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Auto racing: NASCAR back at dirt track for 1st time since '70

Published: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 11:54 p.m. CDT
Caption
(AP)
Ty Dillon drives through a turn during the NASCAR Trucks Series race July 13 at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. For the first time since 1970, one of NASCAR's top series will race on a dirt track tonight in Eldora.

NEW WESTON, Ohio – Time to attach the mud flaps.

NASCAR is set for an off-road detour through the dirt.

The Truck Series is headed for the Eldora Speedway half-mile dirt track for a one-night-only special designed to reconnect NASCAR with its early roots and give fans raised on asphalt and stock cars a taste of the wild races run in the dust.

The last time one of NASCAR’s top touring series competed on dirt was Sept. 30, 1970, when Richard Petty won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (called the Grand National Division at that time) race at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

The dirt drought ends when the trucks race tonight at Tony Stewart-owned Eldora in Rossburg, Ohio.

Stewart, still a regular on the weeknight racing circuit, naturally became a big booster of NASCAR’s return to dirt. Most of the field drove their first Eldora laps at Tuesday’s practice.

“It’s a neat facility,” Stewart said. “It’s well-lit. It’s a wide racetrack. It gives you a lot of options of where you can go and what you can do. I think it gives those guys an opportunity.

“The practice day on Tuesday should help a lot of those teams be able to get acclimated before they come back to the track on Wednesday.”

Eldora’s grandstands are sold out even though some of the series’ biggest winners, like Kyle Busch, are sitting out. Ryan Newman and Dave Blaney are the only Cup drivers in the field.

The race will feature a handful of so-called ringers, like Scott Bloomquist, a member of the National Dirt Track Hall of Fame with more than 500 victories in a lengthy career. The 49-year-old Bloomquist is set to make his NASCAR debut driving the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“It’s going to be something different, I’m sure, but it’s a race car, and I’ve driven a lot of race cars,” he said.

The race also gets a twist on qualifying. There are five eight-lap qualifying events and a 15-lap last-chance race to come up with the 30 competitors (regularly 36 in the series) who will start the 150-lap Mudsummer Classic. Because there is no pit road, the race is broken into three segments of 60, 50 and 40 laps.

The trucks will be fitted for mesh shields and hood deflectors to hold off debris kicked up from the muck.

A big crowd, big ratings and a great race could go far in making Eldora a regular stop on the Truck Series circuit – and maybe make stock car racing there a reality.

“If it has incredible success, who knows how far this could go?” driver Kenny Wallace said. “You could put the Nationwide Series there. One thing I always remind people of – and I race dirt all over the United States – this is where Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman came from. Three-quarters of the field in Sprint Cup came from dirt tracks just like Eldora. I think this is a really good deal.”

 

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