ROSSBURG – Fans from 45 states including Alaska and Hawaii, the United States Virgin Islands, Canada, Great Britain, Sweden and Australia purchased tickets for Wednesday’s MudSummer Classic at Eldora Speedway, showing excitement for the event continued in its second year.
The inaugural MudSummer Classic NASCAR truck race at Eldora in 2013 marked NASCAR’s first dirt track race since 1970. Even though the 2014 installment of the event wasn’t as historical as last year’s event, excitement remained strong from fans and teams as they traveled to Rossburg.
“Everybody is as pumped up as last year when they came for the first time so that was good to see that intensity still there,” Eldora Speedway owner Tony Stewart said.
Tickets remained for sale prior to Wednesday’s race as Eldora didn’t limit the number of general admission sales as it did last year. Eldora General Manager Roger Slack said by working with the Ohio Department of Transportation and local law enforcement, the track was able to create traffic plans to accommodate the thousands of fans in the small community.
Driver Ryan Blaney, who won Wednesday’s pole, said he didn’t expect fan excitement to decrease this year.
“I think a lot of people will keep showing up, and I don’t think this being the second one is going to affect it any as far as fan turnout,” he said. “It’s better for us as drivers because we kind of know what to expect in the race, and we have a decent knowledge of what to unload with and everything like that. It’s always better the second time around, and I think that’s true for this event as well.”
The drivers also were excited to return to Eldora, including Ty Dillon who said Eldora is one of the highlights of the season along with Indianapolis and Daytona.
“Eldora, it’s got its own prestige now, I think, and I think everybody kind of looks forward to coming back and really circles it on their calendar because it’s so unique and so much fun,” he said.
Austin Dillon, who is Ty’s brother and the winner of the inaugural MudSummer Classic, said the race at Eldora is the most enjoyable of the entire racing season.
“I think it’s the most fun I’ve had in a racecar as far as NASCAR this year,” he said after Wednesday’s practice session. “It’s a blast to be out there because there’s no real written rules to this”
What’s special about the MudSummer Classic is it brings NASCAR and dirt racing fans together at one race, Stewart said. The exposure helps both disciplines gain fans, he said.
“I think it kind of brings us back to our grassroots a little bit,” Blaney said of the race, which was nationally televised on FOX Sports 1. “A weekday showdown, it’s pretty cool.
“It’s cool to see how many people show up here even on a weeknight to this race. It really shows how much it means to them and how much this racetrack means to this part of the state.”
Last year’s race was a big boost for Eldora as 4,400 new accounts were opened by people purchasing tickets. Of those, only 138 haven’t returned to the Darke County speedway.
“We’re going to have a giant crowd here tonight, and that’s even more new people that are getting to come and experience this place,” Slack said.
Even though the race on dirt creates new challenges and can cause some stress for NASCAR teams, it hasn’t tempered their excitement.
“On Tuesday before practice started guys from crews were walking out of their way to shake our hands and say, ‘this is the greatest thing, we’re so excited about this,’” Stewart said. “They’re still walking around today smiling and doing the same thing. These guys look forward to coming to this race. As a track promoter, that’s the ultimate compliment is when those guys are so excited to come here and race. Very easily they could look at this as a nuisance, saying, ‘man, it’s on the schedule, we just got to get through this and then we can go back to doing our weekly deal,’ but it’s not. These guys are really excited about being here.”
Blaney, a regular in the NASCAR truck series, said Eldora is one of a few wildcards on the schedule where anything can happen because of its unique dirt driving surface.
“It’s so different just coming to a one-off deal ,” he said. “Even though I said all the teams are better prepared this being the second time around, it’s still on the drivers unless you’re the Dillons or Kyle Larson that runs dirt all the time. It’s just hard to expect what the track’s going to do. Dirt tracks, they change every single lap.”
The unpredictability of the track makes Eldora a stressful environment for Blaney and others who aren’t accustomed to racing on dirt.
“This is probably the most stressful of all the racetracks we go to because you don’t know what can happen,” Blaney said. “This is a race where you can gain or lose a lot of points.”
With 2014’s race being the second NASCAR truck race at Eldora, drivers were more prepared for the race this year, Austin Dillon said.
“I think the competition intensity is higher,” the 2013 winner said. “There’s more guys that you’re going to have to worry about tonight, and the asphalt guys have seemed to get a good grip on what they’re doing now at the dirt tracks.”
In practice drivers were moving around the track more and testing more lanes. They even went four wide at times and pushed hard, which led to some collisions with the wall.
“If you’re trying as hard as you can to make speed, you’re going to get in the wall around here,” Ty Dillon said. “It’s just kind of the way the line is up around the top. Almost everybody I saw had touched the wall at some point. It’s a tough track, and to make the most speed you’ve got to be right against the wall.”
Stewart said he hopes NASCAR continues to include Eldora on its truck schedule as the MudSummer Classic is a great way for fans of the top series and grassroots racing to connect.
“It was so cool to see the guys come back yesterday and pull rigs in and how excited everybody was to start today,” Stewart said. “That makes us feel good as a racetrack. Sitting with the NASCAR officials last night and talking to them about how excited everybody is to come back, it really means a lot to us. This is something we feel is really important to the sport. I think it’s probably the best way we’ve been able to tie major NASCAR racing to grassroots racing.”