As I sat in the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express near Lansing, Michigan on Saturday morning, I received a text from my boss, Speed51.com owner Bob Dillner, that made me giddy.
The event I had originally planned on working at New Paris Speedway (IN) had already been canceled, so we were tossing ideas back and forth about where I would go. Eventually, he sent a text message that really got my attention.
“Take Christine to the Dream.”
Christine is my girlfriend who was with me for my trip to the Midwest, and as I read that text message my eyes immediately enlarged.
That prompted her to ask, “Why do you look like a little kid who wants something?”
Well, it was because I did want something. I wanted to go to the Dirt Late Model Dream that night at Eldora Speedway.
Luckily enough, she was fond (or at least acceptive) of the idea as well.
As fast as my fingers could move I immediately went to MapQuest to find out how far of a drive it would be. It ended up being just over three hours, so I started looking up hotel information to find something that would work since we had to be back in Grand Rapids, Michigan the following day.
We settled on a hotel in Fort Wayne, Indiana (about 1.5 hours away from Rossburg, Ohio) and made our plans.
From there, it was time to look into buying tickets. For the first time in quite some time, I was prepared to buy tickets and enjoy a night at the races as a fan.
I visited Eldora Speedway’s website and purchased the best tickets I could find at the price of $44 each plus taxes/fees. For a short track race, that price point is on the high end, but I knew the $100,000-to-win Dirt Late Model Dream wasn’t your normal short track event.
With our tickets purchased, we strapped into our Speed51.com sponsored Hyundai Santa Fe rental car and made our way towards the “World’s Greatest Dirt Track.”
Being from the state of Maine, we’re not accustomed to driving through corn fields to get to where we need to go; we’re used to having pine trees line both sides of the road where we’re from.
I had been to Eldora Speedway on one other occasion to cover the Super DIRTcar Series portion of the Eldora Dirt Derby at the track, so I knew what to expect on our drive. But Christine didn’t.
As I made a left turn through corn fields and then a right turn through more corn fields, she finally said, “Are you sure we’re going the right way?”
“Yes, we are.”
Finally, after seeing corn stalks, more corn stalks and some wheat fields, we arrived at Eldora Speedway.
It was then time to figure out what we were going to do for parking. As we drove near the main gate, we noticed a lot across from the race track that was charging $10 for parking. There were other options that we noticed for $5 and even a few free lots, but this one seemed the most convenient so we parked it and ponied up the $10.
That ended up being a great decision, as all we needed to do was cross the road and we were just a short two-minute walk from the main gate. From there, we picked up our event tickets (which were nice enough to save as souvenirs) at the will call window and made our way into the facility.
Prior to arriving at the track, the skies had opened up and completely drenched the half-mile dirt oval. But when we arrived, track officials were hard at work preparing the racing surface for hot laps.
As a result of the rain, we knew we’d have some time to kill so we made our way towards the midway where it was merchandise galore at Eldora Speedway.
Whether you wanted Eldora Speedway gear, an event t-shirt or merch from your favorite driver, the midway had it all and fans were taking full advantage of it. Drivers such as Scott Bloomquist, Jonathan Davenport, Jimmy Owens and Bobby Pierce all had their own merchandise trailers.
After browsing the selections, I ended up settling on a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series “Make Dirt Track Racing Great Again” t-shirt ($10) and one of the sleek new “Fast 49” Jonathan Davenport fitted New Era hats ($25).
At the end of the midway sat one of the stands selling 50/50 raffle tickets. I had informed my girlfriend about the large jackpots that Eldora normally gets for their 50/50, so of course we had to take our chance at the big prize.
Unfortunately, we didn’t end up winning but the $17,397 prize was enough to keep us dreaming at the Dirt Late Model Dream.
After purchasing our 50/50 tickets, it was time to get something to eat and drink. I had always heard about the affordable concession stand prices at Eldora, but now it was time to put them to the test.
We weren’t hungry for a big dinner at that time, so we settled on an order of hot cheese balls ($2.50), nachos ($2.50), two waters ($3) and a purple Powerade ($1.50).
“Nine dollars and fifty cents,” said the lady at the register.
“That’s it?” I asked while wondering if the lady forgot to charge us for something.
As someone who has paid $10 for a piece of pizza or a couple hot dogs at Fenway Park or the TD Garden, that seemed like a steal.
On this particular night I didn’t dive into any cold beverages, but I did notice the prices; you likely won’t find another venue with beer prices as affordable as Eldora Speedway. Single beers are just $2, six-packs are $10 and 12-packs are $20. You can also purchase ice and coolers to bring your favorite beverages right to your seat.
With food and merchandise in hand, it was now time to head towards our seats.
Section A, Row 15, Seats 10 and 11.
