Unlocking The Secrets of Eldora: Part One Tony Stewart Racing's Jones, McMahan Offer Insight to Taming the Legendary High-Banks of Eldora Speedway INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 19, 2007) -- As any seasoned race fan or driver will tell you, the...
Unlocking The Secrets of Eldora: Part One
Tony Stewart Racing's Jones, McMahan Offer Insight to Taming the Legendary High-Banks of Eldora Speedway
INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 19, 2007) -- As any seasoned race fan or driver will tell you, the legendary high-banks of Eldora Speedway encompass all the characteristics that have made dirt-track racing a motorsports cornerstone. Offering spectators and competitors alike the thrill of high speed, high stakes drama and breathtaking finishes, one dirt track racing's crown jewels will again come alive with the sounds of racing action this Friday and Saturday.
As the World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Series and USAC Racing prepare for battle in the American Revolution Weekend presented by Chevrolet, Tony Stewart Racing's (TSR) Levi Jones and Paul McMahan offer fans a view from the driver's seat showcasing what it takes to tame the historic half-mile. Ride along in this two-part series as the drivers of TSR's flagship No. 20 machines take you along for the ride.
Quotes from Levi Jones, driver of the No. 20 TSR/Chevrolet/Maxim -- USAC National Sprint Car Series, No. 20 TSR/Chevrolet/Spike -- USAC National Midget Car Series and the No. 10 TSR/Chevrolet/Maxim -- USAC Silver Crown Series
Qualifying at Eldora Speedway is one of the most harrowing parts of any race driver's night. What do you tell yourself as you prepare to push off from pit road onto the banks of a monster half-mile racetrack?
"When the push truck pushes you off in the cars that we race, it's one of the best feelings in the world. When you hear the rear-end turn over and the engine fires up in one of these cars, that's kind of what puts a smile on your face. All the talking is over and it's just you and your car.
"Qualifying at Eldora when the track is really good is one of the best things you'll ever experience as a driver. I held the track record at Eldora until last fall and the lap that I turned that night was just pure fun. It was wide open. Whenever you push off at Eldora, you know it's going to be fast and again, you don't want to do anything to rob the car of speed. It's a fine line that involves running wide open but at the same time keeping the car smooth.
"At Eldora, you just have to tell yourself that you're trying to keep your momentum up. Qualifying is probably where you feel the speed the most because you're out there by yourself and 90% of the time it's right against the fence. You have to tell yourself that you need to keep the car straight and not to scrub any of the speed off yourself. A sprint car will probably run the fastest at Eldora and there's no way a driver can keep up with the car in terms of speed. "
The speed that sprint cars, non-winged and winged, carry around Eldora is phenomenal. Can you actually see the grandstands or any of the surroundings when you're at full speed?
"The speed is one of the neatest things about the track. All the surroundings at Eldora are really cool and that's what the fans see and remember -- how the track looks when they're looking at it from the grandstands or from pit road. But driving a race car there, you see the track from wall-to-wall. Everything else is kind of blanked out because of the speed.
"A lot of people ask me if I can see the crowd during a race. Maybe some drivers are different, but I cannot see the crowd when we're racing at speed. You're so focused on the race track and what you need to be doing that everything else is really just a blur."
Most of the events at Eldora Speedway are held at night. While the track has made significant changes to the lighting system with the installation of the Musco Lighting that was added last year, is it difficult to see at night?
"The lights at Eldora are really good. When we go there, we know we're not going to have to worry about lighting. A lot of places we go to, it's hard to see and if you're starting farther back that's just something else that hinders you. Eldora is just an awesome facility and the lighting/sight issue is a variable that's taken out of the equation when you race there."
I'm sure you're asked this question a lot but what does it feel like to be at full speed in a non-winged sprint car at Eldora Speedway?
"When you're really fast and the car is good, it's like you're at a constant speed. It almost gives you a false sense of security, like you're just rolling around or cruising. I've had that feeling before at Eldora and it's bitten me. That's when you know that you're not just cruising and that
everything wasn't perfect and you weren't just floating along. It's a place where when you get comfortable you just feel like you're sitting in a passenger car just rolling along.
"It's one of the dirt tracks that we race that really sucks you down in the seat. You think you have your belts tight but when you're at speed at Eldora you can usually get a little more out of your seatbelts. The speed just sets you back in your seat. Even when it's slick, you're still going fast and it's a little bit different than some of the small tracks we run where the racing is a lot closer and involves some beating and banging. At Eldora, the racing is much more precise and it just sets you back in the seat.
"The whole way around Eldora, there are a lot of elevation changes. If you look at the track on a horizontal plane, there are a lot of changes as you go around the track. You don't want put yourself in a position to run uphill, so to speak. If you're running uphill, you're dragging speed. You always want to try and carry momentum to where you're running what we refer to as downhill. When you're running downhill, you can really feel the different elevations within the track. It's kind of like whenever you first push off of a waterslide. It's the feeling where you can feel yourself going downhill. If you get yourself on the wrong part of the racetrack and you're running uphill you know someone's gaining on you and it feels like it takes two days to get back up to speed."
