A Little Respect For Eldora Speedway Goes A Long Way Norman, OK -- April 5, 2006 -- In motorsports there are fewer pieces of real estate more coveted than Eldora Speedway's Victory Lane. A win at Eldora is anything but luck. Taking the...
A Little Respect For Eldora Speedway Goes A Long Way
Norman, OK -- April 5, 2006 -- In motorsports there are fewer pieces of real estate more coveted than Eldora Speedway's Victory Lane.
A win at Eldora is anything but luck. Taking the checkered flag is clear sign of skill, concentration and nerve. The corners on the half-mile oval are banked 24 degrees, the straights are banked 8 degrees. When a World of Outlaws Sprint Car winds up its more than 850 horsepower motor, the speeds are breathtaking. When that same World of Outlaws Sprint Car reaches those speeds with 23 other cars on the intimidating track, it's the fans that are left breathless.
More than anything, Eldora is a proving ground. Situated in Western Ohio between Rossburg and New Weston, many of the legends in the sport have competed there. Opened in 1954, Earl Baltes operated Eldora until the conclusion of the 2004 season, when current NASCAR champion Tony Stewart bought the facility where he also has been a winner.
Under Stewart's ownership and the highly respected crew he put in place to continue the Eldora tradition, a new generation of racers will be seeking to put their names alongside the legends when the Mean 15 racers from the World of Outlaws invade the storied facility beginning Friday for a two-day event presented by McDonald's.
Among those drivers who will roll onto the Eldora clay for the first time in their careers is Justin Henderson, a Mean 15 racer who has had success at another storied dirt track, Knoxville Raceway.
"I'm really looking forward to the high speeds and running everywhere on the racetrack, passing back-and-forth," said Henderson, a native of Sioux Falls, S.D., who pilots the Race Girl/Jolt Energy Gum Schnee powered by Hollywood Engines. "It's a real high-speed racetrack. I've been to Knoxville, but Eldora has such a bank to it. I want to see the bank, for one. I've heard a lot about it, but I really want to race at the higher speeds. It's going to be a lot of fun for us.
"I've talked to quite a few people who have raced there before and they said just get ready to stand on the gas. It's a wide-open type of racetrack and hopefully our car is balanced right and we can go wide open. I'm really looking forward to going. It'll be the fastest I've ever gone I'm sure."
The spring-like temperatures no doubt will be favorable to the powerplants in these machines. Mean 15 racer Craig Dollansky owns the single-lap record of 12.707 seconds. The action throughout the night will hover above 130 mph. As a comparison, the speeds for a NASCAR Nextel Cup Series at high-banked, half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway are about three seconds slower than the Outlaws at Eldora.
"There's no place like Eldora," said Chad Kemenah, a Mean 15 racer from Findlay, Ohio, who races the Underground Utilities Inc. Eagle. "Eldora is just a place of its own. It's really fun because of the speeds and it's usually a really good show for the fans.
"The only thing I'd say to anybody who is racing Eldora for the first time is that you better have respect for it because if not it'll get you. There's just no substitute for seat time at that place, that's the biggest thing about Eldora."
Respect. That's a common theme among the veteran racers in the Mean 15 when they discuss Eldora. They've seen and experienced the wicked crashes and they have no desire to be in one again. They believe a little respect could take them all the way to the checkered flag.
"I love the place," said Brooke Tatnell, a native of San Souci, New South Wales, Australia and the Mean 15 driver of the Garlic Jim's Pizza/Castrol Eagle. "It's probably one of the fastest tracks you go to and it's probably the racetrack that hurts you more than anywhere else. We haven't had a good run there in a long time, but we've been fast until something happens. I've had a couple of pretty big wrecks there and have had some other things go wrong that kept us out of good finishes. It's just a wicked place. It's a place where you sit down, hang on, don't turn the steering wheel and make sure you say a good prayer before you get strapped in."
Now, those words could be unsettling to somebody who is seeing Eldora for the first time, but the mere thought of competing there brings a smile to just about any racer's face.
