Cory Eliason had a full plate throughout the 2018 season, both on the track and off.
Eliason had quite the learning curve in the legendary Dennis Roth Motorsports entry. It was his first season on the road with a traveling team, and he had to deal with new tracks and conditions that he never experienced before in his career.
But there were other nerve-racking circumstances. Eliason left his full-time job to pursue his dream of becoming a professional Sprint Car driver and was left with job uncertainty toward the end of the season.
Still, Eliason pressed on in his quest. That dedication paid off, as the Selma, Calif., driver left the Roth Motorsports entry and has inked a deal to run for Rudeen Racing during the 2019 season.
“This was my first time being on the road,” Eliason said. “Harley Van Dyke took me out a couple of years ago to Knoxville, and we did decent, but this year was really my first time on the road.
“Getting close to the end of the year and hearing this team is hiring this guy, this driver is going here, and this team is shutting down … it’s definitely not a good feeling when you don’t know what is going on with your deal.
“To have a ride and be set up for the next year is a good feeling going into the offseason. Heading over to Australia, it makes things a lot easier.”
This deal came out of chance in that Eliason took one giving Kevin Rudeen a call for the upcoming season.
Eliason left the Knoxville Nationals and headed home. The schedule was spotty the rest of the way for the Roth Motorsports team, and team owner Dennis Roth indicated that he would do what he could for Eliason, but if other opportunities came up, the 27-year-old driver had to explore them.
It wasn’t the concrete answer Eliason was hoping for, but he knew he needed to start networking and looking for another option. That led to a phone call and a chance meeting between Rudeen and Eliason, which bumped the young driver to the top of the list.
Now that a deal is in place, Eliason and Rudeen, along with crew chief Tyler Tessemaker, have to come up with a schedule.
“As of right now, I don’t know what the schedule is,” Eliason said. “We are going to talk about a couple of different options.
“Obviously, there is All Stars, there is the Outlaws, there’s Pennsylvania, there’s out here [California], there’s a bunch of different options. I know they haven’t really made up their minds on where we are going to go, but every time I talk to Tyler and Kevin, it’s been, ‘We are going to try and go for 70 to 90 races.’”
Eliason burst on the national Sprint Car scene in 2017, when he traveled to the Knoxville Nationals and put the Harley Van Dyke entry in Saturday’s A-Main.
That led to a job with Roth Motorsports heading into the 2018 season. Despite some mechanical hiccups and a steep learning curve against stiff competition, Eliason put together a solid year.
It started with a top-five finish in the World of Outlaws season opener at Volusia Speedway Park. Six races later, Eliason landed his first victory with the traveling series in Stockton, Calif.
There were some tough stretches in May and June, but it didn’t stop Eliason from registering his second World of Outlaws win in September and earning 12 top-five finishes and 19 top 10s in 49 World of Outlaws starts, including a third-place finish in the prestigious Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway.
“The experience I got this year was priceless,” Eliason said. “First off, Dennis and Teresa Roth, Todd, Brent, Brandon and another Brandon … they gave me a great opportunity at Roth Motorsports. No one gave up on me. They guys worked hard, and everybody had faith in me.
“I got my first World of Outlaws win with Troy, and I got my second Outlaw win with Brent when we came home. We got two wins, and you learn a lot because it’s different racetracks every night.
“I had to walk up to Mike Hess after each driver’s meeting and ask where’s the push off lane, where we do we do engine heat, and where I get on and off the racetrack. I’ve been to zero of these racetracks, so winning two races was a big accomplishment all year.”
It was, but Eliason wasn’t happy. Young drivers who are trying to make a name for themselves against the elite drivers in this sport have high expectations and are seldom satisfied.
That’s a quality that will continue next season. Eliason is his own toughest critic, and even though he is with a new team, a new crew chief, and a new program, he likes the pieces in place and believes he can win.
“We picked up two Outlaw wins and ran well last year, finishing in the top 10 the majority of the time,” Eliason said. “So, that was really nice, but I’m hoping to better that next year.
“Everything is new, but I’m hoping with the experience of last year and Tyler’s experience with Joey [Saldana], we can take that into Florida and hit it pretty quick and get going.”
Continued Eliason, “It’s tough trying to pick expectations. Donny [Schatz] is getting 20-plus wins. [David] Gravel, [Daryn] Pittman, and [Brad] Sweet are getting 10-plus. Everyone else — Shane Stewart, Carson Macedo, Brent Marks — they share the next 40-plus nights. Jacob Allen is also going to get a couple of wins next year.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher next year. I hope we can pick up five wins with the Outlaws, but that’s reaching a little bit with what we are doing. But, it’s, definitely, not out of reach.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint how a driver will perform with a new team. Chemistry is not an exact science and has to be developed.
But Eliason feels he has a good mix at Rudeen Racing. More important, he embraces the opportunity to win races and continue to follow his dream.
“That’s what I’m most excited about,” Eliason said. “That’s what I was most fearful of, that I wouldn’t find anything.
“I was worried I would have to run in California. That’s not the worst thing that could happen, but it’s not what I really wanted or saw in my future. I was trying to make it as a racecar driver and stay on the road. Knowing we are going to go out there and hit it full stride, it’s a good feeling.”