A Track Like No Other: Saldana Excited to Return to Eldora New Weston, OH--July 31, 2006 -- Joey Saldana has been going to Eldora Speedway for a long time. He still gets chills down his spine each and every time he walks into the infield at the...
A Track Like No Other: Saldana Excited to Return to Eldora
New Weston, OH--July 31, 2006 -- Joey Saldana has been going to Eldora Speedway for a long time. He still gets chills down his spine each and every time he walks into the infield at the famed track. He knows there is a certain aura about the whole experience of going to Eldora that is truly priceless.
Countless legends have won at the storied half-mile and Saldana is proud to have added his name to that list. He knows how hard it is to win any race at the track, let alone the Kings Royal, one of the crown jewels of sprint car racing. Saldana still can't believe sometimes that he has been crowned "King Joey" two separate times in his career.
That will all be a distant memory this weekend though, as Saldana returns to the track that can humble even the most experienced of drivers. The native of Brownsburg, Ind., recalls fondly the first time he made the trek to Eldora. It was like nothing he had ever seen before.
"The first year I went there was 1990. I went there for an All Stars show," said Saldana, who drives the Mopar-powered Dodge/Curb Records JEI. "I remember I ran second in my heat race. I remember telling my dad when it was over that I was running up by the fence and Jack Hewitt passed me between myself and the fence. Obviously I had a lot to learn about that place. It is not like most tracks."
Saldana knows that each trip to the track presents new challenges and he has to look each one with an open mind, and can take nothing for granted. Even though he has won the biggest race at the track twice, there are still intricacies there that he is still discovering.
"I feel as a driver I have learned a lot about it," said Saldana. "A lot about Eldora is that you have to respect it. I definitely respect the place, and I think that is why we have had some good finishes there."
For Saldana and the team, the win at the Kings Royal was one of the highlights of the year and served notice to the rest of the Mean 15 that the team was here to stay. After enduring some bad luck at Eldora earlier this season, Saldana feels they have a good grasp on what it takes to run upfront at the always wickedly fast half-mile.
"I felt pretty good the races prior to the Kings Royal," Saldana said. "Obviously that track is very demanding on your equipment, and we seemed to not get a grip on getting a good finish. The first two shows we finished well but qualified poorly. Then we finally got our qualifying going and we were racing pretty good, and had some bad luck."
That all changed after a dominating performance at the Kings Royal that nabbed the team a $50,000 payday in front of a huge crowd.
"The Kings Royal was definitely a good finish and what we striving to do," said Saldana. "Going back there I am very excited, especially after 'The Grove' (Williams Grove Speedway). We felt like we had a decent car there, but nothing worth competing for the win. We just struggled there all week with motors and going back a track like Eldora where we have had some success, is good for the team and morale. We're looking to go there and have a good run."
Saldana, who drives for NASCAR superstar Kasey Kahne, certainly is living up to the standards that Kahne set for the team before they took to the road this season. In fact, Saldana has won more races than his boss so far this year. Saldana has reached RacinSoles Victory lane six times with the World of Outlaws, while Kahne has visited the winners circle five times in NASCAR's two top divisions.
"When I got the job, Kasey had me sign a contract," said Saldana. "I had never signed a contract in sprint car racing before, but I did for Kasey. In his contract, there were priorities for the team, not that we could not do it, but what the team was striving for. The first thing was the Knoxville Nationals. The second thing was the Kings Royal, and the third was the World of Outlaws championship. To achieve one of the three that was on his list was huge for us."
Saldana is quick to point out the fact, that this is the first time the team has gone on the road full-time with a tour to chase a point championship. The crew led by Willie Kahne has put countless hours in at the shop and on the road to give Saldana the fastest and safest cars every time they roll off the trailer.
"I'd say we are way ahead of where we should be," Saldana said. "There's still a few more things on his list, so hopefully we can achieve them too."
For Saldana and the crew they were thrilled to have Kahne present at the Kings Royal last month. Due to his very demanding schedule, the former sprint car driver, who still climbs into an open wheel car when he has time, is not able to make it out to too many races, but he certainly keep up with Saldana and the team on any given night, thanks to modern technology.
"Anytime you can have your owner at the race is huge," said Saldana. "For him especially, he doesn't get to go to many races. He gets DirtVision and loves DirtVision. It's neat that he is that in-tune with sprint car racing, and enjoys it. To have him there and have his car perform as well as it did, on a track where I'm sure he got some bragging rights on Tony Stewart for at least a week, was pretty neat. It keeps him enthused. If your owner is not happy spending that kind of money to be out with the World of Outlaws, then they're not going to be here very long. Right now he is very happy. Hopefully he will be in this sport and running with the World of Outlaws for quite a while."
Saldana is currently second in World of Outlaws championship points behind Donny Schatz. The 1996 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Presented by Maxim Racing and ButlerBuilt has picked up 19 Top-Five finishes. He just crossed the $200,000 mark in season earnings with a strong showing at the Princeton PolyDome Nationals. Since a win at Terre Haute on June 4, Saldana has had only one finish outside of the Top-10.
"For us, we just have to keep doing what we are doing," said Saldana. "For me personally, I have finished third in the points. You always want to do better than what you have done in the past. First and second is definitely something I want to achieve as a driver and as a team."
Saldana knows it will probably take a little bit of luck to catch Schatz, who has already won 10 races this season. He knows that there is still a full 3 months of racing left, and he has plenty of opportunities to gain points. With the consistency he has shown, finishing in the Top-10 in 33 of the 38 A-Feature races this season, anything is possible.
"I've never really set any expectations on our team to where we should finish," he said. "As a team to win the championship you have to have a really good year. Donny Schatz is having a career year. If I finished second to him, I would not be unhappy or disappointed with our performance. I know how tough he is and his team. He's been out here for a long time and has earned that spot, and we haven't. Maybe it shows that we have something to build on, and in time we can come out and make a run at the championship."
For ticket information about the race at Eldora Speedway visit www.eldoraspeedway.com, or call 937-338-3815. On Friday, tickets for those 16-over will be $25. Tickets for children ages 12-15 will be just $12, for children 7-11 tickets will be $6, while children 6-under will be admitted free of charge.