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Ludke stuck in neutral for 2014 racing season

Published: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 10:18 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 12:54 a.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
As two-time defending Late Models champion, racecar driver Tim Ludke of St. Charles must sit out the 2014 Sycamore Speedway season per the "forceout rule."

Tim Ludke naturally inspires more cheers for weaving past Sycamore Speedway competitors than for moving around the grandstand.

Prohibited from doing the former in 2014, simply receiving feedback for the latter often humbles the Late Models star from St. Charles.

"Every time someone talks to me, I hear, 'Well, we miss watching you race a lot. Will you be back next year?' " Ludke said. "It's really cool that people know who I am outside of the car instead of just know my car. Some of these people I've never met in my life."

There is no roll cage or helmet to obstruct fans' view of Ludke these days – nor any No. 20 car, for that matter. Per what drivers call the "forceout rule," Ludke is restricted from Late Models competition after winning the track's points title the past two seasons. He'll be eligible to return in 2015.

Ludke, 26, captured the Spectator title in 2010 before moving up in class to Late Models, where he was third in points the following year. Advancing to Super Late Models this season never was a realistic option, Ludke said, considering the cost associated with essentially buying a new car.

He added "there's no possible way" to transform his current car to meet any Super Late Models specifications that would make him competitive.

With that, Ludke accepted a compulsory vacation from Sycamore's dirt track, although he hasn't embraced every facet.

"I'm enjoying the time off from racing," Ludke said, "but at the same time, every time I go out to the track and I hear them talking, to know that I was a fan favorite to a lot of people out there, it makes it hard to sit on the sideline. It makes me want to go out and put a show on for them again."

The No. 20 car hasn't navigated through dirt since the 2013 season finale at Sycamore last September, when Ludke edged friend and current circuit points leader Jordan Jackowiak of DeKalb for the title.

Cory McKay of St. Charles, another Ludke pal, sits fourth in the 2014 standings, 42 points behind Jackowiak.

It's possible the No. 20 car could appear in its familiar habitat in the near future as Ludke braces for some upcoming events at LaSalle Speedway, which allows larger engine and suspension sizes and is sanctioned by the United Midwestern Promoters.

Although he's ineligible for Sycamore points races, Ludke can race hot laps without factoring into feature qualifying. Given recent modifications to his car, that might be quite the spectacle.

"He'd be a rocket out at Sycamore," said Ludke's dad and crew chief, Scott. "He would be a rocket, because it's all different."

A mechanic at Al Piemonte Chrysler Jeep Dodge in St. Charles, Ludke had plenty of time to process his 2014 racing reality.

During last season's finale, Sycamore flagman Dave Radloff, a past "forceout rule" casualty Ludke remembers idolizing as a teen, leaned over with a message as well as the final checkered flag.

"Before he handed it to me," Ludke said, "he yelled down at me and yelled, 'Welcome to the club!' with a big old smile on his face. It was pretty fun."

Whether he's sitting in the stands or at the wheel, enjoying himself remains Ludke's top priority.

Of course, that's a challenge when he's stationary, but the actions of others can go a long way.

"Just, 'When are you coming back? We miss you,' " Scott Ludke said. "Like Timmy says, 'That's it right there, dad. That's why I do this.' "

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