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Earl Baltes, the founder of legendary short track Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, passed away this morning at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. He was 93 years old.
Baltes is survived by Berneice, his wife of 67 years, daughter Starr and husband Joe Schmitmeyer, son Terry and wife Dee, sister Susie Barga, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Baltes built Eldora Speedway in 1954, originally as a quarter-mile, before converting the track into a half-mile oval in 1958. Baltes, a famous promoter, quickly turned the track into a must-see for fans and drivers nationwide. Under Baltes, the track began hosting both the largest dirt race in the world (The Famous World 100), and the richest dirt late model race in the world (Dirt Late Model Dream). Baltes also created the legendary Kings Royal World of Outlaws Sprint Car race, and hosted multiple USAC events, such as the Four Crown Nationals.
Baltes did what other promoters wouldn’t do, offering rich purses for drivers and unique entertainment for fans, all while keeping ticket and concession prices affordable. Baltes most famously hosted the “Eldora Million” Dirt Late Model race, the first to offer a $1 million payout, and followed it in 2003 with the Mopar Million, which had a $1 million purse, and paid an unheard-of $200,000 to the winner of a non-wing sprint car race.
Baltes quickly turned Eldora Speedway into a premier dirt track. Races were shown on ABC’s Wide World of Sports with hosts Keith Jackson and Al Michaels. Events were also shown by ESPN, CBS and TNN, making Eldora one of the only dirt tracks to be view-able on TV.
Along with his Eldora Speedway duties, Baltes promoted speedways in Dayton, New Bremen, Limaland, Millstream, Mansfield, New Bremen, Pleasant Hill and Powell in Ohio, as well as one Salem, Indiana. He also promoted Ohio Sprint Sprintweek events for the All-Star Circuit of Champions, as well as World of Outlaws events in Florida.
Baltes sold Eldora Speedway to three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart in 2004. Stewart, a former driver at Eldora, continues to operate Eldora Speedway to date, keeping all of the classic events that Baltes started, while adding new events, such as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Mudsummer Classic.
Stewart offered praise for Baltes.
“Earl Baltes was the yardstick other track promoters measured themselves by” said Stewart in a release. “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.”