By T.J. Buffenbarger
“Are you lost?”
That seemed to be the popular question directed towards me during a 12 hour span on Saturday during the World 100 at Eldora Speedway. For years I have mentioned being curious about going to the World 100. I wanted to get a feel for what Eldora Speedway’s biggest event was like compared to the Kings Royal and other big events at the Rossburg, Ohio half mile oval.
Track and series officials and people in the industry I encountered implored me not to make that comparison based on a World 100 makeup event in October. They said the vibe would be different and there were a number of fans and teams that couldn’t make the rain date in person.
Those people shouldn’t have worried because Saturday was a taste of what an awesome event the World 100 is. The opportunity to see a double header due to the second preliminary program being rained out on Friday, a total of three races in a 36 hour span at Eldora, just added to the appeal of my first World 100 visit.
I’ve been to a lot of local and regional level late model races that shared the card with sprint cars. I’ve also covered the American Late Model Series a bit early in my career at I-96 Speedway. The best race I witnessed in 2002 was an ALMS slugfest between won by Jeep Van Womer in a near photo finish with two drivers racing side by side for almost the entire feature distance. This trip to the World 100 was my first Late Model “major” though.
A different world…
I walked into Eldora on Saturday afternoon just as the first heat race took the green flag. It took about 10 minutes to realize I had entered an entirely different world. The feeling was that of going to a new school and not knowing anybody. It’s still school and you know English, Math, and such, but you don’t know any of your classmates. I was surprised from the spectator side there wasn’t more cross over between the sprint car and late model crowd with the World of Outlaws being present on Sunday. Other than a handful of photographers and the track staff I know at Eldora I didn’t see a soul I recognized the entire day.
It was stunning to me how different the crowd was. I normally can walk between grandstand sections at Eldora and see people that I run into at sprint car races across the country. From the pit area around to the main grandstand I didn’t see anyone I recognized. Talking with other people that have gone to the Knoxville sprint car and late model nationals has the same experience.
The on track product…
The heat races during the day program were racy and had a bit of drama because of drivers missing the tech inspection after scaling the cars. That led me to my first major difference of big time late model racing was the level of post-race tech inspection for qualifying and a heat race. Tires, rear deck height, and a host of other things were checked following cars crossing the scales. I wasn’t watching for drivers to skip this until two of the biggest names in dirt late model racing, Scott Bloomquist and Billy Moyer, did not go to tech from the scales.
Daytime late model racing at Eldora was much more entertaining than sprint cars in daytime conditions. The tire rule used for the World 100 that mandates the use of a 20 compound Hoosier tire with the option of running a 40 compound on the RR only apparently helps with the track taking rubber as quickly. Things didn’t really seem to lock down until the later stages of the afternoon and evening programs, and I believe the track wouldn’t have taken rubber had the Friday program not been rained out and run on Saturday afternoon.
The format is very similar to the Kings Royal only points are accumulated over two preliminary programs where the entire field runs split into odd and even groups after qualifying. The program culminates with twin 25-lap features. The World 100 point system weighs feature performance more than qualifying. After seeing it in action I may enjoy it more than the Knoxville Nationals system where qualifying has the same point value as feature finishing position. The finale features the Eldora six heat race format with the winner of the sixth heat race starting on the pole position for the feature. The only difference is the two highest in points from the two preliminary nights get the 19th and 20th spot instead of the fastest qualifiers that do not transfer through the heat races.
Keeping in the tradition of Eldora Speedway showmanship “the wheel of doom” is brought out after the two preliminary programs are over. The driver highest in points spins the wheel to determine the inversion for heat races on Saturday. Numbers three through five were available on the board. I could only imagine the mutiny that would take place in the pit area if that was done at the Kings Royal. The Late Model teams seem to take it in stride.
The heat races, 15 laps in length, had a Knoxville Nationals type feel to them where you were well aware of the intensity. The racing in the pair of 20-lap B-Mains was spectacular. The racing for the four transfer spots in each was some of the better preliminary racing events I witnessed all season.
I readily admit that anything much more than 50 laps for a feature event isn’t really my thing. As much as I love the Little 500 it’s fun to do once a year, but I wouldn’t want to run a race like that every week. The World 100 finale (100 laps) was pretty decent. Seeing Eldora Speedway point leader Devin Gilpin lead a major portion of the event was a nice twist that not many people expected to see.
Once the 100 lap race ended I had a great story with Tim McCreadie as a winner. Early in the night I thought to take a photo of his truck and trailer shortly before I went back across the race track through the tunnel. I was glad I did later to show everyone immediately after the main event was over what the winner had towed in with.
After the race I was stunned at the lack of media. Once DirtOnDirt.com was finished with McCreadie I interviewed him with one other person. While the Kings Royal doesn’t have a huge throng of media, it dwarfs the trio of us that caught McCreadie in the media area following the race.
Walking out on Saturday night following the World 100 I was glad I kept my hotel room and went to the rain date. I can say I’ve been to a World 100, and even rarer that I can say I saw one in October. I plan on taking the advice I was given by multiple people during the weekend and take in a September edition of the World 100 at some point, possibly even next year. I don’t see myself diving off the sprint car beat to cover all of the late model majors, but it was a fun diversion for a night to visit another dimension of the dirt track world.