Last night’s Prelude To The Dream all-star event at Eldora Speedway brought a number of championship drivers to the middle of Ohio farm country to wrestle 900-horsepower, 2,300-pound dirt cars around one of the top dirt tracks in the nation.
A number of the drivers in the star-studded lineup cut their teeth on dirt late models or modifieds and some – like Ty Dillon and Clint Bowyer – aren’t that far removed from their dirt-track days. But for some drivers in the field, the closest they get to a dirt car is right before they go to the car wash.
Turning right to go left doesn’t really work in our cars. The first time I did it, it was really cool but I was completely lost
But a chance to run in Tony Stewart’s top-flight charity event, which raised money last night for the Feed The Children program, has enticed drivers from many different disciplines to come try their luck –despite the fact that for some, these cars are an entirely different animal.
“Every year I get a little more experience and I feel more comfortable but these cars are so different than Indy Cars that it’s hard to get comfortable,” said former Indy Car champion Tony Kanaan. “Turning right to go left doesn’t really work in our cars. The first time I did it, it was really cool but I was completely lost.”
But figuring out the car is only half the battle. Because about the time that you get a handle on what makes these beasts work best, you then have to deal with 25 others championship-winning drivers that want to win as badly as you do.
“You wake up the next day and you are mentally exhausted,” said 34-time NHRA event winner Ron Capps. “You’re not used to doing all the things you need to do to drive the car well. When you do well, the next day it feels like you’ve run eight races because you have to be so focused all night.”
So as a driver unfamiliar with dirt cars, you’ve figured out what makes the cars work, how to turn, how to slide, and how much focus that it takes to race to the front. Now all that’s left is summoning the power the body needs to lead the heavy cars on a slick surface through 25 other cars on a half-mile bullring. Sound easy? It isn’t.
“Physically it’s very demanding to drive these cars,” said former NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte. “I did a handful of laps last week in North Carolina and I’ll tell you what, the guys that drive these cars for 100-lap features are tough guys.”