"Eldora is going to be pretty exciting," said Becca Anderson, a Mean 15 racer who will be joined this weekend by Woodring Racing teammate Kenny Jacobs. "Hopefully we'll get the car going a little better and not so tight so we can get up on the wall and get going. It's going to be exciting to have Kenny Jacobs there as a team car because Kenny gets around the place so well. Hopefully I'll learn something from him. -- You definitely want to get running against the wall, not in the wall or on the wall. It's one of those things where you can't be intimidated by the track but you have to respect it all at once."
The wall. At Eldora, it can also be known as the cushion. Often times, running along the wall is the fastest way around the half-mile. A racer can build momentum. An extremely daring racer will use that momentum to pass on the outside, but it's a fine line. Too daring a racer will end up in or over the concrete barrier.
"I hadn't been there since 1997 going into last year and I was a little leery of it," said Terry McCarl, a native of Altoona, Iowa, and the Mean 15 driver of the Big Game Treestands Eagle. "I was that way with a few tracks so I'm glad we got last year under our belt. Every time we went back I got better and better and got my qualifying down right away after the first time we were there. Then we finished second the last time we were there. I like Eldora. I like tracks with fences because I like to bang off the fence. Now I've got a year back under my belt and I feel real comfortable there and I'm really looking forward to going back."
Nobody is looking forward to competing at Eldora more than Mean 15 racer Jac Haudenschild. The Wild Child is known for his ability to ride the top side of the track to victory. At Eldora, he's done just that five times in World of Outlaws competition, including last August. He also swept the Kings Royal weekend in 1998 and has been a racer many drivers try to imitate when they compete at Eldora.
"We're looking forward to getting back to Eldora," said Haudenschild, a 40-time World of Outlaws A-feature winner from Wooster, Ohio, who is aiming this season to deliver a victory to car owner Rick Wright. "We're just getting started and the Rick Wright car has been feeling pretty good to us."
When it comes to the racing, being comfortable is almost as important as having enough nerve. A well-balanced car will go forward, and fast.
"That track's a track where experience matters most," said Brownsburg, Ind., native Joey Saldana, the Mean 15 driver of the Kasey Kahne Motorsports Central Merchant Services Inc. JEI powered by Mopar. "You could tell somebody until you're blue in the face, but it has nothing to do with anything until the driver figures it out. You just hope nothing crazy happens and they get some good laps and get some experience."
Like any track, there is no replacement for experience. Those who have tasted victory at Eldora seek a chance to celebrate once again in front of some of the grandest of grandstands in dirt track racing.
"It's awesome running at Eldora," said Jeremy Campbell, who at 22 is the youngest of the Mean 15 racers and the driver of the Americas Best Value Inn Maxim who won an All Star Circuit of Champions event on Earl Baltes' final night as owner in 2004. "It's got the speed going so fast. Running up against the wall. It's a real competitive racetrack. Anybody can win there. It just depends on who is quick and who can make the last move at the last time and get across the finish line. -- When you're going through those turns, you're cruising. There is no rollercoaster out there like it. It's awesome."
It also could have a major impact on the current World of Outlaws championship standings. Donny Schatz is on top in the ParkerStore J&J, having won three of the past four events. But Schatz has not won an A-feature World of Outlaws race at Eldora.
"It's one of those places where we haven't shined," said Schatz, of Fargo, N.D., who has won a preliminary feature as well as the 2002 Historical Big One. "We're excited to go back there. We have a lot of things we want to try. Obviously when we go there in the spring the weather is cold and the motors run real good so there could be a new track record. Maybe it'll be us, maybe it'll be somebody else but there's always the threat of doing that. That's a neat thing to do at Eldora and that's about the only time of the year you can do it. -- We just want to get ourselves in a good position for the Kings Royal [in July at Eldora] so we're going to try a few things and hopefully we'll be fast enough to be up front."
"I don't think there's anything you can tell anybody about racing at Eldora. It's big and the experience there sometimes pays off. Obviously, some of the best drivers at that place have been around the longest. We haven't been as good as we want to be. We've won there in the past, but times have changed since that happened. We're excited to get there and hopefully we can get everything in our program good enough to where we can be contending for a win."
