RaceChaser Online Exclusive – Story and Photo by Steven Ovens – History was made on Wednesday night. A crowd of over 20,000 fans saw it in person and an estimated 1.4 Million saw it Live on Speed. The hype was intense and plentiful leading up the Inaugural Mudsummer Classic at the Eldora Speedway.
When this race was first announced, the racer in me wanted to jump and buy tickets- and I did. I called my father and brother and told them this was going to be a historical event. My hopes were that when we all looked back on this some day we would be able to say when NASCAR returned to dirt, we were there.
We didn’t know if this event was going to work or not but it’s safe to assume that this event will find it’s way back on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule.
We drove on Tuesday night and missed the coverage from the Tuesday afternoon and evening practice sessions. We missed the numerous drivers who spun and struggled to ‘get a grip’ on the dirt. But we followed the coverage on Facebook and twitter, and we were slightly concerned that we were traveling 8 hours to watch a crashfest. We couldn’t have been more wrong!
Race Day started with the drive into the Rossburg and New Weston area. A small, friendly town, that led us to the familiar ‘cornfields on each side’ Earl Baltes Highway.
When the rows of corn disappeared, we ran into a sight that we could only relate back to what we have experienced in our years camping at Super DIRT Week in Syracuse, NY. Campers and cars parked as far as the eye could see. My brother Brad (who has been to Eldora four times previously) said, “There she is, boys.”
That is a quarter-mile drive that I will never forget as a race fan.
Even after all we had heard about the drivers’ struggles on Tuesday, it was very impressive to see how much everyone improved on race day. The heat races still had me concerned as to what kind of race we would see in the feature.
I think one of the best moves that was made in planning how the surface of the speedway would turn out for feature time was running the Late Models as a support class for the CWTS event.
Their A-Main helped widen the groove on the speedway and lay some extra rubber onto the track that would help Eldora become more than a one-lane track for the truck series competitors who were about to make history.
Another big story was the Last Chance Race that took place to help set the last 5 qualifying positions for the 30 truck field. Norm Benning put on an absolute show for the fans as he drove to the turn 3 wall and rode it around turn 4 to secure the 5th position and the last spot in the Mudsummer Classic.
His ‘sold the farm’ kind of move had both the fans and his fellow competitors on their feet cheering when the checkered flag flew on the Last Chance event.
The part of this that struck me and anyone who saw it either at the track or on Speed, was the reception Benning received when he returned to the pit area. Congratulations from friends and top competitors from the CWTS, and also from crew members. He had used up his truck with the ride the wall move in Turns 3 and 4.
Crew members from several race teams thrashed on his #57 machine. Mechanics and crew from ThorSport Racing, Turner Scott Motorsports and the Zaxby’s Red Horse Racing team all pitched in to make sure Benning started the 150 lap feature event.
When interviewed by national radio on Thursday Benning said, “Those guys told me to just go to driver introductions and they would make sure my truck was ready for the feature.” They made the necessary repairs to help complete the feel-good story for Norm Benning.
Come feature time, I was pleasantly impressed with the regular CWTS competitors that took well to the dirt. We expected Kenny Schrader to lead some laps early. But to watch Timothy Peters make passes and take the lead as he did really impressed me. That set the tempo for the rest of the event for me.
We watched Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon work their way through the field, using a lane that was one groove lower than the preferred groove to help set up their passes and slide jobs.
One thing that stood out to us during the feature was the trials and tribulations of Scott Bloomquist during the event. All of our friends here in New York told us that Bloomquist was going to take the field to school on the dirt. I even had a buddy who, when asked would he take the win, answered “Bloomquist” without hesitation.
But he struggled with the set up on his KBM, Toyota Care truck. They set their truck up without a front sway bar and with the 3400 pound truck did not agree at all. He was the only guy lifting the left front tire, and it showed as he at times looked like a boat anchor.
Maybe next year will be better for the 6-time Dirt Late Model Dream winner.
Something else that I want to give credit to the drivers for was how well they raced with each other. Other than one accident, the only cautions were for debris on the track. These guys were spinning around and having a tough time on Tuesday afternoon. But when it came time for the main event, these drivers stepped up and put on a clean and exciting race to watch.
The last segment was worth the price of admission, which by the way was $40 for our reserved seat in Turn 3. Kudos to Eldora and the series for making this historic event affordable!
To watch Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, World of Outlaw champion Dave Blaney and Ryan Newman battle for the win- what more could you have really asked for? As a die-hard number 3 fan, it was incredible to see Austin win that race and for ‘Pop pop’ to be able to celebrate with them.
Some people have coined the Mudsummer Classic to be a Home Run. I don’t agree with this assessment. I would call this event more of a Grand Slam.
Tony Stewart, Roger Slack and their entire staff need to take a night this week and celebrate what they were able to do for their speedway, the CWTS and for short track dirt racing as a whole. Eldora was the right place to make this happen and I hope we see this race move forward in the future.