T.J.’s Notebook: Thoughts on the Ride to Eldora

Crowd at the 2017 Knight Before the Kings Royal. (Bob Buffenbarger photo)

Kings Royal 35 weekend if officially underway. While traveling south on I-69 through Indiana on my way to Eldora Speedway for one of the biggest events in sprint car racing here are a few thoughts leading into the big weekend.

  • The Kings Royal will likely not be won based on anything done on Thursday or Friday, but a race team could certainly lose the opportunity to contend for the crown. While both Thursday and Friday are full paying World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series point races avoiding problems that could cause wear and tear on driver and crew is essential. Saturday’s winner will likely have nothing out of the ordinary take place in the two races leading into the Royal.
  • Until last season nobody had ever won the Kings Royal in back to back years until Donny Schatz accomplished the task last year. Schatz will look so separate himself from the greatest in Kings Royal history in search of an unprecedented third victory in a row. Growing up in the era of Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, and Doug Wolfgang dominating sprint car racing I’m used to having top level of the spot dominated by one or two parties. In this era Schatz is very much that kind of force where I am surprised when its not him in victory lane at one of the major events.
  • The one thing the Kings Royal that does not work in favor of drivers such as Schatz is the face it’s a single day program with a unique format. Unlike Knoxville Nationals where you must navigate the points system every time you hit the race track on a preliminary night or secure one of the top four finishing positions on Friday the Kings Royal is essentially a one-day winner take all event. The way the qualifying and heat races play out where the winner of Saturday’s sixth heat will start on the pole for the feature can lend itself to surprise winners.
  • The added twist to this year’s Kings Royal was made official earlier in the week when it was announced the winners from Thursday and Friday’s features will have the option of going out for their qualifying effort anytime during the session. If the track would appear to be drying out quickly the driver or drivers that won those events can go out early, or if we were to run into a situation where the track was getting faster through the session they could choose to go out later.

    Much has been made about how drivers try to adjust their qualifying effort for the format to earn a coveted front row starting position in a heat race, but keep in mind the 19th and 20th positions are reserved for the fastest two qualifiers that do not make the feature through the heat race. Having one of those positions can keep a driver from avoiding the dreaded, and lengthy, B-Main.

    The best improvement to the Kings Royal weekend this year is the additional money added to the purse for drivers that have never made the Kings Royal. Bonus money of $5,000 is up for grabs on Thursday and Friday with Saturday featuring multiple bonuses for drivers that have never made the Saturday night finale.