Editorial Trucks

ELDORA: The Grand Dame of Dirt

By: Ro Cowan, Red Dirt Clay

*Special to POPULAR SPEED*

Eldora is one of the most historical and most beautiful tracks on the circuit. When you walk through her gates, you get the same kind of chills you get when you walk through the gates of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If you listen closely, you can hear her history whispered in echoes – welcoming you to her grounds, her track and her family.

Eldora is a high banked, ½-mile clay oval track. Her turns are banked at 24 degrees and her straightaways are banked at eight degrees. Her perfect oval shape makes her very unforgiving and more than one legend has met her third turn wall very unceremoniously. Known as “Big E” she has been auto racing’s showcase since 1954 but her beginnings were very humble. Eldora began as a corn field.

“Had to think a long time about cutting it out in the first place because we were getting 125 bushels per acre on that land,” recalled Earl Baltes who is the original owner and creator of Eldora. In 1954, Baltes opened the brand new ¼-mile clay track known as Eldora. He would enlarge the track to a 3/8th-mile in 1956 and again to its current ½-mile high banked configuration in 1958.

In 1958, most dirt tracks had either no walls or they had retaining fences made from wood or Armco steel rails. Baltes erected concrete retaining walls to the facility to keep the cars inside the track. Eldora was the first dirt track to use concrete walls, a move that many still question today.

In 1971, Eldora began writing her own storied legend when Baltes announced the World 100 for Late Models. Over 200 cars showed up with only 24 making the show. The purse, in the beginning, was $4000 with $1000 being added every year since that time. Respect for the race is evident when all dirt tracks in neighboring states go dark that weekend. This allows drivers, fans and owners to attend the race that is considered the birthplace of modern dirt late model racing.

Nearly 25 years later Baltes created the second signature event at Eldora: “The Dream.”  To grab the attention of competitors across the country he offered a winner’s purse of $100,000. The pre-registration list showed 234 entries. “The Dream” still runs today and this year will host a different format which has not yet been unveiled.

In 2001, “The Eldora Million” was run for the first time. Its winner was long-time Eldora favorite, Donnie Moran, who won the first million dollar racing purse in the history of the sport.

Eldora has played host to many sanctioning bodies races over the years. ARCA, CRA, UMP, All Star Sprints, World of Outlaws and USAC are just a few.

In 1962, USAC brought its non-wing sprint cars to the track for the first time. They became a quick favorite of Eldora and a staple on her schedule. In 1978 the first annual World of Outlaws Kings Royal was held. It quickly became an annual event and one of the crown jewels for The World of Outlaws Winged Sprint Cars.

In 1981, Eldora began the 4 Crown Nationals. The race consisted of drivers from Midgets, Sprints, Silver Crown and Late Model/Modifieds/World of Outlaws. The first winners were Ken Schrader in Midgets, Steve Kinser in Sprints and Silver Crown and Joe Wallace in Late Model/Modifieds. The 4 Crown Nationals still runs every year. In its 22-year history, many drivers have won two legs and even three legs but only once has anyone won all four crowns. In 1998, Jack Hewitt won all four divisions and set a record that has yet to be matched.

In 2004 Eldora opened a new chapter in her history when Tony Stewart, three-time NASCAR champion and multi-race winner at Eldora, purchased the track from Earl Baltes. Stewart made immediate improvements such as adding a video score board, new catch fence (now known as Eldora catch fencing), new caution light system and LED Billboards. Two years ago he added a weather warning system and built “Little E,” which is a “track inside a track” with a 1/20-mile track for Quarter Midgets and a 1/7-mile track for Go Karts.

In 2005, Stewart added his own signature race: “The Prelude to The Dream.” The race ran the night before the legendary Dream for Late Models. It consisted of visiting Sprint Cup drivers who competed for charity in borrowed cars. The Prelude ran from 2005 thru 2012. It has been placed on hold because of the new format making “The Dream” a two-night show. In the fall of 2012, the historical announcement was made that Eldora would complete her sanctioning body list by adding NASCAR.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will run at Eldora in July 2013. It is the series first trip to a dirt track and will host a pure USAC format in what is titled, “The Mudsummer Classic.”

The NCWTS drivers will seek to add their names to the list of winners at Eldora that include drivers like Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Doug Wolfgang, Joey Saldana, Jack Hewitt, Tony Stewart, Ken Schrader, Jac Haudenschild and Kyle Larson – just to name a few.

The “Grand Dame of Dirt” seats 20,000 spectators and features bleacher as well as hillside seating. She is one of the crown jewels of the world of dirt track competition.


Photo Credit: Eldora Speedway


Bubba Wants Trucks?

With the inaugural Mudsummer Classic NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway already announced as a sellout, and with teams clamoring for a second dirt track event to justify the costs of specialized equipment, the search is on for where NASCAR could next promote the Truck Series on the red hills and clay.

While some fans would prefer NASCAR host just one dirt race — to avoid diluting the specialness of the event — a second race on dirt just makes a lot sense on a variety of levels.

