“Going there to Eldora (Wednesday), I think a lot of the fans that were in the stands not only wanted to watch the race, but wanted to be a part of history,” ThorSport general manager David Pepper said of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at the western-Ohio dirt track. “We were really, truly going back to the roots of not just truck racing, but NASCAR racing in general.”
The track required special considerations from NASCAR, which allowed the race at the dirt track without the mandated SAFER barriers.
The trucks ran without splitters and with square-treaded Goodyear tires.
Thirty-six entrants competed in heats for 30 spots in the main event. Truck Series regular Norm Benning jostled the final spot in the field with a fifth-place finish in the last-chance heat.
The track itself had too few pit stalls to allow for in-race stops.
The final event was broken into three sections, of 60, 50 and 40 laps, with scheduled stops between each stage.
The historic race was not only a throwback for NASCAR, but also for the Truck Series.
The race was a return to the small-venue short tracks on which the series cut its teeth. In 1995, its inaugural season, the Truck Series visited Saugus Speedway, the I-70 Speedway, Flemington and Evergreen, all small-name (and small-capacity) tracks compared to 2012’s lineup punctuated by the likes of Daytona, Talladega and Homestead.
The smaller venues were eliminated as the Truck Series moved to more companion races, competing as the undercard to the Sprint Cup Series, and other large tracks like Texas and Las Vegas.
Eldora is the smallest by capacity on the NASCAR circuit since the Truck Series event at Mesa Marin Raceway in 2003. The average capacity for tracks on the Truck Series circuit in 2013 is over 100,000, with Iowa Speedway (30,000) and Rockingham (34,500) the smallest after Eldora.
For Wednesday’s race, however, the Trucks were the main attraction, kicking up a cyclone of dust around the half-mile track.
The event captured the attention of Sprint Cup drivers like Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.
Eldora, owned by three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, was already known in the NASCAR racing community — From 2005-12, it hosted the annual Prelude to the Dream charity race, with a mix of pavement and dirt-track stars.
Matt Crafton led the ThorSport teams with an eighth-place finish, what he considered to be a “mission accomplished. for the No. 88 team.
“It’s an awesome facility, I mean, very, very cool,” Crafton said. “The track definitely was narrower groove-wise than I thought it was going to be.”
As the trucks laid rubber during the race, he said, the single groove made track position paramount. A fast line formed on the outside of the track, making restarts difficult for trucks on the inside and passes tough.
“I definitely think we should have ran a little bit better than what we did, but we couldn’t take a chance. There at the end, we had to play defense instead of trying to play offense, get more spots and be aggressive and let something happen. We just had to play defense right there at the end, because we knew all of the (Truck Series championship) points guys were behind us and we needed to keep them behind us.”
With the eighth-place finish, Crafton extended his streak of top-10s to 10 races. Crafton’s Truck Series championship lead increased from 38 to 48 points.
ThorSport brought on Tracy Hines, a dirt-track regular with a history with the Sandusky-based team.
Aside from his own success, Hines was charged with helping teammates Crafton and Johnny Sauter with some of the nuances of dirt track racing. When rumblings started in 2012 about the Truck Series coming to Eldora, Hines didn’t know what to think.
“There was disbelief. For six months, I kept hearing the rumors, but never could really believe,” Hines said. “When it came to it, I believe they pulled it off probably as good as you could have. I thought for a first time at a facility that’s never had it, and add dirt on top of that, I thought it went off very well. “It’s probably gotten more publicity by word of mouth than any race of the last few years in the Truck Series. People wanted to see it,” he said.” Whether good or bad, it was like an accident — People couldn’t stop looking at it.”
Hines started in the middle of the pack and, hampered by position, finished 13th.
ThorSport’s Sauter made it through a broadside collision with Ty Dillon in the qualifying heat, but was collected in a wreck on lap 116 that sent him behind the wall.
“We learned a few things the last couple of days. Hopefully we go back to Eldora next year,” Pepper said. “Maybe they’ll add more dirt tracks, maybe they’ll add a race at another location. … It’s definitely a learning process.”