Eldora Speedway, Rossburg, OH — July 18, 2019
Just the name invokes a sense of awe. Eldora Speedway is the Temple of dirt track racing. If you are even a casual race fan, a trip to middle western Ohio should be on your bucket list.
This weekend, sprint car’s biggest event, the 36th Annual King’s Royal, pays a huge $175,000 to the winner. Talk about incentive. Saturday nights feature race will have guys running over the top of each other to cash that check. Over the course of the weekend’s total racing events, almost $600,000 will be paid out to competitors.
Legendary promoter Earl Baltes built Eldora Speedway in 1954. It opened its doors to race fans as a quarter-mile dirt track before being reconfigured to its current half-mile length in 1958. The high banks, 24 degrees in the turns and 8 degrees on the straightaways, produce incredible speeds. Fan’s pack the grandstands and hillsides above the turns, with crowds in excess of 20,000 a common occurrence.
Sitting just off Ohio Route 118, the road is now named “Earl Baltes Highway.” The Speedway is the jewel of dirt tracks with facilities to treat fans to the best in short track racing. With acres of tailored campsites surrounding the track, Eldora is a weekend destination for avid race fans.
Baltes nurtured the Speedway continuing to grow its popularity. He is mentioned in the same breath as all-time great promoters Bill France Sr., Tony George, and H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler. Baltes passed away in 2015, but Eldora continues to thrive today under ownership Baltes personally selected to take over his legacy.
In 2004, Baltes sold Eldora Speedway to a guy who used to race there regularly. Three-time NASCAR Cup Series championship driver Tony Stewart. Baltes had several people interested in purchasing the race track but said he had “always admired Tony Stewart’s style” and made the decision to sell to a racer who would take care of his track.
Each year Stewart continues to add improvements to the facility, a comfortable media center sits in the middle of the infield adjacent to the start/finish line. One of his key additions to the place, taking care of the guys who tell the stories the fans read.
Racing in The Jokers Wild
Thursday night featured the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars in the Jokers Wild event at the Speedway.
Brad Sweet(49), by virtue of his dominating win in the DirtVision FastPass Sprint Car Dash primer, started from the pole and bolted into the lead off Turn 2. Donny Schatz(15) passed Sweet to take the lead on Lap 2. But Sweet was back out front a lap later and never seriously challenged again.
With 21 laps to go in the feature, Sweet began lapping slower cars. “I did a decent job of working through lapped traffic,” Sweet said. “I never really felt I encountered a close call.”
The caution came out with 11 laps to go as Brian Brown(21) lost a right rear tire coming out of Turn 2 and spun to the top of the track.
With the cars bunched up for the restart, Sweet faced the potential of a challenge for the lead. “Even after the restart, I felt I had it as long as I did not make a big mistake.”
Sweet quickly moved away from the pack and took the Jokers Wild victory trophy and the $10K winners purse. Schatz finished 2nd, David Gravel(41) placed 3rd. Kraig Kinser(11K) won the KSE Hard Charger Award, picking up 16 positions to finish 9th.
Friday’s Sprint Car Racing
What do you call the race the night before the big event, the King’s Royal? Well, you call it the “Knight Before” of course. The winner’s share of the purse for Friday’s Knight Before race paid a cool $12,000.
The fastest qualifier was David Gravel(41), the 3rd place finisher in the Joker’s Wild on Thursday evening. Gravel won his DRYDENE heat race with ease, sending him to the DirtVision FastPass Sprint Car Dash to determine where he would start the Knight Before feature race.
Jokers Wild winner, Brad Sweet(49) faced off against Brian Brown(21) who brought out the caution in Thursday’s race that briefly interrupted Sweet’s drive to the checkered flag.
This time Brown keep his equipment together and took the heat win from Sweet.
Jokers Wild runner-up Donny Schatz(15) won his DRYDENE heat, setting up a battle of fast cars in the Sprint Car Dash.
The only accident of the evening was Adam Cruea(83C) doing a summersault down the front stretch at the beginning of his heat. Adam was ok, can’t say the same for his car.
Setting the Field for the Knight Before
Schatz won the DirtVision FastPass Sprint Car Dash #1 giving him the pole for the main event. Gravel finished second, Dale Blaney(11) took the 3rd spot for the lineup on the inside row of the Knight Before. Sweet, last nights winner, could only manage a 4th place and will go off 7th in the feature.
Daryn Pittman(83) won Dash #2 for the outside pole position. Cory Eliason(26) took 2nd and Carson Macedo(2) came in 3rd.
The Knight Before Feature Race
A 30 lap sprint does not leave a lot of time for making big moves. Schatz, hard on the gas and the drop of the green flag, shot off into the lead. Quickly putting distance between himself and Gravel in 2nd. By mid-race, Pittman in 3rd caught Gravel and the two swapped positions for a couple of laps. Gravel ultimately prevailed and pulled away from his pursuer.
As the laps wound down Gravel pulled within a couple of car lengths of Schatz as they negotiated lapped traffic. Eliason spun coming out of Turn 4 with three laps to go. Setting up a potential dash for the cash.
Schatz proved to be too strong for the fastest qualifier to catch, taking the win with Gravel finishing 2nd. Logan Schuchart(1S), Rico Abreu(24), and Pittman rounded out the top five.
Everyone Looking Forward to Saturday Night
The race weekend concludes Saturday Night with the 36th Annual King’s Royal. No more Mr. Nice Guy. The $175K winner’s share is guaranteed to heat up the competition and the fans are ready for the show.
Continuing live coverage of the King’s Royal from Eldora Speedway. The Lasco Press will bring you all the action of Saturday night under the lights.
Photo Credits: Tony Skerjance, The Lasco Press.