Hard-and-dirty-facts: Is Eldora the biggest race of the truck season?
JUL 22, 2014 5:25p ET
Eldora Speedway, a half-mile dirt track steeped in tradition and owned by one of NASCAR's premier drivers, will host the Camping World Truck Series Wednesday night for just the second time.
Built in 1954 and sold to now-three-time Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart in 2004, Eldora is the only dirt track raced on by one of NASCAR's three national series.
Known for packed stands, hard-nosed, close-quarters racing and a rabid fan base of dirt-track enthusiasts, Eldora -- despite having hosted just one truck race -- has already become one of the most anticipated events on the series schedule.
"Eldora is such a unique event for our trucks and team," said Truck Series veteran Johnny Sauter. "The way the race plays out is much different from any other race we run. It's a race that sticks out on the schedule, like the road course, or restrictor-plate races. It's a crap-shoot and it's going be a game of survival. A lot of different things can happen and it's an important race for us."
Is it the biggest? Maybe not.
But, despite its relative youth on the Truck Series tour, it's already pretty darn close.
"I'd put it right behind Daytona," said Hermie Sadler, a former driver who will be a pit reporter for FOX Sports 1's Eldora race coverage that begins at 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday night.
"For my money, there never will be a bigger or better place to win a race than at Daytona just because of all it means to NASCAR and the history of the sport, but outside of that, with Eldora and that history in its own right that has been created through the years of all the greats that have driven and won at that track -- and as quickly as this race is building momentum and hype and kind of creating an identity of its own -- if I had to pick one to win outside of Daytona, it would certainly be Eldora."
As was the case with last year's inaugural truck event at the popular Rossburg, Ohio, facility, Wednesday night's race under the lights will showcase several well-known drivers who don't ordinarily compete in the Truck Series.
Among them: Sprint Cup Series rookie and 2013 Eldora winner Austin Dillon, fellow Sprint Cup Series rookies Kyle Larson and Michael Annett, and veteran NASCAR driver and noted short track racer Ken Schrader. Also among the 34 entries looking to fill only 30 available starting spots is Austin's younger brother Ty Dillon, who moved from the Truck Series to the Nationwide Series this year.
Does Eldora's penchant for attracting drivers outside the regular truck roster make it the No. 1 race on the schedule?
"It's still such a new event I don't think you can rank it at the top," said FOX Sports 1 pit reporter Ray Dunlap. "Obviously, when the schedule came out in 2000 that we were racing at Daytona, that really changed everything, and the concept of the Truck Series going from short tracks to Daytona was the biggest deal ever probably for this series. But after you pass that point, you certainly would take the Eldora race and put it in the mix for second or third biggest on the schedule."
Like 2013, Eldora's qualifying and race procedures will break from the series' traditional format, as all but perhaps the final position on the 30-truck grid will be set based on the results of five heat races and a Last Chance Race, while the 150-lap feature will be broken up into three segments of different lap totals.
"We're trying to mix together the way NASCAR typically does things with the way dirt-track fans are used to seeing things done, as well," Sadler said. "We want everybody to be able to follow it as closely as possible, so I think that's a neat way of doing a little bit of both: Single-truck qualifying, then line up and run heat races, and then line up and run the feature. So I think it's a nice mixture of what NASCAR fans are used to seeing and what dirt-track fans across the country are used to seeing."
With the track's famous owner in the house, Wednesday's 1-800 Car Cash Mudsummer Classic has the all the makings of a can't-miss affair.
"I think the atmosphere there is going to be different than what you see at a normal NASCAR race," Stewart said. "I guess just go with an open mind. It's hard to describe. I've been at Eldora so much but different divisions with sprint cars and winged sprint cars and late models and modifieds, the show is different. Even though it's the same racetrack, it's always different. It's not going to be what you expect to see out of a Truck Series event.
"It's kind of like taking Cup cars to a road course. The same series, the same drivers, the same vehicles, but it's just a totally different racetrack. So I think that's what makes it so much fun for everybody is that it's outside the box and outside the norm."
Stewart and fellow race organizers have taken steps to make Eldora more competitive than last year's inaugural truck race that included only five lead changes among four drivers.
"I'm not going to say it was one lane, but it was pretty tricky around the wall on the outside, and that is kind of the history of Eldora to be right up on the fence like that," Stewart said. "The thing that (race organizers) worked on this spring was they took about 12 to 14 inches of material, about the last eight foot by the wall, (and) kind of took some of that banking out of it and blended it into the middle of the racetrack to try to make it to where it hopefully will have a second or maybe even a third groove this year.
"So unlike a pavement track that you can't make any changes to it, (with) a dirt track like that, we have that opportunity to try to tune the racetrack and make it better and more competitive."
Even if the track doesn't lend itself to as much passing as Stewart and others would like, this much is certain: The combination of Eldora's rich racing history and uniqueness as the Truck Series' only dirt track makes it anything but just another race.
"The concept of taking these trucks that we run all year on asphalt, and most of the time only turning left on asphalt, and then you go in to do a dirt race, it's just so different, so amazingly different," Dunlap said. "And to have it at a place like Eldora just makes it that much more special."
Tony Stewart recounts the events that led to his ownership of Eldora Speedway and the Mudsummer Classic:
Learn about the history of dirt tracks in NASCAR: