By Larry Boos
ROSSBURG, OH (Sept. 25) – History and memorable moments stole the headlines from the recently completed 30th annual Four Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway, with two names at the top of that list – Joey Saldana and Kyle Larson.
Saldana returned to Eldora, Friday night, nine weeks after a devastating crash during the Kings Royal left him with a broken right arm, punctured lung and broken ribs; injuries severe enough to have thought to bring an early end to his 2011 racing season. Undaunted, Saldana pushed himself through an intense rehabilitation process and not only returned to Eldora, but in convincing fashion to dominate the World of Outlaw (WoO) Sprint Car opening leg of the Four Crown.
The Brownsburg, IN native bested Paul McMahan, current point leader and defending champion Jason Meyers, Dale Blaney and Craig Dollansky to get the job done.
With the memorable moment kicking off the Four Crown Nationals, little did the fans know that another history-making moment was ahead of them.
It was all about Kyle Larson. Simply put – he came, he saw and he conquered.
As a race car driver, Larson had never laid eyes on Eldora Speedway until the night before. Going into the night, there was a lot of hype about the 18-year-old diminutive California speedster, and he certainly didn’t let anyone down, as he completely swept all three USAC (United States Auto Club) National touring divisions Saturday night. Only one other time had that been done – back in 1998, when Jack Hewitt not only captured the three USAC main events, but the UMP (United Midwestern Promoters) Modified finale as well.
And Larson picked a good night to pull off the fete. Track owner, two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, was in the house, and announced when Larson crossed the line for the third consecutive time in one evening, that he would write a $10,000 bonus check to him.
Larson’s historic night kicked off with the Midget division where he drove the Keith Kunz owned, Toyota powered machine to victory from his fourth place starting slot. It was a green to checkered win for Larson, as he shot into the lead on the first lap and never looked back in the quick paced, non-stop main event.
Following Larson to that checkered flag were Bryan Clauson, Darren Hagen, Jerry Coons, Jr. and Tracy Hines.
Up next was the Sprint Car segment and it wasn’t so easy for Larson. Behind the wheel of the famed Hoffman Brothers machine, Larson was behind the eight-ball at the start, with his 11th place starting position.
In a race filled with attrition, Damion Gardner led the early going with Levi Jones in hot pursuit, while Larson was stuck mid-pack. Jones moved past Gardner on lap 14, but a blown right rear tire on lap 20 collected Gardner to slow the pace of the race. The restart put Chris Windom into the lead a move figured to enhance his tight points chase with Jones.
Through all of this, Larson was making bold moves through the field, and with five laps to go, was up to fourth. Windom’s hopes were thwarted with a blown tire three laps from the finish to put popular Dave Darland on the point. Larson was now up to second; but unable to surpass Darland. Yet another caution flag two laps from the finish gave Larson one more chance.
Darland powered out front for the white flag, but then in turns one and two, Larson gave it a shot with a perfect Eldora slide job to take the win amidst a stunned crowd.
Darland finished with runner-up honors, followed by Bobby East, Tracy Hines and Hunter Schuerenberg.
With two wins under his belt, Larson returned to the Kunz camp and slid behind the wheel of the Silver Crown car with a pole starting position lying ahead of him.
Levi Jones attempted to be the spoiler for the night by shooting into the early lead of the 50-lap affair and opened a three car length lead over Larson. That didn’t last long; however, as by lap four Larson built up enough steam to overtake Jones and survived a rash of caution flag periods to ride to the history-making checkered flag.
His Silver Crown win came at the expense of Jones, Bryan Clauson, Jerry Coons, Jr. and Tracy Hines.