Another driver on the verge of earning his first victory of 2006 is Craig Dollansky. A former winner and the current track record holder at Eldora, Dollansky is hoping the momentum from his two top-five finishes last weekend in the Mean 15 Karavan Trailers Maxim will carry through to Friday and Saturday night.
"I always enjoy going to Eldora," said Dollansky, a native of Elk River, Minn., who has posted many victories in his career at Eldora with the All Stars and the World of Outlaws. "It's definitely one of my favorite racetracks. There's a lot of speed there, a lot of action goes on racing back-and-forth. Hitting that place in the springtime is definitely something I look forward to."
A couple of drivers looking forward to returning to Eldora for the first time in several seasons are new Mean 15 racers Brian Carlson and Dion Hindi.
Hindi, who has added RealTruck.com sponsorship to his J&J chassis, has been especially fast on half-mile speedways this season. After working with the Schatz Motorsports team in 2005, Hindi has been back behind the wheel this season and is geared up for Eldora.
"I've had some good races and bad races there," said Hindi, of Albuquerque, N.M. "When you're on the racetrack you don't have the sensation of speed. It's like everything condenses down and it doesn't feel as big as it is. It's usually a pretty good racetrack. We are looking forward to getting back there and hopefully running pretty good."
Carlson, of Linden, Ind., also is racing at Eldora for the first time in a few seasons and knows experience will be a factor in the event this weekend.
"I guess the one thing about Eldora is that you have to be comfortable there," said Carlson, driver of the No. 18 Lincoln Electric Maxim. "Even if the track slicks off, it's still real fast. On some nights it's right against the fence and there isn't much to lean on. Lately it seems like some guys have been working the middle and the bottom pretty good. The big thing is the momentum. You have to keep your momentum up there. It's a track where if you feel comfortable you seem to go fast. We've done pretty well there in the past so I'm looking forward to getting back to some familiar ground."
Familiarity with Eldora should benefit Randy Hannagan and his Terry Hannagan Racing Maxim, too. Although he grew up in San Jose, Calif., Hannagan has been living near Indianapolis and racing throughout the Midwest with the World of Outlaws and the All Star Circuit of Champions for several years. In fact, Hannagan earned a couple of victories just last season at Eldora.
"It's good for me because I've had some success there and I need to carry it over to this year, plus it's close to home," Hannagan said. "The speed is kind of relevant, but the racing is good. When the track gets slick it gets real racy. It's one of the raciest racetracks we go to and I really enjoy that part of it. It's not a follow-the-leader type of place. Starting position doesn't mean a whole lot because if you're car is good you can pass and work your way to the front. It's a place where I have to be consistent. I've won some races there and I like it. The more speed the better."
Ultimately, that's what Eldora is known for -- the speed. It's something Rob Chaney has proven he can handle with multiple top-five finishes in the Eldora sprint division standings. Chaney's success in the NOS Energy Drink/Mafia Motorsports Maxim has allowed Mean 15 racer Jason Martin a chance to heal from injuries sustained in a crash at East Bay Raceway before the season-opening World of Outlaws event at Volusia Speedway Park. It also gives Martin, who has not raced before at Eldora, a chance to watch and learn as Chaney screams around the high banks before Martin climbs back into the car around the beginning of May.
"I've been to Eldora before, but I'm really excited about it because Rob's always gone real good there," said Martin, of Liberal, Kan. "Hopefully we can pull something out of our hat and get something good there."
More than anything, though, every visit to Eldora is a chance to learn something new. The racers that understand that concept the most are the ones who ultimately will succeed there. They understand the speed, but they understand it's more than just putting the car on the wall and going all out.
"I always look forward to going to Eldora," said Daryn Pittman, a native of Owasso, Okla., who drives Mean 15 Titan Garages & Carports Maxim. "It's a lot of fun and one of my favorite racetracks to go run at. It's the first real true test of speed. We'll have a tough car count. It's always a tough place and it's a lot of fun when you're good there.
"That place is tough on my 50th trip if I've been there that many times, let alone my first. It's the most fun racetrack when you have a good car and the worst whenever you don't have a very good car. It's a learning curve every time everybody goes there."
And it's a case where a little respect will go a long way. Maybe even to Victory Lane.