By T.J. Buffenbarger
Writing this a few days removed from the “Mother of All Sprint Car Weekends” it is still hard to believe such a double header took place. One of the most anticipated weekends of open wheel racing of the year featured decent racing with great atmosphere. The atmosphere featured different kind of excitement than a spring Outlaw or USAC program. It’s rare to do something in motorsports that had not been done before, and having the Outlaws and USAC sprint cars on the same night was one of those things.
Mother Nature tried her best to throw off the weekend. Summer like heat on Friday brought on a deluge of rain on Saturday. Eldora Speedway track prep wizard Chad Schmitmeyer, the push trucks, and the rest of the track crew a phenomenal job on Saturday after an inch of rain fell in a just a few hours to get the track in racing condition. The officials from the track and both series then carried the momentum into keeping the program moving and the drivers responded by not having a single caution flag on Saturday until the World of Outlaws feature.
It was interesting to watch teams work, then stop working to see each other race. With technology, trade shows, and more crossover recently the racing world there is a bit more interest between both series. I think everyone involved enjoyed seeing each other compete shown by World of Outlaws feature winner Donny Schatz even making mention of the Justin Grant’s final lap pass for his feature win.
The weekend had a little of everything Eldora is famous for. Drivers and teams double dipping, dominating performances, surprise faces running up front, and near mind boggling speed. While the track didn’t work its way up to the end of the fence due to the heaviness of brand new clay put down during the off season. I believe by summer with some more events under their belt we will see rim riding at Eldora on the new surface, but the new clay definitely holds water better than the old surface based on what we saw this weekend. It also did not seem as “silty” as the surface was the past couple of seasons, which made viewing easier.
If I had to sum up the weekend at Eldora in a single work I would have to use “fun”. It was early enough in the season teams were not burned out and still excited about the season ahead. Everyone I encountered from track and series officials, teams, and fans all seemed excited about the historic event. Hopefully it worked well enough to do it again in 2015.
- How good is Donny Schatz? Good enough to make me reconsider normal logic on how someone might catch him. With Gary Taylor running a strong second to Schatz, Taylor was actually able to hang closer to Schatz before getting to lapped traffic rather than closing the cap in the slower cars. Schatz is so good through traffic he managed to open the gap further between himself and Taylor while lapping cars than in the open. The other thing that still amazes me about Schatz is how cleanly he races. It’s one thing to be great, but it’s another to be great and give drivers more room than should be expected.
- Taylor was the feel good story of the weekend running second driving the Jason Fausey 1st car. Taylor’s upstart run reminded us another upstart 1st in 1989 when Lee Brewer, Jr. won the anniversary race and promptly scored the win at the Knight Before the Kings Royal later that month. While the Fausey/Taylor effort is a smaller effort even by Northern Ohio standards, what equipment they do have is good and showed how well prepared they come to the race track based on their performance on Saturday. I would look for this combination to make some more noise throughout Ohio before the season is over.
- Eldora Speedway seems to fit Rico Abreu’s driving style perfectly. Abreu’s ability to put cars where others will not as he continued to improve at the Big E. Saturday when Abreu set quick time electrified the large crowd with the only lap in the 12 second bracket in that session. Based on Abreu’s past few performances one has to consider him one favorites in July at the Kings Royal.
- One of the biggest surprises was the drop in car count in the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series field from Friday to Saturday night. In the past USAC events in the spring were not head to head with the plethora of Saturday night options for non-wing sprint cars in Indiana and nearby Waynesfield Raceway Park. While Eldora is not for everyone it used to be that USAC events at Eldora drew the cream of the crop. Now it seems when non-wing races pay more than a weekly purse it tends to scare a lot of teams away. That being said Saturday night’s USAC feature was better than the Friday portion with Justin Grant and C.J. Leary’s race for the lead through traffic during the non-stop 30-lap main.
- Grant’s win the USAC race was particularly special for car owner Mark Hery, who was a competitor for many years at Eldora, from nearby Piqua, Ohio. The win was Grant’s first at the Big E in USAC competition. Ironically the lapped car that almost derailed Grant’s run to the front was Landon Simon, who has a similar background is to the Hery family’s as Landon’s Dad Chris used to run at Eldora as well.
- The Saturday portion of the Eldora weekend appeared destined to be washed out by a torrential downpour shortly after the gates opened on Saturday. Undaunted one Eldora official said, “The bugs and birds are still out, so we’re still racing”, which proved to be correct.
- Verizon Wireless customers should be prepared to not have service anytime soon at Eldora Speedway. Last season a temporary solution was put in place, but there is no indication that solution will be implemented in 2015. Keep in mind this situation is out of the hands of the race track, so make sure to contact Verizon Wireless to express your desire to cell service at the race track. AT&T customers had great service thanks to the tower placed on the grounds at Eldora.
- Every World of Outlaws team I spoke with has a conversation centered on the schedule picking up. Following the race at Eldora the tour heads to Central Pennsylvania for four races in five days in Central Pennsylvania and New York.
- Jarret Andretti has moved up to Indianapolis following his graduation from North Carolina State University. Jarret just had father John spinning the wrenches on Friday when Andretti ended up tumbling as high as the top of the catch fence in turn one. The Andretti team passed on Eldora on Saturday, running third at Lawrenceburg Speedway on Saturday.
- When the Baldwin Brothers team was not present at Eldora on Saturday and Chad Boespflug was walking the pit area, one had to figure something was up. Boespflug officially announced parting ways with the team on Monday.
- Friday was the first time I met Joe Crowley, who has shifted over from the rigors of traveling the NASCAR circuit in Tony Stewart’s empire over to Eldora Speedway to work public relations. Crowley seems excited about his new role at Eldora and the new challenge.
- Best wishes to Terry McCarl after being injured in a very scary incident on Saturday. We could tell by listening to the KNIA/KRLS broadcast on the way home from Eldora the crash was bad, and the video reinforced that. McCarl told the DesMoines Register today how lucky he was to not suffer more serious injuries.
- Its opening week for our friends over at Ohsweken Speedway on Friday. Look for a few surprises in the 360 class with a handful of new crate sprint car teams.
- Darlene Burton is putting up an addition $1000.00 to the winner of the Josh Burton Memorial at Bloomington Speedway if the if the winning car is equipped with addition halo bars on the roll cage.
- Brayden McMahan is going to do some racing this summer on the west coast. Brayden, the son of World of Outlaws driver Paul McMahan, announced a schedule of races this summer throughout the west coast.