Stewart finally gets his wish as the CWTS heads for EldoraBy Kelly Crandall
With the official announcement now out of the way, Tony Stewart has turned his biggest dream into a reality. The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, who owns the Eldora Speedway dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio, joined NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations Steve O’Donnell and revealed that the Camping World Truck Series would be getting dirty in 2013.
On July 24, a Wednesday night, the CWTS will race for the very first time at the track that Stewart has made his own. While O’Donnell clarified that there are still many details to be worked out – race distance, race format, the ability of pit stops etc. – they will race on the dirt next year and it will be an official points race. Stewart, the Eldora staff and NASCAR will continue to work out the details, but on Wednesday afternoon he was just glad to finally be able to put his money where his mouth’s been.
“It has been one of the hardest things to not talk about I think in my entire professional racing career. To have had the opportunity to go and do a test earlier this year with the trucks was just really a dream come true for us as a facility,” said Stewart on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’ve always joked around and people say, ‘What would you do if you could change the schedule?’ I always joke around about saying I would add a dirt race. Roger Slack and Steve [O’Donnell] took that and ran with it. Now we’re fortunate enough to have the Truck Series at Eldora finally.”
The speedway has hosted the Prelude to the Dream, a dirt race for charity featuring the best racers from around the world, the last eight years. The excitement surrounding the annual event would continually hype talk about NASCAR taking a chance and racing off the asphalt, only added upon when it was announced earlier this year that there would be no Prelude in 2013.
When the CWTS does head to Rossburg, Stewart again expects many drivers attempting to make the field. He and former CWTS champion Austin Dillon – who Stewart said will go down as the first driver to have run laps around Eldora in a truck – tested at the facility earlier this year. In doing so, Stewart found that the only change the CWTS will have to make for their big debut would be taking the splitter off the front of the truck.
“With pavement tracks, and we do it in the Nationwide Series, the Cup Series and the Truck Series, determining how close you can get the nose of the vehicle to the ground is very, very important,” he said.
“With the splitters, with it being a dirt surface, those splitters can dig into the ground. Just a simple change of removing the splitter seemed to be enough of a change to keep that from happening.”
Surprisingly, Stewart has not yet committed to running the event himself. Revealing that while a very large part of him wants to, the track promoter in him wants to make sure the show goes off without a hitch. As well as the best that it possibly can when NASCAR and the CWTS make history.
Yet, regardless of where Stewart is when the green flag falls, he has big expectations for the event.
“I think the race itself is going to be pretty exciting. We’ve seen what the Prelude to the Dream has done in the past, bringing in drivers that weren’t accustomed to running on dirt, how quickly they adapt to it,” said Stewart.
“I think with a little bit more favorable [weather] conditions we’ll be able to give the Truck Series a surface that’s going to be really, really competitive, very, very wide at the same time going to give these guys an opportunity to learn something that’s a little bit different to them.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for not only the Truck Series regulars but also with it being a Wednesday night race, having a lot of the Cup Series and Nationwide Series drivers as well as younger drivers and veterans from the World of Outlaws, late models, USAC drivers that will have an opportunity to land rides for that race.
“I think it’s going to be a great day. I think it’s going to be a very historic day for NASCAR and definitely for Eldora Speedway. I think the racing has a lot of potential to be very, very good. We have a very, very wide racing surface.
“I think that’s always provided great racing no matter what divisions we’ve had there in the past.”