In Rossburg, Ohio in early June you can almost feel an intensity in the air around a legendary speedway that sits just off of State Route 118. Combine emotions like pride, passion and determination and you have a dirt late model race that is a nightmare for some and a “Dream” for others.
Prestige has always been the main focus of any Eldora competitor; however, with a $100,000.00 payday to be had for the winner, there is no doubt that the annual Late Model Dream has an element that is just a bit different than that of Dirt Late Model racings other crown jewels. With a starting pay of $2,000, it’s an accomplishment to make the 28-car starting field, and C and B-Main events have a class that would be the A-Main envy of any track in the Midwest.
Drivers at the Dream are out there for the honor, glory, and status; things that are hard earned at an event that provides fans with an opportunity to see Dirt Late Model racings best put all their skills to the test.
With six 15-lap heat races, the initial starting grid gets set. The top three move on to the A-Main, 4-6th to the B, and 7-10th to the C-Main, everybody else gets a spot in the grandstands for the event.
There is no time for patience in the heats, but strategy at this event is always key. Watching the heats is like watching a balancing act. Drivers push to make the top three cut, but know that just one bobble or brush with the wall could end their night. Many that were favored to win encountered such a fate. Fan favorite Darrell Lanigan made only 3/4 of a lap in heat number 4 before catching a ridge while leading which whipped his no.29 around collecting Frankie Hekenast (no.99) and Josh Richards (no.1). With less than 10 seconds of action, Lanigan was forced to pack up the pieces of his car and head home. 2011 Dream winner Don O’Neal (no.71) was looking like he would grab a top 3 spot in heat number 5, but a hard brush with the turn 2 wall also knocked him out of contention.
In heat race number 3 the story was definitely Steve Francis. Francis powered his way smoothly up to a 3rd place finish, just barely grabbing a spot on the starting grid as he lost an engine coming down to the line. The Clint Bowyer no.15 team scrambled and was able to get a new engine dropped in before the main event.
Brian Shirley was a fun one to watch as the evening progressed in his no.3s machine. Shirley had mechanical difficulties in the heat race, but made the cut for the C-Main.
Shirley walked away with the C-Main win, which started him in the rear of the B-Main field. With several exciting passes “Squirrel” worked his way through and although a top-6 spot looked possible, he was beat to the line in a three car race.
The hard-charging driving styles seen in the heat races rapidly change when the A-Main rolls out. The 100-lap event is grueling, and drivers must balance car control, positioning, and equipment preservation. It’s flat-out controlled chaos and watching the strategies get played out are nearly as much fun as seeing 28-cars running at a 110MPH average around a ½-mile track.
17-Year-Old Tyler Reddick jumped to the early lead, but some slight wall brushes knocked his spoiler off and after 21-laps the young gun in the no.11 machine was forced to relinquish the lead to Jimmy Mars. The “Ice Man” looked unflappable, but Matt Millers no.3 machine was on the move. It looked like Miller might be the only one to melt Mars, but a dropped drive shaft ended his night. But while Miller was putting on an amazing show; biding his time in 6th spot was Scott Bloomquist.
The black no.0 seemed almost invisible in the early part of the race, never progressing, yet never falling behind. As soon as the electronic scoreboard neared halfway mark, Bloomquist began his methodical bid for the win, and at lap 65 overtook Mars and was never to be challenged again. Even as late race restarts added to the excitement, Bloomquist was in a league of his own topping hard chargers like Dennis Erb who muscled his no.28 from a 17th place starting spot to grab 2nd. Josh Richards hauled his no.1 machine up from his 28th starting spot to 3rd, but when he crossed the scales the infamous green light didn’t blink. Richards was 32 pounds light which handed 3rd place and a hefty $10,000 payday to Brian Birkhofer (no.15), Dale McDowell finished 4th and Jimmy Owens maneuvered his no.20 from the B-Main all the way into a top-5 finish.
Late races passes, amazing talent, and what is undeniably the best run track in the nation made the 2013 Dream a very memorable event. Eldora Speedway holds a history that makes you feel connected to racings roots, and a future filled with so much promise that it makes any event a special one.
We may have all now woke up from the “Dream”, but the season is still young and there are many more events on the Big E schedule.
Aside from the major ticket events such as the Kings Royal for Sprints in mid-July and World 100 in September, you can catch many exciting events at the speedway throughout the remainder of the season. The UMP Modifieds and Stock Cars that call Eldora Speedway home are amazing compliments to the UMP Late Models, All Star Sprints, USAC Sprints, and various other guest series that the Speedway has filling up the remainder of their 2013 schedule.
Check out the Big E Website for more information.