It’s one of those special moments in sports history when you have the privilege of saying I was there, or I saw it on TV as it was happening live. The MudSummer Classic at Eldora Speedway was definitely one of those moments in history as it marked the first time one of NASCAR’s top three series had raced at a dirt track since 1971 when Lee Petty won in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The 20,000 plus sold out crowd at Eldora Speedway was treated to a thriller of a race Wednesday night as Austin Dillon led 63 of 153 laps and held off dirt track veterans Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson for the historic win.
After the race, Austin Dillon celebrated with some hard earned burnouts on the half mile clay oval of Eldora, before making his way to victory lane where he was greeted by crew members and of course his grandfather Richard Childress. After climbing from his dirt slathered American Ethanol Chevrolet, Dillon had this to say to a SPEEDTV reporter:
”It’s amazing, man! I love this dirt racing. It’s so much fun. … This is real racing right here.”
Kyle Larson finished second, after an intense green-white checkered battle with Ryan Newman, that saw both drivers go door to door before Newman finally relinquished the spot coming to the line. Joey Coulter finished in fourth place and Brendan Guaghan rounded out the top-five.
Ken Schrader made history earlier that afternoon, becoming the oldest driver in NASCAR history to qualify in the pole position, winning the first of six heat races to determine the starting order for the 150 lap feature race.
Schrader led the opening laps of the first segment, before losing the lead to Timothy Peters as they slipped and slid all around the track. While many drivers struggled with the handling of their trucks, Kyle Larson used his dirt track experience to his advantage, and charged from 13th all the way to challenge Peters for the lead on lap 39 of 60.
Larson grew his lead to over three seconds over second place Timothy Peters, before the caution came out on lap 54 for debris on the racing groove from Scott Bloomquist’s truck. The caution would bring segment one to an end, as trucks completed the rest of the laps under caution, before heading to pit road to prepare for segment two of the feature.
Business really began to pick up in segment two, when Austin Dillon took the lead from Kyle Larson on lap 89, causing the two dirt track regulars to battle it out for the spot in the closing laps of the segment. In the final segment of the evening, Dillon had fantastic restart after fantastic restart, and pulled away as the rest of the field battled for position behind him.
After some celebrating in victory lane, Dillon and his #39 team returned to the track for the long running tradition of digging up a clunk of the track dirt to cherish the memory of victory at Eldora. Dillon stood alongside crew members as he dug the shovel deep into the racing surface and removed a clump of clay, before handing it over to his grandfather, Richard Childress for safekeeping.
With NASCAR three top touring series racing week in and week out on asphalt ovals and the occasional road course, it was really a proud night for motorsports to make the fans of old and the fans of new remember exactly where our sport came from, and how great our sport can be.
Wednesday night was something no one can ever take away from the sport of NASCAR. The best part of the night, besides watching 30 trucks slip and slide in the dirt for 150 laps, was that later looking at the comments regarding the race, even NASCAR biggest critics couldn’t muster one bad sentence about what took place that night.
So here’s hoping this is the start of something big. A slow and successful transition into what NASCAR once was, a return to its dirt tracks roots. It doesn’t have to happen all at once, little victories like the MudSummer Classic is a great start, but I believe every fan of this sport is hoping one day the Sprint Cup Series will even return to its dirt racing roots.
A SHORT INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD CHILDRESS
I had the distinct honor of attending a teleconference Monday afternoon for the winningest car owner in Brickyard 400 history, Richard Childress. The conference was packed with many different news outlets and prominent newspapers from around the United States, but luckily I was able to get a few words with the former car owner of Dale Earnhardt.
I was wondering how it feels on being the only car owner to win at this racetrack(Indianapolis) with three separate drivers?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I didn’t realize that until today. It’s really a neat deal. Hopefully we can add the fourth driver to that list this weekend. Not taking anything away from Kevin or Paul, but it would be neat to go win it with either one of the four. But, yeah, that’s pretty neat. I didn’t even realize that until I was told that earlier today.
How does it feel to say good-bye to long-time driver Kevin Harvick at the end of the season?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: It’s going to be one of them deals. Kevin, we did a lot together over the years. It was a business decision on his behalf to want to move on. Hopefully we’ll all look back at the career we had together and say it was all a lot of great times. We had some tough times, but we also have had some great times. Hopefully that’s the way life carries on.
Do you believe that RCR can compete for a championship?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: We have for quite a few years. I don’t see why it would stop now.