Since 1954 drivers have viewed Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio as the ruler by which to gauge their success and adaptability.
For sixty years the “Big E” has played host to the biggest names in auto racing. Drivers like AJ Foyt tackled the ½-mile high banks, and now in 2014 names like Andretti (Aldo’s grandson Jarett is a USAC regular) are still trying to master the track.
Every Fall the stakes are even higher when in mid-September Eldora plays host to the 4-Crown Nationals. For 33-years this open wheeled event has separated the men from the boys. Drivers like Jack Hewitt, Rich Vogler, and Dave Darland have all recorded their names in the 4-Crown history books.
Although the format has been modified a few times over the past three decades; including Late Models for a stint, as well as UMP Modifieds, at the core the 4-Crown is all about open wheeled racing action and bringing all three of USAC’s premier divisions together for one weekend.
Under the current format, the event kicks off Friday night with the World of Outlaw Sprint Cars headlining while Saturday its all about going wingless with the USAC Midgets, Sprints, and Silver Crown cars.
Rico Abreu who ran for all four crowns kicked off the weekend by setting fast time with the wing on, but the crown belonged to Joey Saldana who won over Donny Schatz and Dale Blaney.
Saturday started with sunshine and the stars of tomorrow, as just off the backstretch of the big ½-mile lies “Little E”. The mini clay oval is a playground for drivers between the ages of 5 and 15 who do battle in USAC’s .25 Midget class. There is no doubt that quarter midget racing is exciting, and cultivates some of the most talented drivers in the sport. Many of open wheels best honed their skills as children in quarter midgets, drivers like Bryan Clauson started their careers on the small scale and are now helping future generations get a head start in the industry with young driver development programs.
Once the Honda engines were silenced at Little E, it was go time for the big track with three amazing classes.
Given the awesome talent within USAC’s ranks, there was no shortage of stellar racing, but unfortunately it was mother nature who won out on Saturday night as the rains came pouring down with just one lap completed in the Sprint Car B-Main.
Although the feature events were washed out until Sunday, the rain provided me the opportunity to catch up with good friends before coming back on Sunday to watch the final winners be crowned under the late summer sun.
In the Midgets, Bryan Clauson played it strong and steady and held off advances from the hard charging Christopher Bell who came back from a lap one rollover to take control of the 2nd spot.
Although the Midget feature was dicey and exciting, the Sprint Car feature was a balance between finesse and flat-out as a narrowing cushion and midday temps made the track take on rubber. Several drivers fell victim to the conditions and found themselves wheels-up including Robert Ballou who had put on a clinic in early laps. A slight brush with the turn-2 wall resulted in Ballou flipping, ending what was an incredible run and setting up a great race between Bryan Clauson and the Mean Green no.69 of Brady Bacon. Bacon was cool and smooth though as he pulled off the win.
In the Silver Crown division, the talk of the weekend was definitely Jack Hewitt. Hewitt who hadn’t tackled Eldora’s high banks in over a decade made a comeback in the no.21 machine. Although Hewitt retired early with mechanical failures, there was no doubt that each and every fan enjoyed watching a member of 4-Crown royalty turn laps once again at the track he dominated at throughout the 90’s (Hewitt remains the only driver to capture all four crowns in a single weekend. He did so in 1998 in a Midget, Sprint Car, Silver Crown Car, and UMP Modified).
The 50-lap Silver Crown event was a test of consistency and patience, and although Caleb Armstrong crossed the line first, due to a tire change which under USAC rules put him one lap down, Armstrong had to relinquish the crown to Jerry Coons Jr., who saved his no.98 machine throughout the afternoon.
With incredible racing action that puts fans on the edge of their seats, and pushes racers to be on their best game non-stop, it is no wonder why Eldora Speedway has been the pinnacle of dirt racing action for over a half a century, and there is no doubt that for years to come history will be made at Eldora Speedway.