When it comes to all out fender-free racing no place compares to Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio; especially, in late September at the 4-Crown Nationals.
For 30-years the 4-Crown Nationals has been open-wheel racing heaven. Under the current format the WoO 410 winged Sprinters do battle on Friday night, while Saturday features a topless trio of USAC Sprints, Midgets, and Silver Crown Cars. Add into the mix annual running of USAC .25 Midget Dirt Nationals at little Eldora and there is certainly no break in the racing excitement.
The 2011 4-Crown will forever be known as the most exciting event in history. Friday night saw the comeback of Joey Saldana. Saldana left the Big E via med-flight earlier this summer and made his 2nd start since that horrific accident on Friday night (September 23rd) with the WoO Sprinters. Tackling the high-banks would have been accomplishment enough, but for Saldana it was all about conquering and conquer he did. Saldana making a comeback win in his no.9 Sprinter was enough to bring joy and emotion to every fan, but the weekends drama was far from over.
Cold temperatures and rain threatened to put a damper on Saturday’s events; but there was absolutely nothing, not even dark clouds that could hold Kyle Larson back.
Not since Jack Hewitt dominated winning all four segments (Sprints, Midgets, Silver Crown, and Modifieds) back in 1998 has a driver won in more than two divisions, but on Saturday night that all changed. A 19-year-old California kid wowed fans with car control and finesse seen only in the greatest of open wheel drivers. Kyle Larson was in a league all his own as he slid, sliced, and worked his way to victory lane in all three USAC divisions.
With race veterans such as Dave Darland, and dominating forces like Bryan Clauson; Larson had no easy task ahead of him when he first rolled on the speedway. The young driver had never even felt the Eldora clay prior to the weekend, but he soon learned his way around the wicked ½-mile and laid down consistent laps one after another.
The only down side to watching history unfold in the form of the Elk Grove, California native who wasn’t even born when Jeff Gordon left the world of open wheel competition is that soon us fans won’t even have the opportunity to watch him handle a lightweight sprint or midget; instead his name will soon be a household one and those of us who attended the 4-Crown or saw the highlight reels will all just be left smiling and saying, “I remember when!”.
There is no doubt that this years 4-Crown was filled with excitement and intensity; but no matter the event those two words are the most accurate for describing the racing action at Eldora. Often known for hosting Dirt Late Model racing’s crown jewels such as the Dream and the World 100, it is sometimes forgotten that Eldora was, is, and will always be a Sprint Car track. The design promotes speed and room for the torque and quick response only seen in open wheel competition. It is the track where Mario Andretti, Jud Larson, Parnelli Jones, and many of racings greatest put their skills to the test.
The track is one of only a few that has been modified to provide the most safety to fans and drivers and while I often find myself scanning a track to see if I can breathe easy knowing that an ambulance is on site; Eldora ups the ante and in addition to safety truck crews and two ambulances, open-wheel events get the added security of a skilled team spectating from the cockpit of the Miami Valley med-flight helicopter.
Nothing can compare to the thrill that comes from watching 24 of the most talented sprint car drivers in the world take the green flag and roar past at speeds in excess of 100 MPH, except perhaps seeing USAC Midgets, and the big Silver Crown cars do the same. Open wheel racing is a thrill all it’s own and the drivers have immesurable talent. Drivers such as Damion Garner and Bryan Clauson are always a treat to watch, and be sure to keep checking www.nationalspeedsportnews.com for upcoming features on them in the pitside chatter section.
If you have never experienced an open-wheel event at the Big E it is definitely something to consider adding to your calendar for 2012. The racing is incredible, the fans amazing, and the experience priceless because no matter how big or small the race, there is always history in the making at Eldora.