The majority of NASCAR fans are largely disinterested with the oversaturation of intermediate speedways like Charlotte, Texas and Chicagoland. The Truck Series was built on grassroots venues like Saugus Speedway, I-70 Raceway and Indianapolis Raceway Park — and dirt tracks like Eldora fits the same mold.

An additional event on dirt just makes the most sense — it’s just a matter of finding a track that fits all of NASCAR’s safety and logistics protocols.

The Dirt Track at Charlotte

The most logical option is the Dirt Track at Charlotte, located just across the big Speedway in Concord. It doesn’t require much schedule wrangling either as Bruton Smith could just move his existing All-Star weekend Truck Series date across the street without affecting any other NASCAR event on the schedule.

And it’s no secret that Bruton will want a piece of NASCAR’s muddy new toy if Eldora proves to be a success.

Bubba Raceway Park

The second-best option is perhaps the most unorthodox — Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.

Formerly Ocala Speedway, the 3/8-mile clay oval has undergone a variety of changes since being purchased by radio personality “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem in 2011.

Clem temporarily closed the facility following his purchase and completely renovated the oldest speedway in Florida, installing fresh grandstands, a new Musco Lighting system, restrooms and a paved asphalt/concrete pit area, making it by far the most modern dirt track in the Deep South.

The Love Sponge believes he could host a NASCAR event and believes such a venture would be quite successful too.

“Bring them on,” Clem recently told Popular Speed. “We can not only handle them – we’ll teach them what real racing is.”

Clem is not always politically correct but his facility is first class and hosts every major dirt touring series in the country, speaking volumes about Bubba Raceway Park.

The Best of the Rest

Other options included Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA), Lebanon Valley Speedway (West Lebanon, NY), Lernerville Speedway (Sarver, PA) and Stockton 99 Speedway – Dirt (Stockton, CA). Popular Speed contacted each of the speedways to get their feedback and uncovered the following.

Williams Grove officials explained that their track could handle the demands of the NASCAR Truck Series but the facility and parking could not handle the logistics. Lernerville officials said that their track, with maximum speeds of 126-to-135 mph could handle the NASCAR Trucks but their grandstands could not accommodate the crowds.

Neither track expressed a desire to make the changes necessary to conform to NASCAR standards and will continue to host high-level dirt sanctioning series as the mainstay of their schedules.

Stockton 99 has a built in NASCAR relationship, hosting the K&N Pro Series West on the paved oval but track officials said that they would not be able to meet the insurance and financial requirements required by NASCAR for a National Touring Series event.

What other dirt tracks could host a NASCAR Truck Series event? Should the sanctioning body just stop with one? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.



Tracy Hines Has Unfinished Business in Truck Series

At first glance, the Mudsummer Classic is just another stop on the July trail for two-time USAC open-wheel champion Tracy Hines.

The veteran racer is flush in the middle of Indiana Sprint Week — a series of consecutive sprint car shows — but this Tuesday and Wednesday presents an opportunity that Hines couldn’t pass up. As it turns out, Eldora is one of Hines’ favorite tracks and he has some unfinished business to take care of in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Hines competed in 48 Truck Series events with ThorSport Racing in 2004/2005 and returns to the team for the first time since on Tuesday afternoon. He had mid-level success during his NASCAR tenure but never really achieved the notoriety in the sport that he had in USAC.

And most importantly, the Mudsummer Classic presented the perfect opportunity to achieve a lifelong dream – to become a NASCAR winner.

“That’s something every driver wants to have on his resume for sure,” Hines told Popular Speed on Monday. “I never had a chip on my shoulder about what I did or didn’t achieve in NASCAR — these guys are some of the best in the world.

“But I do think this is the best chance I’ve had at showing what I can do in a NASCAR setting. ThorSport has really evolved into an elite level team over the past few years and it’s going to be incredibly fun to race for them again.”

Despite returning to the open-wheel ranks for the past 10 years, Hines has kept in touch with ThorSport owner Duke Thorson. When the NASCAR dirt event was first teased last summer, Hines sent Thorson a text and they agreed that they would run the race together if it materialized.

“I’m still flabbergasted,” Hines said of how quickly the Mudsummer Classic came together. “I felt that there was no way they could make this happen — but they have and it’s going to be huge.”

Hines said that the race fills a much-needed void in a Truck Series schedule that has increasingly been overran with intermediate speedways. Coming from the dirt and open-wheel ranks, Hines added that the current Truck Series system doesn’t give incentive for grassroots drivers to make the jump — and having a dirt event will help bridge the gap.

“I don’t want to speak for NASCAR,” Hines said. “But I do think that was the point of it, to get a full field of diverse drivers on a track that requires a slightly different skillset and the fans have responded. I hope they add more in the future. ”

Hines has won 12 times at the high-banked Eldora, including 11 victories is the elite level USAC national Sprint Car division, which is second on the track’s all-time wins list to only the legendary Jack Hewitt. But a victory in the inaugural Mudsummer Classic could be his most-prestigious trophy yet.