By T.J. Buffenbarger
(July 14, 2022) — After a 19-year absence the Historical Big One made a triumphant return Thursday night at Eldora Speedway with Brent Marks charging from 14th starting position to claim the $100,000 prize. Here are T.J.’s Takeaways from the first of two major events during Kings Royal weekend at Eldora.
• If there was any doubt that Brent Marks and the Murray Marks Motorsports team were the hottest in the country, Thursday should quiet those critics. Winning one of the biggest paying sprint car races in the world against 59 topflight race teams helped cement what is a career season for Marks.
Marks has shown speed at Eldora in the past and won races and it seemed logical that if everything came together, he could be a contender at one of the major races. Early in the night that seemed in doubt as the team was disappointed in their heat race performance and ended up changing an engine.
Marks and his team answered the bell charging from 14th starting position, holding off Tyler Courtney, who is one of the best active drivers at Eldora in the process.
The way Marks team is going most would want to race as much as possible and may even feel that taking time off would make them lose their edge. Yet after an extremely busy run competing in events during Ohio and Pennsylvania Speedway among other races, Marks decided to take last weekend off and pass on the Brad Doty Classic. Instead, Marks wanted his team to step back and properly prepare for the Eldora weekend along with getting some time to relax before one of the most pressure packed part of the season begins.
When I asked Marks about the break in the post-race press conference, he felt it did help his team come in fresh to the weekend. He wanted to make sure members of the crew were able to get home and see family and for Marks to spend some down time with his own family. Turns out that R&R helped Marks and his team get in position to celebrate on Thursday.
• The Eldora Speedway format for major races has often created upset winners during the Kings Royal and Historical Big One, but the current run of winners of the major events at Eldora is fascinating.
Teams not following the World of Outlaws tour have now won the last three major sprint car races at Eldora in a row started with Tyler Courtney’s Kings Royal win last year. Marks led a podium on Thursday made up of drivers that are not chasing the Outlaw tour full time in Tyler Courtney and Rico Abreu, furthermore Marks and Abreu are not chasing any points at all.
Talking to top teams that do not compete on the Outlaw tour a term I would always hear is “Outlaw Speed” meaning the pace they had to maintain with the Outlaws being so much greater than with other series or tracks they competed at that it took a moment to get back up to the Outlaws pace.
It seems the past couple of years there are teams that can maintain the level of pace needed to compete with the Outlaws without running the tour full time. Marks, Brown, Courtney, and others have been competitive with the Outlaws on a regular basis now with Marks being the third in feature wins with the tour this season.
With the high availability of parts, information drivers and teams can digest during the week, and general knowledge the gaps seems to be closing between the Outlaw teams and those that race elsewhere and pick and choose.
However, it’s not time to give up on the full time Outlaw guys. The top five drivers in the Outlaw standings are the best in the world at their craft and I’m sure they are not hanging around Eldora just to sell t-shirts this week. Even though that gap seems to be shrinking, those drivers along with Marks, Brian Brown, and Kyle Larson are still the odds on favorites.
• Rico Abreu was driving as confident as I’ve seen him possibly since passing Dale Blaney to win an All Star Circuit of Champions event at Eldora in 2014. After having some tough stretches with the sprint car after returning from a full-time season in the NASCAR Truck Series in 2017, Abreu has seen a resurgence in his confidence on track that is evident to onlookers.
Having Ricky Warner, former crew chief for Donny Schatz, on the wrenches seems to have give Abreu the same kind of edge he had several years ago. Thursday was as confident, aggressive, and productive of a race that I had seen Abreu run in quite a while in a winged sprint car.
The fans are also eating up Rico’s success. I refer to the audience reaction to him as being “Haudenschild like” at Eldora. If Abreu could manage to win either of the two remaining races it could be one of the most popular in Eldora history.
• If you were not entertained by the program at Eldora Speedway during the Historical Big One there might not be hope for you enjoying sprint car racing. From start to finish Eldora and the World of Outlaws put on one of the most entertaining programs of the season.
From the drama of qualifying and seeing a five selected by spinning of the inversion wheel, seeing drivers such as Zach Hampton, Chris Windom, and Marcus Dumesny make standout performances to put their cars into the feature, and dispelling the notion that there is not passing in major sprint car races with Marks coming from 14th to win the main event and Logan Schuchart charging from 21st to fifth.
Eldora Speedway needs to be commended for putting together a nearly perfect racetrack Thursday. After a much-maligned spring and early summer where the weather did them no favors and saw some rough race surfaces for late models, Eldora was in its classic rim riding form on Saturday as drivers placed their cars on a tightrope of a cushion playing chicken with its unforgiving outside wall.
Kudos to all the series and track officials that made that happen led by Eldora Speedway general manager Jerry Gappens, who was suddenly thrust into the position this spring on short notice.