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Eldora format to have traditional feel

April 09, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Eldora format to have traditional feel
Dirt-racing heritage combines with NASCAR rules for unique event

This summer’s Camping World Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway won’t just be a race on dirt -- it will be a full-fledged testament to dirt-track racing, complete with qualifying races and a feature divided into three segments.

NASCAR on Tuesday announced the format for the July 24 event, the sport’s first national-series race on dirt in more than four decades. The sold-out Mudsummer Classic on the short track owned by Tony Stewart will consist of five qualifying races, one last-chance race and a 150-lap event split into segments of 60, 50 and 40 laps.

“We wanted to respect the long heritage that dirt racing has with its own format,” said Chad Little, director of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, “so we’re trying to follow that as much as we can and stay consistent to what those fans have grown to love in dirt racing.”

Action on the half-mile clay oval will open with practice on Tuesday, July 23, followed by qualifying and the race the next day. Although Truck Series officials considered several format options for the race, Little said the idea of qualifying races have been a constant since former series director Wayne Auton first began sketching out possibilities eight months ago.

The result is a format that includes the standard two laps of qualifying to determine starting position for five qualifying races, which will be eight laps apiece and in which only green-flag laps will count. The number of trucks in each qualifying race will depend on the total number of trucks entered for the event. Since the field will be limited to 30 vehicles, only 20 trucks will be locked in rather than the standard 25, and four locked-in trucks will be placed in each qualifying race.

Five trucks will qualify from each race, comprising the first 25 spots in the feature. The next four positions will be determined by a last-chance race, which will be 15 laps and again in which only green-flag laps will count. The final starting spot is reserved for a former series champion who has not already qualified; if there isn’t one, it will go to the next-highest finishing truck in the last chance event.

"This format sticks close to Eldora tradition while doing what NASCAR has to do with their current rules and in protecting their ownership."

-- Roger Slack, Eldora general manager

Roger Slack, Eldora’s general manager, said that format stays as true as possible to what traditional dirt-track fans expect at the facility. Eldora’s major events typically involve heat races, a last chance race and two spots reserved for the fastest drivers in the qualifying races that don’t transfer over.

“It’s a great combination of what NASCAR has to do as a series and the tradition that Eldora has with our major events,” Slack said. “ … This format sticks close to Eldora tradition while doing what NASCAR has to do with their current rules and in protecting their ownership. Definitely, it’s pretty creative.”

To drivers, it also presents some challenges beyond the surface. With a starting field of 30 rather than the usual 36, and 20 trucks locked in rather than 25, Timothy Peters said it will be a priority for drivers to ensure they’re inside the top 20 in owners’ points before they arrive in Rossburg, Ohio. 

“You really want to make sure you’re inside that top 20 no problem being locked in going to that race,” said Peters, who drives for Red Horse Racing and stands 15th in owners’ points after two races. “… It can be a situation where you go there and you may have a high-profile team and driver that runs all the races that does not get in due to not being locked in. Now, you hope not. But you look through that Truck garage this year, and there are a lot of good trucks and a lot of good drivers.”

Slack said many dirt-race specialists have been waiting on the format to be finalized before committing to the event. With only the top 20 locked in and 10 spots available, “they’re going to start coming out of the woodwork,” he added. An entry list of around 50 trucks looms as a possibility given that dirt veterans Dave Blaney, Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace, Scott Bloomquist, Tracy Hines and Jac Haudenschild have all committed to or expressed interest in the race.

“You know there are going to be some ringers there,” Peters said. “I feel like it’s an 80-20 split -- 20 percent of the drivers in the race will have dirt experience, and the other 80 won’t. So it’s going to be a challenge. … But hopefully we can go out there and put on a good show, and show up these ringers that are going to try to make this race.”

The event itself will be 150 laps, with pit stops between the segments. Little said the Eldora infield will accommodate transporters, so teams will have all their equipment on site. But since the facility does not feature a traditional pit road, NASCAR will have teams perform pit stops in a more controlled environment, likely with the caution truck still circling the track.

“During the segments they’ll come in and be able to make a normal pit stop adjustment -- add fuel, change tires. The only difference is, because there isn’t a true pit road, we don’t want live, competitive pit stops at this time,” Little said. “That’s how we’re twisting that. Instead of having live pit stops, we’re going to have a controlled pit stop environment. And we’re thinking maybe the pace truck will make a couple laps around the track for lead-lap trucks, couple of laps for lapped trucks, and a one-to-go type of deal. The whole thing would take five or six laps.”

The event will be NASCAR’s first national race on dirt since the premier series compered at the Raleigh (N.C.) Fairgrounds on Sept. 3, 1970. Anticipation is high, as evidenced by the fact that Eldora sold out of tickets in a matter of weeks.

“There’s been a lot of buzz around this race,” Little said. “It’s been exciting. It’s been 40 years since the national series has run on a dirt track, so that’s exciting. We’ve visited with all of the owners and drivers and gotten their input on the format and the rules, and it’s been exciting. I think it’s a good buildup. And the fact that it’s sold out Eldora in a short amount of time is a good testament to the excitement for the race. It’s a good deal all the way around. It’s exciting to find a venue like this that’s different from our traditional tracks.”

That difference, Little admitted, has made some teams uneasy about an event that presents a stark contrast from what they’re accustomed to. But count Peters among the majority excited about the historic implications of a return to dirt, as well as a change-up from the ordinary.

“I’m eager to get there,” he said. “I feel like from a driver’s perspective, I do my best when I have a challenge in front of me. … There are a lot of folks who are potentially on the fence there, but at the end of the day, I’m sure the Miami Heat aren’t going to miss a game in their winning streak just because they don’t like the court. I’m definitely going to be there with bells on, and have my memory bank full of knowledge, and try to put it to use and just do the best job I can.”

Fans have certainly embraced the event. The track sold out its 17,700 reserved grandstand seats less than a month after they went on sale. A few weeks later, general admission tickets were gone as well. Around 20,000 people will be expected at the half-mile track on the evening of July 24, with many more wishing they were there.

“People call every day,” Slack said. “They can’t believe we don’t have tickets left. I think we probably could have sold 50,000 tickets to it.”

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