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NASCAR Returns to the Dirt

NASCAR_dirt_track_Eldora_feature What happens when NASCAR, the largest motorsports sanctioning body in the US, returns to racing on a dirt track? For the first time in over 40 years, a sport which was born on dirt tracks in the South, returned to its roots with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Mudsummer Classic held at Tony Stewart’s ½-mile Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. While NASCAR seemed to be testing the waters in this down-home event, it ended up being the most hyped NASCAR sanctioned event in nearly 20 years. How hyped was it? It wasn't only the first Camping World Truck Series race to be sold out this season, it was sold out months in advance - and it was held on a Wednesday! NASCAR_dirt_track_Eldora_01 All photos courtesy of Eldora Speedway. Structured much like most Saturday night dirt track races, qualifying started with five heat races, followed by a last-chance qualifier race – this setup differed from NASCAR’s traditional two-lap qualifying session. Veteran Midwest dirt track and NASCAR driver, Ken Schrader, had the quick time -so he started the first qualifier from the pole, and ended up winning it, ensuring that he started the feature from the #1 spot. Onto the main event, the 150-lap race was also run differently from regular NASCAR format. Broken down into smaller segments - the first segment was 60 laps, followed by a 50 lapper and finally, a 40 lap dash to the finish, designed to create excitement. And it certainly did create excitement! This unique event attracted drivers from all of NASCAR's top divisions, plus a few dirt track specialists. As people are noting, it isn’t necessarily high speeds that makes for good racing. The slower speeds of this dirt track race (an average of just above 67 mph) and slick surface allowed for driver skill to truly shine. The race was won by up and comer Austin Dillon who, despite having won the Camping World Truck Series title in 2011, hadn't raced a truck since. It was no easy win, as Dillon battled with Nationwide Series phenom Kyle Larson for the victory. NASCAR_dirt_track_Eldora_03 The entire event went off magnificently, leaving NASCAR and dirt racing fans alike, wanting more. Norm Benning, who, at the age of 61, managed to fight hard and grab the final starting spot, was reminiscent of all the old-time racers who spent their weekends on the dirt tracks - not for the money, or the glory, but for the love of racing. It was this spirit that brought racing to where it is today and Benning showed that. Even amongst all the big-money and sponsorships of stock car racing in the 21st century, it is still the love of going fast and man's need for speed that drive all forms of auto racing. NASCAR_dirt_track_Eldora_02 The Mudsummer Classic was the most tuned-into NASCAR Craftsman Truck event of the season – and most importantly, it lived up to its hype (might we even say surpassed it?)! For those wanting more, don't fret…there is much more dirt race action going on through the year. A variety of national and local sanctioning bodies hold dirt races both on the circle track and off. SCORE, Lucas Oil and many other sanctioning bodies hold events nearly every weekend from Wisconsin to Florida, Baja California and South America. Two- and four-wheel drive trucks playing in the mud, jumping, making right-turns( as well as lefts) and a lot of truck-on-truck leaning and banging are hallmarks of this type of racing. Brendan Gaughan, who had a top-10 finish in the Classic, is a veteran of SCORE - as is five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. SONY DSC If circle track dirt racing is more your thing, there are events going on all over the country. Local tracks from New England to Southern California provide just as much excitement as you saw at the NASCAR event. Local drivers racing late model, sportsman and modified stock cars battle their rivals in weekly points-series events all season long. Big trophies and prize money for the season winner makes for gritty and competitive races. Don't let your dirt racing season end here…go out and enjoy the mud between your teeth! -John McCabe NASCAR_dirt_track_Eldora_04

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