SETTING THE STAGE AN EXACT SCIENCE AT TONY STEWART'S "FIELD OF DREAMS" Groundskeepers Play Key Role in Getting Eldora Speedway in Perfect Condition for Old Spice Prelude to the Dream ROSSBURG, Ohio (June 2, 2008) -- With more than 20,000 ...
SETTING THE STAGE AN EXACT SCIENCE AT TONY STEWART'S "FIELD OF DREAMS"
Groundskeepers Play Key Role in Getting Eldora Speedway in Perfect Condition for Old Spice Prelude to the Dream
ROSSBURG, Ohio (June 2, 2008) -- With more than 20,000 people in the grandstands and countless others tuning into the HBO Pay-Per-View broadcast of the fourth annual Old Spice Prelude to the Dream at 7 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 4, there will be plenty of attention paid to the cars and stars as they lap the half-mile dirt oval that is Eldora Speedway.
But long before such world-renown drivers as Tony Stewart Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch descend upon Eldora and the tiny hamlet of Rossburg, Ohio, the unsung heroes of the historic dirt track set the stage for what has become a must-see racing event.
While other premiere sporting events such as The Masters, Super Bowl and World Series have scores of people that work to get the respective playing surfaces ready for the big events, Eldora also has a staff -- albeit much smaller -- that has been working long hours each day to keep the track in the best racing shape possible for the Old Spice Prelude to the Dream.
"What people don't see is that at a dirt track, it's not a matter of just putting dirt on it the day of the race," said Stewart, the two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion who also doubles as owner of Eldora Speedway. "It's Larry Kemp and Larry Boos, and Earl Baltes' grandson Chad, who do the majority of the work during the week. It's a seven-day-a-week job taking care of a dirt track. You want to get moisture in it early in the week to where, no matter what the conditions are on race day, you're able to adjust how much water you put on it on race day, so when nighttime comes, that moisture keeps coming out."
Even though it takes plenty of preparation to get Eldora Speedway ready for any of its weekly events, which includes World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series and United States Auto Club (USAC) races, Stewart's staff prepares the track a bit differently for the Old Spice Prelude to the Dream.
With a field that has various levels of experience competing in 2,300-pound dirt late model stock cars capable of putting out over 800 horsepower, Stewart and his staff put down less water than usual over the track's clay surface. Typically, the Eldora Speedway staff would prepare the track with plenty of water to be soft and tacky, which helps produce fast lap times. But some of the drivers in this year's Old Spice Prelude to the Dream having little to no dirt track experience. The less water laid down on the track, the slower the speeds, thereby leveling the playing field and ensuring a better show for the fans in the grandstands and watching on HBO Pay-Per-View.
"Last year we dried the track out a little bit, so it was hard and slick from the top to the bottom and the pace was slower so the guys weren't holding their breath and it was a lot easier for them to drive," said Stewart of the 2007 Old Spice Prelude to the Dream, which was won by Edwards. "Especially for the guys that are new to the dirt track scene, it's a little easier for them to get used to since the pace isn't so fast. It makes all the guys driving those cars feel a lot more comfortable. And for what we're doing with the television aspect, it's a lot easier to leave it slow with a lot less dust."
Last year, the hard work put in by the Eldora Speedway staff prior to the event paid off for two dirt newbies -- Juan Pablo Montoya and Busch. Both showed remarkable skills despite limited experience racing on dirt. Busch even challenged for the win late in the race with dirt veteran Edwards before eventually settling for a runner-up finish. The strong runs by both drivers really impressed dirt track veteran and Sprint Cup driver J.J. Yeley, who doesn't mind the Eldora staff slowing the track down to make the show better for the fans and for the television audience.
"I was really impressed with guys like Juan Pablo and Kyle, who hadn't been in that type of car on dirt before but really adapted to it quickly," Yeley said. "You want to make sure it's nice and slick where the speeds will be a little bit slower. I'm sure all the car owners who will have the Cup drivers in their cars will be happy to know that. When the track is hard and slick, it makes the cars a little bit easier to driver, and I think it will make the racing even better for the fans."
Yeley also knows a thing or two about what makes up the surface of various dirt tracks, as the winner of multiple USAC championships has seen plenty of them throughout his career.
"The biggest thing is that you have to start with a good product," Yeley said. "Eldora Speedway has been around for so long that they have really good clay. You try to explain to people the difference between dirt tracks -- red clay, black clay -- and there's a lot of differences in the consistencies. Clay just wears out over time to where it just doesn't hold the moisture. The biggest thing is to keep just a little bit of water on the race track and keep the dust down."
Not only does Stewart appreciate all the hard work put in by his staffers, but also the efforts of dirt track owners across the country. He hopes the Old Spice Prelude to the Dream shines a positive light on grassroots dirt racing across the country.
"Guys that take care of dirt tracks across the country are really unsung heroes of the sport," Stewart said. "There's so much science about how much clay content you have in the dirt, and that's what makes every dirt track unique. You could have two guys that owned two different race tracks, but they have to prepare them differently for the conditions where the races are as good as possible. What we do at Eldora isn't necessarily the same thing that someone else does 30 miles down the road that has the same dirt as us. These promoters and track operators that take care of these race tracks and do a lot of work should be proud of what they do."
The live, commercial-free broadcast of the Old Spice Prelude to the Dream will begin at 7 p.m. EDT (4 p.m. PDT), with an immediate replay and subsequent replays throughout the week and the following weekend. HBO Pay-Per-View's racing telecast has a suggested retail price of $24.95 and is available to more than 71 million pay-per-view homes. HBO Pay-Per-View is the leading supplier of event programming in the pay-per-view industry. Ordering information and up-to-the minute racing information is available at www.hbo.com. Prospective viewers can order the Old Spice Prelude to the Dream on Tuesday and right up until race time on Wednesday.
With no points and no pressure, the Old Spice Prelude to the Dream is a throwback race, allowing drivers to step back in time and compete for the reasons they all went racing in the first place -- pride and a trophy. And they'll do it on the same surface that Indianapolis 500 legends like A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Al Unser Jr., and Parnelli Jones have competed on throughout the last 54 years.
Gordon, Johnson, Kahne, Busch and defending Old Spice Prelude to the Dream winner Edwards will join Stewart, Yeley, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Bobby Labonte, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Bill Elliott, Dave Blaney, David Reutimann, Robby Gordon, Aric Almirola, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Ray Evernham, Red Farmer, Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace in this year's edition of the all-star dirt late model race.