For last year's NASCAR truck race, the surface was one-groove, making passing tough. This year, trucks were four wide. Here's why.
If there was one problem with the 2013 debut of the NASCAR Camping World truck series race at the Eldora Speedway dirt track – and, frankly, it was pretty much the only problem – it was that passing was nearly impossible.
This year – wow. In 2013, the only groove was a very narrow one, right at the top of the track. But in Wednesday night’s race, drivers could run high, low, in the middle – three, four and even five-wide racing was not only possible, but occurred practically every lap.
How did track owner Tony Stewart and his crew do it?
First, we have to realize that the track-preparation crew couldn’t do what they could with every other series that races there – soak it with water. The NASCAR trucks must run with a regular windshield – it’s actually a structural component – whereas every other dirt car runs with, at most, a wire-mesh screen. But drivers’ helmets have multiple clear-plastic tear-offs that they can remove when they get muddy.
Mud doesn’t block their vision entirely, but if the NASCAR trucks ran on a muddy track it would, as there is no way to clear the mud away.
Stuck with 'dry slick'
Consequently, Eldora’s crew must prepare the track to stay what’s called “dry slick,” meaning the surface has to stay relatively dry. Keeping it that way, plus ensuring that dust doesn’t become a problem, is a real challenge.
Monday, Motorsport.com asked Stewart if there was any way, given the limitations, to prepare the surface this year to make it more raceable.
Here’s what Stewart told us:
“I read what some of the motorsports writers who are dirt fans wrote, and they were complaining about the track being really hard and black-slick, not a sticky racetrack like they would have liked to have seen. The problem is we can't prep it that way.
“We have the ability to do it, but the problem is with windshields in the trucks, you can't have it sticky and muddy. If it's throwing mud up on there, the drivers are eventually going to get to where they can't see, because they don't have the ability like all the other dirt series that run that have open windshields in the front where the driver can pull tear off. We don't have that ability with Truck Series. We're kind of stuck prepping it really hard, slick like that.
We're kind of stuck prepping it really hard, slick like that.
“I'm not going to say the track it was one lane, but it was pretty tricky around the wall on the outside, and that is kind of the history of Eldora to be right up on the fence like that. The thing that Roger [Slack, Eldora general manager] and Chad [Little, ex-racer and now NASCAR truck series director] worked on this spring was they took about 12 to 14 inches of material, about the last eight feet by the wall, and kind of took some of that banking out of it and blended it into the middle of the racetrack to try to make it to where it hopefully will have a second or maybe even a third groove this year.
“So unlike a pavement track where you can't make any changes to it, on a dirt track we have that opportunity to try to tune the surface and make it better and more competitive. So we did that -- and that was something we did right after the event, after getting the first one done -- we were able to look at that and say, ‘Maybe we can tweak the racetrack and make a difference.’ So we'll see if those changes work.”
They did indeed. Though winner Darrell Wallace made it look easy at the end, Kyle Larson’s all-out, near-heroic charge was downright stellar until he finally hit the outside wall one too many times. Racing was tight all through the pack.
If that race didn’t get your mid-week adrenalin pumping, you’re watching the wrong sport.