T.J.’s Takaways from the Opening Night of the Governor’s Reign

Brent Marks. (Mike Campbell photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(September 23, 2020) — Due to having to function at work this morning here is my delayed takeaways from a highly entertaining opening night to the Governor’s Reign at Eldora Speedway:

  • David Gravel’s incredible qualifying lap that broke Craig Dollansky’s 18-year-old track record started the night off on a high note. With the fans stuck at home and teams racing in inside of an empty coliseum that moment is just what everyone needed to get the night started off on the right foot.

    While the track and racing lines have changed over the past 18 years at Eldora there were some similarities to both laps by Dollansky and Gravel. Dollansky turned his lap lap in the spring after a Friday program was rained out at Eldora with cool conditions. It rained enough on Friday that we had to wait to enter the tunnel before crossing the racetrack for water to be removed. Gravel didn’t have the rain the night before but had a cool, calm day to work with.

    The moment was also captured by the in-car camera Gravel was carrying for the Floracing broadcast.

    The biggest difference though was Dollansky went on to win that feature event on April 12, 2002 while just as it appeared Gravel was heading towards the front, he ended up on his side while racing for second position with Kerry Madsen.

    Gravel did make a statement though on how strong he will be with the Jason Johnson Racing team this week at Eldora. Considering the weight rule that Dollansky did not have to contend with, tire rules, and other changes to the cars Gravel’s lap was just as impressive as Dollansky’s. Anyone implying that some sort of asterisk needs to be placed on Gravel’s lap in my eyes is in the wrong.

  • Eldora Speedway during the early and late months of the season is a different animal than the hot and steamy days when the Kings Royal takes place. While several of the late September dates in recent years have seen unseasonably warm weather, cool weather prevailed on Tuesday combined with a lack of laps on Eldora’s half mile this year gave us an extremely fast racing surface to open the Governor’s Reign on Tuesday. This is something I’ve witnessed during the 4-Crown and other late season races where the moisture holds in the surface and creates these conditions.

    Despite the fast racing surface, the crash carnage was minimal with three incidents in the feature and David Gravel bringing out the only red flag of the evening, and he was able to restart after tipping over. It’s a credit to the quality of the drivers respect for each other and their talent that things didn’t get ugly with the speeds being high all night.

    While the passing was minimal in the heat race, Eldora proved again that often a slightly narrower track in the heats can produce spectacular racing in the feature. The race for the lead between James McFadden and Brent Marks, the exchange for the lead with Marks and Kerry Madsen over the final two laps, and multiple drivers making charges from deep in the pack made for a highly entertaining main event.

    Is one set of conditions more entertaining than the other? That answer depends on who you are asking. One of the great things about dirt sprint car racing is being able to see either set of conditions on any given day.

  • Words like “creepy” “eerie” and “surreal” were used to describe attending an empty Eldora Speedway. Polling a few people I know that were on hand in person to work on teams, the series, and photograph the event mentioned the racing part of it felt normal, but all of the downtime and lead up to the races felt very unusual.

    The most awkward moment was the call of the four abreast parade lap before the main event. Even Floracing announcer Chet Christener mentioned in a short pause in Blake Anderson’s call of the moment on how strange that moment was. Typically, a moment of the night that would feed off a capacity crowd at Eldora with $52,000 on the line the following night, but only engine sounds were present. To his credit Anderson brought the energy to the call for the audience watching at home. Hopefully it’s a moment we only have to witness again tonight and not in 2021.