Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday July 23, 2013
This Wednesday’s Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway marks the first time a major NASCAR touring series has raced on a dirt track in many decades, but that doesn’t mean every entrant is without experience sliding around a clay oval.
Many of NASCAR’s current and rising stars admittedly cut their teeth on asphalt tracks, preceding their careers in a sport known for its giant, high-banked asphalt playgrounds that differ vastly from the tiny dirt circuits that dot the country.
However, others have been raised on a varying diet of pavement and dirt. Drivers like Tony Stewart, Dave Blaney and Kasey Kahne found early success on the World of Outlaws circuit, while Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace—two of NASCAR’s elder statesmen—still find time to compete in dozens of dirt events every year in addition to their NASCAR schedules.
At Eldora, the experience (or lack thereof) a driver has on a dirt track comes to a head, with the Camping World Truck Series making its first trip to the southwest Ohio racetrack. Much like the now defunct Prelude to the Dream that was run at Eldora from 2005 to 2012, spectators have the rare opportunity to see both dirt racing aficionados and novices tangle on a surface unfamiliar to many and in a vehicle that’s foreign on dirt to all in terms of racing conditions.
Therefore, it’s not as simple as throwing one’s arms up and giving the edge to the so-called ringers taking up a spot in Wednesday’s race. Scott Bloomquist may have won hundreds of dirt races, including plenty at Eldora, but he’s never raced a Camping World truck there. Same goes for Schrader. Blaney. The Dillon brothers.
But there’s still a marked difference between having any dirt racing experience at all and none whatsoever. Certain members of the 36-truck entry list definitely have a target on their back going into the heat races, especially those without guaranteed spots in the main event of 30 drivers.
When all is said and done, it seems incredibly possible a Dillon will emerge on top.
Both Austin and Ty Dillon come from a background of dirt racing, down to fielding their own late model team under the banner of Team Dillon Racing for when they have some down time. The duo has competed in the Prelude to the Dream — Austin in 2011 and 2012, with Ty joining him the second time — and have performed admirably, with the elder brother entering Eldora having the best average finish in the race of any entered driver (5.5, two races).
But that’s not all. Over the past few years, both Dillons have run for the UMP DIRTcar Nationals Modified championship at Volusia Speedway Park in Florida. Austin’s scored a runner-up finish in the championship the last three years, losing the title last year to none other than his younger brother. Both are victors in the All-Star Shootout at Charlotte’s dirt track, and Ty was a formidable presence when he ran the full ARCA schedule in 2011, earning two poles and a runner-up finish in the series’ two dirt races that season.
Would you say they’ve been looking forward to this race for quite a while?
Though they’re definitely favorites to win the race and are both locked into the main event, the Dillons aren’t the lone standouts in a field of underexperienced newbies to dirt track racing.
Take Scott Bloomquist, for example. The longtime late model driver is so good that he’s already in the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame even prior to his retirment. Earlier this year, he won the Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora, the sixth time he’s done so. He took third in the 2001 Eldora Million and has won two World 100s, let alone his 2009 championship in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
Bloomquist may not be a familiar face to NASCAR fans unfamiliar with the dirt racing world, but for those savvy of both worlds, he’s one to fear. Oh, and he’s driving a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck, so you know there’s going to be some major horsepower there.
He may be younger than Bloomquist by quite a few years, but Kyle Larson is thought to be a major competitor too, given his penchant for running anything and everything he can these past few years, including dozens of races on dirt ovals. In 2011 alone, he won the 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora, winning in all three USAC cars in a single night, as well as the World of Outlaws Sprint Gold Cup and the Belleville Midget Nationals. He followed that up with six USAC National Midget wins in 2012 and has barely stopped to rest. If you’re looking for another young gun to potentially unseat either of the Dillons, he’s your man, through and through.
But what of the sport’s two veterans, both with the same given first name, making a return to the Truck Series for the Mudsummer Classic?
