Earl Baltes, the founder and longtime promoter of Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, passed away Monday morning at the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. He was 93.
“Earl was the yardstick other track promoters measured themselves by,” said current track owner and three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart. “He constantly raised the bar, and he did it by creating events everyone else was afraid to promote. He did them himself, too. Not as a fair board, or a public company, or with major sponsors or millions of dollars in TV money. He put it all on the line with the support of his family. He and his wife, Berneice, created a happening at Eldora. They turned Eldora into more than just a racetrack. They made it a place to be. They were integral to the evolution of dirt-track racing and the sport as a whole. Earl will be missed, but he won’t ever be forgotten because of his devotion to auto racing.”
When World War II veteran Baltes built Eldora in 1954, it was only a quarter-mile long. He later transformed it into the high-banked, half-mile configuration that it remains today.
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Eldora Speedway began to see dirt late models and the World of Outlaws sprint cars kicking up the dirt on the Ohio half-mile, in front of upwards of 20,000 fans.
Baltes was beloved by many fans and has been inducted into many Halls of Fames, including National Sprint Car, National Dirt Late Model, USAC, Dayton Auto Racing Fans and Hoosier Auto Racing Fans. He was named USAC Race Organizer of the Year in 1984 and 1997. He was also named Auto Racing Promoter of the Year in 1993, and fellow promoter H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler recognized him with the Charlotte Motor Speedway Promoter of the Year Award in 2001. The state of Ohio has also named Route 118, the road that runs alongside Eldora Speedway, “Earl Baltes Highway.”
Baltes sold the racetrack to Tony Stewart in 2004 but continued to attend races at the circuit. Thanks to Stewart, there is a life-size statue of Baltes and his wife Berneice at the entrance to the speedway, which is now also host to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
He is survived by Berneice, his wife of 67 years; daughter, Starr, and her husband, Joe Schmitmeyer; son, Terry, and his wife, Dee; beloved sister, Susie Barga, and six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.