The seating at Eldora starts with Row 1 at the top of the grandstands, meaning that Row 15 would be 15 rows from the top and about 13 rows from the bottom. They weren’t the best seats in the house, but the frontstretch seats just to the left of the flag stand certainly didn’t offer a horrible view of the action.
Once we got down to our seats, we quickly learned that we’d want to rent a few seat cushions from the speedway. Our seats had gotten wet after the rain shower earlier in the day, so we figured the $4 rental fee for a comfortable (and dry) place to put our butts on would be well worth it.
With our seat cushions in place, it was time for optional hot laps to begin. As Scott Bloomquist shot to the top of the board early on in hot laps, the crowd roared. And when Dale McDowell and Jason Jameson overtook Bloomquist later in the session, the crowd roared again.
Once hot laps were completed, the all-important qualifying heat races were next up on the schedule.
The first green flag waved at 8:10 p.m., just 10 minutes later than the regularly scheduled start time for heat races. For the amount of rain the track received, that was an impressive feat for track owner Tony Stewart and his staff.
Nearly 70 drivers would compete in six heat races with only the top-three finishers qualifying to the main event. For a fan who grew up watching the dramatic Oxford 250 qualifying heats, that was the type of qualifying action I would (and did) pay money to see.
As I sat in my seat watching the heat races unfold, it was some of the little things that really grabbed my attention as a fan.
The fire that shot into the sky each time a heat race winner crossed the finish line, the video board that allowed you to watch replays, and the quality public address system that allowed you to hear the voices of announcers James Essex and Dustin Jarrett all created a first-class experience for race fans.
Throughout the qualifying rounds, including the B-Main features, the difficult task of qualifying for the $100,000-to-win race was noticeable.
Perhaps the most eye-opening moment came during one of the two B-Mains when defending World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion Brandon Sheppard missed out on qualifying for the big show. The fact that a 25-time winner in 2017 and champion of a major Dirt Late Model touring series missed the show was certainly eye-opening.
Finally, the field of 28 cars was set and it was time for driver introductions.
As each driver crossed the stage on the frontstretch, the passion of Dirt Late Model fans and their connection – whether positive or negative – with each driver was certainly on display.
Of course, there was no better example of this than when Scott Bloomquist had his turn to walk across the stage. When his named was called, some of those in attendance pumped their fists and cheered, while others booed and displayed the not-so-kind, one-finger salute.
After the drivers strapped into their cars and filed into formation behind the Eldora Speedway pace truck, it was time for one of the most spine-tingling moments in motorsports. The four-wide salute at Eldora.
Seven rows of four cars lined up behind the pace truck as fireworks and pyrotechnics lit up the track and the nearby cornfields in Rossburg, Ohio. Fans held their cellphones out to record the moment and waved off the drivers as they prepared for 100 laps of racing.
The racing certainly didn’t disappoint early on as the drivers went three-wide into turn one on the initial start. From the drop of the green flag, most eyes in the crowd were fixated on the No. 49 (Davenport) and the No. 0 (Bloomquist).
Davenport started sixth and quickly made his way to the front of the field, while Bloomquist took a patient approach early on. But after the first few cautions, Bloomquist hit the loud pedal and rocketed to the front, putting on a show for the crowd in attendance.
Bloomquist finally reeled in Davenport and the battle for the lead was on. Two of the biggest names in Dirt Late Model racing were duking it out for the biggest prize of them all.
Davenport was living up to his moniker of “Superman” on the high side of the race track, while Bloomquist was mashing the gas on the low side.
The two drivers battled tooth and nail for about 30 laps before Bloomquist eventually made his way by Davenport following a restart. From there, Bloomquist put on a clinic and left the rest of the field in his dust.
As the checkered flag waved, very few people left their seats. This was because Bloomquist still had to cross over the scales after the race, something he failed to do successfully after winning the race in 2015.
Fans waited anxiously as the numbers on the scales increased until the green light flashed.
Whether you liked it or not, Scott Bloomquist was the winner of the Dirt Late Model Dream.
Still, many fans remained at their seats. Whether they loved him or hated him, they had to let the now eight-time Dirt Late Model Dream winner know how they felt when he climbed out of the car.
Once he climbed out and celebrated, it was time to leave Eldora Speedway. With thousands of people trying to leave the same area at the same time, I was a little worried about how long it may take to leave the speedway.
But all of that worry was for naught. We arrived at our car, drove to one of the exits in the lot and immediately pulled out onto the main route. From there, it was smooth sailing all the way back to our hotel in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
When we arrived at our hotel, it was time for a shower. We were still picking dust out of our eyes and cleaning up our shoes the next morning, but it was all worth it.
I later found out that Saturday night’s crowd was the largest crowd at Eldora in the history of the Dirt Late Model Dream.
I was just as happy as a little kid to be one of those fans in attendance.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51