One figured Ken Schrader would be making a stop at the race, especially when his Ken Schrader Racing team brought out its first truck in years earlier this season at Rockingham for Tyler Reddick. Schrader has a staggering amount of wins on smaller tracks all across the country, and still races where and when he can to this day. In ARCA competition, he’s amassed four different wins on its dirt tracks since 1994, and has a score of additional top-5 and top-10 finishes to supplement his victories. He’s also one of the few drivers to have raced in every Prelude to the Dream, earning an average finish of 10.9 with two fourth-place showings.
One of the other drivers to race in the Prelude every year was Kenny Wallace. Wallace famously won the inaugural Prelude — he’s the only one in the Eldora field to have won, too — and boasts an average finish of 11.9, owing mostly to deplorable luck in the event since 2009. Recent experience and prowess will undoubtedly help Wallace, who’ll pilot an SS-Greenlight Racing truck, too; in a number of dirt starts already in 2013, he’s scored a handful of wins, as well as a few close calls.
Two full-time Cup drivers are jumping down to make the show. Dave Blaney gets a rare opportunity to not only race against his son and budding superstar Ryan, but also gets to be his son’s teammate at Brad Keselowski Racing after Ryan mentioned the possibility to Keselowski. Blaney enters with a formidable resume under his belt, including the 1995 World of Outlaws championship and wins at the Historical Big One and King’s Royal, two of dirt racing’s premiere events. He also possesses an average finish of 9.2 in six Preludes to the Dream, with a best run of second in 2006.
Ryan Newman’s thought to be a contender as well, and with good reason. Though he’s not assured a spot in the main event, his Turner Scott Motorsports entry is sure to be quick, and Newman has a nice track record on this type of track, including an average finish of 12th in the Prelude and a spot in the Quarter Midget Hall of Fame.
It doesn’t stop there. Tracy Hines, driving Thorsport’s No. 13, is a former Chili Bowl winner, a USAC Silver Crown and National Sprint Car champion and has six wins at Eldora, with the most recent coming last September. Joe Cobb, father of usual Truck competitor Jennifer Jo, has hundreds of victories on both dirt and asphalt, is a 1986 champion at Adrian Speedway in Missouri and currently races on dirt on a regular basis at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City. A local boy from Wayne, Ohio, Jeff Babcock has over 140 feature wins and won an American Late Model race at Eldora earlier this year. Jared Landers has over 100 feature wins and drives for Clint Bowyer’s team. J.R. Heffner is a two-time big-block and small-block champion in modifieds at Lebanon Valley Speedway.
Don’t count out some of the drivers we’re apt to see way more often on the series circuit outside of its dirt excursion. Of regular competitors, Ty Dillon may have the lion’s share of the resume-padding results, but a number of regulars have had the occasional experience running on something other than asphalt. Joey Coulter has finishes of third and fourth at DuQuoin and Springfield in 2009 and 2010, respectively. James Buescher finished seventh and eighth in his only ARCA dirt runs and has won on Texas Motor Speedway’s dirt track. Bryan Silas, John Wes Townley and Dakoda Armstrong have some experience at DuQuoin and Springfield in the series as well. Brendan Gaughan has his off-road truck racing credentials.
Heck, this might even be a good showing for Norm Benning, who runs one of the most underfunded Truck teams in the garage. Benning’s ARCA results at dirt tracks aren’t anything to disregard, with 11 top-10 finishes and a string of three top fives in 2003 and part of 2004. It’s tough to picture Benning near the front, mostly given past results, but results like that make him a could-be for entry into the main event.
And who knows? Maybe despite limited (if any at all) showings on dirt tracks, guys like Miguel Paludo, German Quiroga and Jeb Burton could surprise everyone. It’s happened in the Prelude before, after all.
It all comes down to a combination of past dirt experience, how the trucks will run with other trucks on their doors and bumpers, and who can adapt to an unknown atmosphere.
All told, it may end up survival of the fittest, but with certain drivers already fit to some extent, it’s not exactly a completely level playing field. That’s what makes this inaugural race so exciting, with the prevailing hope being that the event will continue long into the future, perhaps paving the way for other such races in other series so we can have this conversation again somewhere down the line.
Connect with Kevin!
Contact Kevin Rutherford
©2000 - 2008 Kevin Rutherford and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!