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DUBUQUE — Darin Duffy was about ready to quit racing.
The veteran IMCA Modified driver has raced for a long time, and set a standard for himself in the winning department. Before this season, though, that had changed. For the first time in his career, he had gone a full season without a single win — and it stretched into two in a row, encompassing both the 2015 and 2016 race seasons.
Then came this year.
The Urbana driver has found 2017 “restorative.” He got his ninth win of the season on Saturday night at the Rumble on the River at Dubuque Speedway, and did it by leading the last 100 or so feet — riding the top lane, right against the wall, to beat Mark Schulte off the final turn and take the $3,000 winner’s check.
“Wow, that was something,” Duffy said through and ear-to-ear grin. “I don’t know what else to say.”
His grin said enough, to be honest. This year has re-lit a fire, he said, that had about burned out.
“(This year has) been completely restorative, that’s exactly what it is,” Duffy said. “To not win, it burns me up. If we had a year this year like the last two, I was going to be done. But we didn’t.
“To win this many in only 26 or so nights, it’s great.”
Saturday night was fun because it has added to a resurgent year, but also because the race itself simply was enthralling — for those watching and participating.
Two distinct racing grooves developed, with Schulte — starting from the pole — leading a train of cars right next to the guard rail while Travis Denning was one of the few to run the top. Duffy tried it early in the race, and fell as far back as fifth searching for a fast lane.
While Schulte and Jason Schueller raced for the win, Duffy searched and searched. A late restart and the realization that running the bottom behind Schulte and Schueller wasn’t going to get it done made the difference. Duffy committed to the top, scraped the wall a few times with the right rear quarter panel, and set himself up for the winning pass by walking the tight rope that was the cushion.
“I was going to be happy with third because I was just terrible at the beginning of that race,” Duffy said. “But when I got back to third, I was like, ‘I didn’t come here to get third. I came to win.’ We just had to be patient on the top and keep the car underneath you.
“When we came to the white, I had a good run and knew as long as I didn’t absolutely kill it the last lap, I knew we’d be all right. We just had to get a good run, and we did.”
As thrilled as Duffy was, that was how despondent Schulte was in the racecar when he parked on the front stretch after the race was done. The Delhi driver led 29 laps — which got him $900 in lap money to top off his $2,500 second place check, meaning he took home more than Duffy did for winning — but not leading the 30th had him sick.
He was able to laugh and crack a smile after standing on the front stretch with his family and crew, but only, he said, because they were there to make him.
Losing a race that way is incredibly hard to take.
“I didn’t want to get out of the car at first,” Schulte said. “It just bothers me. I’m better now. We made some money at least. That’s the positive side.”
Duffy got the win ahead of Schulte, Schueller, Denning and Bryce Garnhart, and got to celebrate without seeing the track until it was main event time.
His son, Karter, had a pair of soccer games on Saturday, and Duffy stayed long enough for the first one before rushing to Dubuque. He rolled into the pits at 6:05 p.m., as hot laps were coming to a close, and shrugged and smiled when The Gazette asked him if he knew what time it was.
Duffy gave the same expression in Victory Lane when reminded he was late Saturday. He quipped about his age and experience, as well as wanting to be there for his son, and laughed off his timeliness.
When you’re having the year Duffy is, nothing much stresses you out.
“I don’t think most of the guys realized we were late; we kind of snuck in,” Duffy said. “I’ve raced a long time. We knew by the feature what the track was going to be like. This is my kind of track. I like the slick.
“That was a blast, and we had to work hard for it.”
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