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Archive for Thursday, June 24, 2004

There’s more to Eldora track than its looks

June 24, 2004

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There's a light beyond the fields lining Ohio Highway 127, beckoning like the diamond in the Iowa cornstalks from "Field of Dreams." But this light seems fuzzy -- filtered and out of focus.

Eldora dust is flying.

The PA announcer has it in his eyes when he calls Eldora Speedway, a half-mile clay oval celebrating its 50th season, "one of the true palaces of open-wheel racing."

At first glance, this is no palace. It is, frankly, in the middle of nowhere. The sign out front reads "USAC Tonight." Painted on the backstretch wall, beside the G.W Pierce Auto Parts sign, is confirmation you're in the right place -- "Eldora Speedway USA." The wall itself might have been white once, a thousand coats of mud ago. There is no scoreboard. The first adjective that comes to mind is "rickety."

The U.S. Auto Club's sprints and midgets, staples of grassroots Midwestern racing, are running the "Buckeye Nationals," and a crowd of 4,000, give or take, is gathering. About 2,000 have their own lawn chairs.

Just when you start thinking you've wasted a two-hour ride over from Indianapolis, the Eldora dust starts to clear things up.

The three midget heats are eight laps apiece. Cory Kruseman wins the first, Bobby East dominates the second. Then Dave Darland wins the third and you realize what you've seen could be the best eight laps of racing you've seen in a long, long time.

As the track is cleared, the drivers' buddies come out onto the frontstretch to check the cars. Josh Wise's car owner is among them -- Tony Stewart, the Nextel Cup star who has come to check in and help out with the USAC teams he owns and loves. Earlier in the day, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers visited the Formula One guys at the big track over in Indy. Stewart, though, has sprint cars in his blood. You knew he'd be at Eldora instead.

The water truck comes back out and you look at the time. It'll be 10 before the first sprint heat starts and you've still got to drive back to Indianapolis. The world's most technologically advanced racing cars will be running over there tomorrow, and that's what you're really here to see.

As you're driving back toward the interstate, you make a mental note. When you get back to the hotel, get out the notebook and cross out "rickety." Then, get on the Internet and see who's racing at Eldora on the Saturday night before the Brickyard 400 in August.

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