Last year, the Eldora NASCAR truck race was the series' top success story. Can Smoke do it again?
Tony Stewart has called Eldora Speedway a “field of dreams,” and he is correct. Stewart did not build the dirt oval in western Ohio, certifiably in the middle of nowhere, but he has done a superb job of keeping the lights on after the founder of Eldora, Earl Baltes, personally asked Stewart to buy it so Earl and his wife, Bernice, could retire.
Baltes, who looks like Spanky McFarland of the “Little Rascals” all grown up, was one of the most brilliant promoters in motorsports history. He forced us to pay attention to his little track with events like the Eldora Million, where he paid $1 million to the winner of a dirt late model race. Over a beer after the race, several of us put pencil to paper and decided that it was possible that Baltes actually made money on the deal, though he denied it.
One more hot dog
Earl always denied it. No matter how packed the house, we’d ask Earl if it was a good night, and he’d shake his head and look woeful. “If we only coulda sold one more hot dog,” he’d say.
So it is no surprise that Stewart and his staff, which includes Roger Slack, who learned at the feet of a promoter every bit Baltes’ equal, Humpy Wheeler of Charlotte Motor Speedway, would take on the responsibility of staging the first dirt-track race for a major NASCAR series in decades. On a Wednesday night. In Rossburg, Ohio, where you approach the track on one of several two-lane roads and see corn, corn, corn, corn, beans, more corn, cows, corn, then Eldora Speedway, just about the time you are ready to consult the map, convinced you made a wrong turn.
To many of us, Eldora has always been there. And if it’s up to Stewart, it will always be there.
A year ago, his Mudsummer Classic NASCAR truck race could not have gone much better. The field, the crowd, the racing – without a hitch. Austin Dillon was an appropriate and grateful winner.
Can Eldora avoid the second-year blues?
This year, Stewart is hoping to avoid the sophomore jinx. Already, bad weather is threatening the program tonight. Ticket sales did not proceed at the frantic pace they did last year – no surprise, since there is only one first time.
Last year, Eldora was undeniably the surprise hit of the NASCAR season. At the Brickyard 400 a few days later, the talk was far more about the dirt racing than the big speedway. Stewart’s job now is to turn Eldora’s truck event from a one-hit wonder into a tradition, and that begins tonight.
He has a good role model.
“The success of Eldora isn't at all due to what I've done with it,” Stewart said earlier this week. “It’s due to what Earl and Bernice Baltes had done for the first 50 years of the racetrack. He was always a promoter willing to take big risks and big gambles and promote big events. He didn't promote races; he promoted big events. Basically, all we've had to do was follow that blueprint and that vision that Earl has always had, and that is something that's been important to us from day one. We've tried to run the racetrack the way he would want to run it and he would want us to run it.”
You are, Tony. Good luck.