COMMENTARY | The last time one of NASCAR's national series raced on dirt was September 1970, a sad day for the history of NASCAR. From the formation of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing in 1948 through the mid-1950s, the majority of the Grand National (now Sprint Cup) schedule was raced on dirt; by the late 1960s, only three tracks remained on the schedule and on September 30, 1970, the final dirt race took place at North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. That race was won by Richard Petty, toward the end of an 18-win season; Petty race 154 times on dirt tracks, winning 30 times.
Nearly 43 years later, NASCAR returns to its roots with the CarCash "Mudsummer Classic" for the Camping World Truck Series, taking place Wednesday, July 24 at famed Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. The track, owned by three-time Sprint Cup champ and long-time dirt track racer Tony Stewart, is a half-mile clay oval with 24-degree banking in the turns and 8-degree banking in the straightaways. This will not be a typical NASCAR race, as even qualifying will get the "dirt track treatment": time trials, five qualifying heats and a last-chance race lead up to the 30-truck, three segment, 150-lap main event.
Even the list of "invaders" will look different: you won't be seeing Brad Keselowski or Kyle Busch on dirt, but they've hired a couple of the best on dirt to fill their seats. Keselowski took the opportunity to pair his young Truck Series driver Ryan Blaney with his father, 1995 World of Outlaws Sprint Car champ Dave Blaney, who will drive the No. 19 Ford F-150 for Brad Keselowski Racing in just his third start in the Truck Series. Busch went with a winner of his own - six-time winner of Eldora's Dirt Late Model Dream event Scott Bloomquist, in his first NASCAR start, will drive the No. 51 Toyota Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports, joining KBM regulars Joey Coulter and Darrell Wallace Jr.
"I race so much different on dirt than a lot of the other guys - we are always pretty straight," said Bloomquist, who has over 500 dirt late model wins in over 1,400 starts. "I prefer to run straight and that is the fastest way around Eldora anyways. So, I don't think it is going to be too big of an adjustment. 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 - never a truck, but it's still a race car. Eldora is an exciting place - we are going to win the race and I'm sure that we can do it."
Making his return to the Truck Series is 2011 champion Austin Dillon; Dillon hasn't run in the series since the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his championship season. Late last season, Dillon and Stewart tested trucks at Eldora before the official announcement was made, and Dillon, who along with brother Ty grew up racing on dirt tracks, recently made a bold prediction while discussing the testing.
"We got there the first day, and it had rained," remembered Dillon. "So you probably never see a track like that because of how wet and wide open it was. It was rough and wet, and for me I like it in a dirt car. Now, in a truck it's a little tougher, but it was fun, even though they had the track wet and wide open."
Dillon continued, "On the second day it transitioned where we were racing and practicing in the daytime where the moisture had left the track and it got really hard and slick, and you went out there and it was tough to even make laps because of how slick it was. You had to be really smooth on the throttle. If not, the truck would get too yawed out, and at that point of too much yaw you would spin. You really have to be consistent, and like I said, momentum is going to be very big. I'm looking forward to just seeing what the race turns out to be. I'm hoping for a great race, and I think if a good race happens here this weekend, I know the stands are going to be packed. Eldora always fills them. And a good race, I think you see two races there in the Truck Series next year."
Source: "NASCAR Cam Teleconference with Austin Dillon," NASCAR Media, July 16, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer who specializes in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.
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