Memory lane: NASCAR returns to dirt racing

By Nathan Ham

July 29, 2013

For the last 43 years, NASCAR fans have never watched drivers race on dirt, the way the sport was founded in its early days.

That all ended last week when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series took to the dirt at Eldora Speedway, one of the most popular dirt tracks in the world.

Austin Dillon pulled away with the win, but the aura surrounding the event meant even more to the sport than who won the race.

This was the first dirt track race for one of NASCAR’s top series since Sept. 30, 1970 when Richard Petty won at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. After that, racers took to the asphalt and never looked back.

The race also set another record when 58-year-old Ken Schrader became the oldest driver to win a pole in NASCAR history.

According to recent television ratings for the race held last Wednesday, it was the 10th most-watched truck race in history, which says a whole lot considering the race did not happen on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, which is traditionally when NASCAR-sanctioned races take place. The race was also the most-watched sporting event that day, trumping a full schedule of Major League Baseball games.

While the chances of a dirt track race extending to the Nationwide or the Sprint Cup Series are slim, there is no doubt that the truck series will do its very best to return to Eldora again next season.

Negotiations are expected to take place soon between NASCAR and Eldora Speedway owner and NASCAR driver, Tony Stewart. Stewart purchased the track in 2004 and made all of the necessary track improvements and renovations to accommodate a NASCAR race at the track

Even before this truck race, several NASCAR, open wheel and even NHRA drag racers took to the track for an annual exhibition race called “Prelude to the Dream.”

The “Prelude” has taken place each year since 2005 and features some of the top drivers in their respective sport fighting it out on the dirt at Eldora. Proceeds from the race typically go to different charities and organizations across the country, including Kyle Petty’s Victory Junction Gang Camp, The Wounded Warrior Project, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Eldora seats 18,000 fans and those truck race tickets easily sold out seven months before the race. Tickets went on sale in January and lasted only one week before all seats were snatched up.