Dirt-track legend playing rookie’s role
July 23, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
ROSSBURG, Ohio -- Scott Bloomquist doesn’t just enter a dirt track -- he swaggers in, his long brown hair flowing behind him and the strength of over 500 feature victories bolstering his well-earned reputation. The “Dirtrax Dominator” has been just that, particularly at Eldora Speedway, where his legend grows larger each time he slides between the wheel.
Six times he’s claimed The Dream, Eldora’s biggest event, which pays $100,000 to win. Three times he’s won the World 100, another prominent race on the half-mile clay track. A member of the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame, Bloomquist is as closely tied to this facility as perhaps anyone save its owner, three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart.
Which is why it was strange Tuesday to see one of the greatest ever on dirt wheeling a vehicle emblazoned with yellow rookie stripes. Eldora’s inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, the first national event on dirt in nearly 43 years, finds Bloomquist doing something rather unfamiliar in a very familiar place. At 49 years old he’s starting his first NASCAR race, and trying to add another Eldora title to his collection.
“This would mean a lot,” he said. “I think this is a big thing. It’s big for me at Eldora. Eldora’s been such a big part of my history. We’re the winningest driver and highest finisher for any of the Dream and World events. We have a tremendous amount of fans that come up here, and I think there are a bunch of them up here for this event. It would impress them, and probably surprise myself. … It’s just an honor to be a part of it. I’m taking a very humble approach. But I think when we get to that last segment, then we’re not going to worry about the paint.”
Bloomquist is driving the No. 51 truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports, which due to its standing in Truck Series owners’ points is one of the 20 vehicles locked into Wednesday night’s main event. Busch won the Prelude to the Dream charity exhibition at Eldora last year in a chassis made by Bloomquist, and knew who he wanted to put in his No. 51 the instant a Truck Series event at the track became a reality.
Of course, the change in vehicle doesn’t come without an adjustment process. “Anytime you get in a different race car -- gosh, this was way different. Little tiny tires, heavy truck, and the car’s got to do most of the work here. You’ve got to find a way to make that happen,” said Dave Blaney, a multiple Eldora winner and a Sprint Cup veteran.
Bloomquist tested the truck earlier this month at Smoky Mountain Speedway, a half-mile clay track in Maryville, Tenn., and was eighth-fastest in an opening practice in which he made 62 laps.
“This is a different kind of animal -- a heavier and clumsier vehicle than what Scott is used to,” said crew chief Ryan Fugle, who’s won twice in the Truck Series this season with Busch. “But knowing what the track is going to do and what it needs to feel like, being a veteran at Eldora, is going to be huge.”
That knowledge certainly came in handy Tuesday, when Bloomquist used his late model experience at Eldora to quickly get up to speed. Coming in, he told Fugle to use a setup in the truck similar to what he used in his late model en route to winning his most recent Dream in June. “We worked off that the entire time, and came back and ended up right on that,” Bloomquist said. “We spent a lot of time looking and never really got anywhere. But just starting there was a big plus.”
There were still things to get used to. Adjustments that might have made a small difference in the late model made a much bigger change on the truck. Bloomquist drives dirt more in a straight line, not sliding as much as some other competitors. Behind the wheel of a late model, he also drives in hard, sometimes not lifting until he reaches the center of the corner. In the truck?
“You’d be picking me up in the parking lot if I tried that with these things,” he said.
And yet, Bloomquist’s dirt experience and Eldora legacy are in evidence regardless of the type of vehicle. Perhaps no one is better suited to know what type of race the track might put on Wednesday night, particularly if the conditions remain hot and dry, and the surface stays fast and slick.
“I think you’re going to see there’s going to be probably a lot of contact, even with the wall and with other trucks, and we’re just going to keep on racing,” Bloomquist said. “Unlike on pavement, when something happens and you hit, you’re done. I think you’re going to see a lot of contact and you’re going to see a lot of exiting things, and the race isn’t gong to end there. We’re just going to keep on racing.”
The trucks will hold up, he added, as long as their steering does. But even a dirt-track legend like Bloomquist can be impressed, as he was in watching Kyle Larson sling his vehicle through the corners, throwing out a rooster tail of dirt in its wake. The Dirtrax Dominator hadn’t quite reached that comfort level in a truck at Eldora -- at least not yet.
“We’ve got a little bit more work to do before I feel quite that comfortable,” he said. “This place will reach out and bite you pretty easy.”