ROSSBURG – Steve Casebolt has competed as far as New Zealand and Australia, but Eldora Speedway is irreplaceable to him.
There, Casebolt and his father sat in the grandstands watching sprint cars slide round-and-round – until it was his turn at the age of 6.
The speedway is up IN-227 from his Richmond, Ind., home, and each time he visits – a time or two now being on a national tour – he remembers the countless trips he and his father made back then. They regularly loaded up his go-kart for Eldora Speedway until the time he was 15 years old. Then it was open-wheeled modifieds – late models came a year later. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Casebolt, who now competes in the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series, will take a detour back to Eldora Speedway for the Dirt Late Model Dream by Ferris Mowers, a marquee event hosting the nation’s top drivers since 1994. Ironically, this is where Casebolt’s dream was cultivated. For fellow Richmond-native Duane Chamberlain, these events are, in fact, the ones you dream about.
Chamberlain, a regional competitor, races at Eldora Speedway more frequently than Casebolt. He is hopeful that his experience at the track will give him a leg-up when the field throttles down this weekend.
“Always take advantage,” Chamberlain said about racing close to home. “Just in general we’ve been pretty good up at Eldora this year, and I feel like I have a good piece. So, I just need to have it all come together.”
In the two events Chamberlain has entered at the track in 2016 he has one win in April and a 19th-place finish the following month. Chamberlain broke the rear-end of the car in May’s feature. But in both cases and no matter the outcome, “there’s just something about Eldora” that keeps drawing him back. For him, “it’s just hard to explain.”
For Casebolt, the feeling is mutual.
“This is the most special track we will go to because it is one of the first tracks I’ve ever went to, sitting up there in those stands,” Casebolt said. “You never know what would’ve happened if I (raced sprint cars instead) but I accomplished a lot of goals I never thought would have been possible.”
There, Casebolt accomplished a childhood goal most fans fantasize about – competing against the legends of the sport. At first, he watched dirt racing legends Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Jack Hewitt and Billy Moyer zoom around the track. He was tickled to be able to even witness their races.
“As a little kid you’re thinking, ‘those guys are like Michael Jordan,’” Casebolt said. “So when I saw those guys, that’s how I looked at them. I was like, ‘wow, this is amazing.’ I got to meet every one of them.”
It was no make believe when Casebolt actually got the chance to compete alongside his idols. In his modified, Casebolt led the feature into the green flag with Hewitt behind him. Though Hewitt got the best of him that night (Casebolt finished in the top five), it was “pretty neat” because he duked it out with a driver he could have only dreamed of racing against when he was a kid.
But, Casebolt’s greatest memory is one of triumph. He won The Dream in 2007. Though he will not confidently say he is going to win this year’s event – because he may “get his feelings hurt” by Lady Luck – he knows he is capable. No one can tell him otherwise.
“Knowing you’ve won it before makes you think, ‘hey, I’ve done this before,’” he said. “Nobody can take that away from me. If somebody tells me I can’t, well they’re wrong because I’ve done it before. I’ve not only proved that to other people, but I’ve also proved it to myself.”
Casebolt will be testing the odds against the nation’s best racers, including a hometown friend.
A 23-year veteran of the sport, Chamberlain still cannot define Eldora’s allure. This dates back to the time he started racing late models at 16 years old. Though rules would not allow him to race there until he turned 18, he yearned for the chance. When he finally became of age, he competed at Eldora almost weekly.
“I was just a young kid but heck, I was scared to death (of Eldora),” Chamberlain. “The amount of fans … it’s just a bigger feel than the average race. It’s something you never forget.”
The Dirt Late Model Dream by Ferris Mowers is more than a name to the Richmond drivers. For these two, who live a few miles from each other, they will continue to carry out adolescent dreams and one of them may imprint their name as 2016’s winner on their own stomping grounds.
Even if it means a little awkward silence during the next dinner they share.
“Yeah, that would make for an awkward night,” Chamberlain said, chuckling.
Single day tickets start at $20 with children (12 and younger) admitted free to general admission all three days of the Dirt Late Model Dream. Tickets and camping information is available at 937-338-3815 or www.EldoraSpeedway.com.