Dirt-track drivers have to take a hand off the steering wheel to discard a tear-off -- usually while at full speed. Is it hard to adjust to doing so?
"As a driver, pulling a tear-off is something that becomes second nature to you. I don't even think about it anymore. I know that a lot of people could struggle, especially when you're first getting used to doing it at speed. I'm right handed, but I pull my tear-offs with my left hand. Some guys pull them with the hand they use all the time. I think it depends on the type of rhythm they get into. I drove a mini-sprint for a year and we had to shift on the left side. I got used to driving with my right hand on the wheel and have done so ever since."
Over the course of the evening, how do you determine which line you're going to run?
"This year, it's been a little bit different with the changes that have occurred with the track. Most of the time you know you're going to have to be on the fence. If you go to Eldora hoping the track is going to be on the bottom, you probably don't need to go. When qualifying starts, you try to pay attention to the guys that go before you. You want to make sure there aren't guys ripping off laps around the bottom or a different part of the racetrack that's not the norm.
"At Eldora, a lot of it depends on where you start. Hopefully, you're able to start in the front three rows and you have five good cars around you for the start. You just have to keep reminding yourself that you need to race the race track. You don't want to get to racing with someone and get yourself on the wrong part of the race track and kill all of your speed. If you catch someone, you don't want to get caught up racing with them and stop doing what you did to catch them in the first place. If you're on the wrong part of the racetrack at Eldora, it really hurts your speed."
While no one likes to talk about the spectacular accidents that are synonymous with sprint car racing, Eldora Speedway is notorious for short-track racing's version of "the big one." What causes crashes at Eldora and what does a driver experience while being involved in an accident there?
"You know, I've tried every corner out at Eldora at least once. Looking at Eldora from the pits, it actually looks smaller than what it is. When you're racing at Eldora you kind of forget how big it is until something happens.
"When you crash at Eldora, it's usually because you get into the outside fence and you roll. Typically, you end up on the bottom of the race track. At Eldora, the only thing you usually have to worry about when you crash is where you are when. Hopefully, you're in front so there are cars behind and you just have to worry about someone getting into you as you're crashing. I think you have to worry about someone hitting you here a little more so than some of the other places we go to just because of the speed that you carry."
Racing on the dirt is much different than competing on pavement. After racing on dirt for much of your career, does it even register with you physically which surface you're competing on?
"Anymore, I don't think about all of the little things like the smell and taste of the dirt. Those are things that make the fans love dirt track racing. As a driver, you've got dirt all over you, you're pulling tear-offs and you're sliding sideways on dirt. When you get done, you've got dirt in your eyes, nose and mouth and you remember why you love to race on the dirt. Sometimes, after doing it so many times during the year you forget about the little things like that. Those are the things that make sprint car racing unique and when you really stop and think about it you remember why you love the sport."
As a former track record holder at Eldora Speedway and one of the first drivers to compete under the Chevrolet Racing short-track program, do you think you're going to have a good chance to reclaim the top spot on the speed chart this weekend?
"With the Chevy engines, we've got the power to set track records everywhere we go. On dirt, the track's going to determine if you're able to set a track record or not, it's not just all about the car and the motor on that given night. At Eldora in 2005, I set the track record during the USAC 4-Crown Nationals and doing so involved a lot of wild circumstances all coming together at the same time. We had a lot of rain and the track was really short. It wasn't up against the fence yet during qualifying. On a typical weekend in Ohio, it would be pretty hard to break the track record during the USAC 4-Crown event. There are so many cars and the variables all have to fall into place. We've qualified well everywhere we've gone this year."
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Be sure to catch part two of TSR's insights on tackling the high-banks of Eldora Speedway on Thursday. McMahan will offer race fans another look at running the high-side in a WoO Sprint Series machine.
The two-day American Revolution Weekend presented by Chevrolet will kick off on Friday, with gates opening at 3 p.m. EDT. Practice for the WoO Sprint Series and United Midwest Promoters UMP Modifieds begins at 6 p.m. with racing scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
For Saturday's American Revolution Weekend/USAC 4-Crown finale, gates will open at 11 a.m. Practice and qualifying for the USAC Silver Crown, Sprint and Midget divisions will take place between 3-6 p.m. An autograph session featuring the stars of USAC is scheduled for 6:15-7 p.m. The event is open to the public and will be conducted in the multi-purpose building outside turns three and four on the Eldora Speedway property. Racing for all three USAC divisions will begin Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.
Reserved seating for both nights of the American Revolution Weekend at Eldora Speedway can be purchased by calling 937-338-3815. Race fans can also purchase tickets at the gate each day.
For more information regarding Eldora Speedway or the American Revolution Weekend presented by Chevrolet, please visit www.eldoraspeedway.com.
For complete results from this weekend's American Revolution Weekend/USAC 4-Crown Nationals, log on to www.usacracing.com. For information regarding TSR or Chevrolet, log on to www.tonystewartracing.com or www.chevrolet.com.