There is no doubt that the legendary Eldora Speedway is the ruler by which all dirt track drivers measure themselves. Whether full-fendered or open wheel; Big E plays host to some of the most prestigious events in the world of auto racing. For 23-years one event in particular has been the breakout race for many drivers. That event is the Four Crown Nationals. In late September as most tracks close their doors for the season the 4-Crown fires up with a Friday night program designated what has been the 4th-jewel for nearly 2-decades; the UMP Modifieds accompanied by the World of Outlaw Sprint Cars that have been a more recent addition (2008) to the formerly all USAC open wheeled divisions of Sprint Cars, Midgets, and Silver Crown Cars. Names like Jack Hewitt (who won all four events back in 1998), Rich Vogler, Tony Stewart, J.J. Yeley, Kasey Kahne, Dave Darland and more recently Kyle Larson who swept all three USAC wins in 2011 have all made history and carved their names in the Eldora record books at this event.
The weekend is an intense one with drivers often playing double and triple duty, as Bryan Clauson commented before Saturdays events, “There isn’t much time [for any driver] to dwell on the bad stuff, but there also isn’t much time to celebrate the good stuff!”. It is an event where legends are made, and since 2010 and the edition of Little E. A USAC sanctioned 0.25 Midget track; it is also where future stars are born. Although Friday nights race events were washed away by mother nature, Saturday dawned clear and before walking to the big track I got to spend some time reliving memories and watching some incredibly talented competitors all under the age of 16 battle it out in one of USAC’s National 0.25 Midget events.
Quarter Midget racing has given drivers a start in the sport for well over 50-years, and with competitors like Dave Darland, Robert Ballou, Bryan Clauson and many more having quarter midget roots, its exciting to know that history is in the making on not only the big ½-mile, but also the neat 1/20th mile set out in the Eldora camping section. My pre-race, racing activities were a blast, and that excitement certainly carried over into the Saturday evening action. The Sprint and Midget heat races were intense to say the least, but that intensity paled in comparison to the fierce competition in the A-Main’s. In the Midgets Rico Abreu who duked it out with teammate Chris Bell in his heat race, proved he had a ton of energy to spare in the 25-lap feature as he once more traded the lead again and again with Bell. The constant slide jobs were heart-stopping and a collective breath could be heard throughout the grandstands as the checkered flags waved with Abreu picking up with win in his Keith Kunz no.67 Toyota by just a fraction of a second over Bell’s no.71 machine.
With an incredible Midget feature in the books it would seem like the evenings excitement could only diminish with the 30-lap Sprint Car Main event, but such was certainly not the case. From the beginning of the feature, the lead was not the ideal place to be, seeming somewhat cursed as first Daron Clayton flipped his ride while leading with 6-laps to go, handing the lead over to a very hard charging Tracy Hines, but with the checkered flag in sight Hines caught the wall in turn 4 and flipped his machine bringing out a red flag and setting up a race between Chris Windom in the no.11 and veteran winged sprint driver Jac Haudenschild in his no.22. With just one lap left Windom pulled to the victory in a crazy feature event that hosted some of the biggest charges from the rear that I have ever seen. Dave Darland who broke in his heat race, battled his way from the rear of the B-Main to earn a spot in the finale, and then from dead last he motored his way up to a 3rd place finish in the A-Main.
Likewise, Robert Ballou in the black & white no.12 machine started out the evening in good shape on the sprint car side, but a mid-race flat tire saw him take to the pits. The crew was able to get him back on track and he fought his way from the rear to grab a top 5 finish in what was a very exciting run. Chris Windom’s momentum carried on to the Silver Crown portion of the 4-Crown. The big cars are always fun to watch and remind me so much of the vintage era of open wheel racing. They are less torque and more rumble and a whole lot of awesome. The divisions’ 50-lap feature got off to a slow start, but soon proved to be an exciting end to the weekend. Windom’s no.17 was untouchable as he smoothly sailed to the lead and never let go despite a hard charging Tracy Hines peeking at the lead in the closing laps, but unfortunately for Hines he was treated to some Déjà vu as with only two laps to go he violently flipped in the identical spot he had one race prior. Hines walked away unhurt, but sadly his night was over and Chris Windom drove on to his second win of the evening showing that smoothness and consistency often have a very big payoff.
The racing at Eldora is always exciting, and events like the 4-Crown Nationals make you feel as though you are part of history in the making. It was wonderful being back at the big speedway and seeing non-winged open wheel action. It was also fun seeing Bob, Todd, and Rod back together again. The TJ Slideways crew is often at different locales, and seeing the original trio all together was great. I would like to thank everyone at Eldora Speedway for making my visit so memorable, and thank you all for reading. Eldora still has two more events on their calendar with the UMP Nationals slated for October 3rd-5th, and the UNOH Sprintacular on tap for October 12th so please keep checking area newspapers, online publications, twitter feeds and Facebook posts for all the year-end specials so that I can see you when the next green flag flies!