October 9, 2013

My Two Cent$

The Clash of the Titans
by Mike Ruefer
Davenport, IA - Big races dot the racing landscape all year long. If you put 4 0’s behind a number and better yet a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 10 before the 4 0’s, it is really a big race to win. These are the crown jewels, the races we want to go to, watch on the internet TV and read about. Most importantly if you’re a professional racer these are the events you so desperately want and need to win. Most of the crown jewels are prestigious to win and have the big trophy and fat paycheck. Only a few because of where they are held are epic and set your career apart from the other racers and probably a future date in the Hall of Fame.

This leads me to the tiny town of Rossburg, Ohio and the famous Eldora Speedway. Go anywhere anyplace in the world of racing and mention Eldora and the people know exactly what you’re talking about. Not many tracks can say this except one and I’ll get to that later. With the influx of NASCAR at Eldora because of Tony Stewart’s ownership, successful Prelude and Craftsman truck series events. It seems almost too cute for the TV announcers to make a reference to Eldora like their doing us dirt fans a favor. Regardless Eldora Speedway is at the top of the mountain when it comes to Dirt Late Models.

The pinnacle of all Dirt Late Model races is the World 100. It’s a race that still matters. To win this legendary race, lift the globe trophy and have your name immortalized for all of eternity is what dirt late model driver dreams are made of. Even for those who have won the World 100 before and countless other events when you see the expression of joy on their face in the Eldora Victory Lane, you know it still matters and it matters a lot.

For me your average fan who loves to take pictures and write the occasional story, the World 100 matters also. It’s the race I read about in the Hawkeye Racing News back in the 1970’s and 1980’s when the Iowa drivers of that era would go to Eldora, race up front and win. The drivers I could see at Davenport, West Liberty and Hawkeye Downs could and did win the World 100! I just knew I had to go there someday and see this race for myself.

My someday was 1986 and I watched Jeff Purvis from the Eldora hillside. I was mesmerized by it all and for every year since I’ve made my annual trip to the tiny western Ohio town with the big famous racetrack. This year 2013 was no different but in all reality it was different. Gone was the traditional two-day format with Friday time trials and Saturday heat races, semi-feature and World 100. It was in with the new format of Thursday and Friday racing programs with double features. Saturday resembled the traditional format but the hot laps that were done before the first heat race ruined my drama. It was if the holy grail of racing was broken.

In all facets of life things change. I know this and experience this all the time in my personal and business life. Things have to and need to change to keep pace with the world but at the center of the Dirt Late Model world I was hoping that the World 100 could have just stayed the same. It’s supposed to be a hard race to make. Just making it into the field was an accomplishment all in its self. It was even supposed to be a harder race to win. Winning meant you had the best weekend of your life at Eldora. A little luck, a lot of skill behind the wheel and few prayers said during the final laps and you could achieve Dirt Late Model royalty.

I understand the business case for the World 100 change. Fewer cars, drivers wanting more laps and opportunity to earn income and fans wanting to see more race action. All this comes at a price with more money to spend on additional tickets and pit passes for the fans. Plus additional wear and tear on the cars, motors and crews for all the race teams. The new format at Eldora makes for a long and tiring three days. Two days with the traditional format was tiring but the excitement of Saturday made it all worth it. This year after already having watched 4 features, countless heat races and hot lap sessions, the World 100 was almost a relief.

In one aspect with all the chances to wreck or break the car and driver, the new World 100 might even be harder to win. With all the new changes that break the old Baltes' tradition, they are probably here to stay. I’m just one old grumpy race fan who does not like change. I’ll be back because it’s still Eldora and it’s still the World 100, “The Grand Daddy of them All”. When the race becomes just another race and means little to the drivers to win, then I’ll quit going.

I can’t but not think that some of the reasons to change the Eldora formats have to do with the how other race tracks have turned their Crown Jewells into three-day racing events. Competition breeds change in business and race tracks compete for fans and drivers. The track that’s in the same league in the racing world as Eldora Speedway is Knoxville Raceway. Go anywhere anyplace in the world of racing and mention Knoxville and the people know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s the Sprint Car Capital of the World! The famous Knoxville Nationals is the biggest and best Sprint Car race in the world and its champions are legendary.

This year marked the 10th Annual Knoxville Late Model Nationals. It has grown over these last 10 years in popularity and has become an important Crown Jewell event for the Dirt Late Model community. Knoxville took a successful Sprint Car format and applied that to the Late Model Nationals and it’s worked, making an action packed three days. Does this sound familiar? Now all the marquee tracks want three days and it’s like they’re trying to keep up with Knoxville.

Overall it really doesn’t bother me as long as the sport can support all these mega three-day shows. For me I’m mostly interested in the grand finale and usually only attend that night. It’s all I have time for and means the most to me. When Titans battle the earth shakes it means we have the two most historic race tracks competing in format for fans and drivers and I don’t understand why. Each is different, each has this own lore and both have their place in history. They don’t need to be the same or remotely similar.

In a perfect racing world I wish the World 100 was as it always was and everyone else just did their own thing. You cannot argue except maybe on the 4m that the World 100 is still the most important race in the Dirt Late Model world. You cannot argue, except maybe on IowaStockCars.com, that the Knoxville Late Model Nationals might be considered second.  Either way, when the Mighty Titans win we all win. Nothing would please me more than having the World 100 back to its traditional two-day format and let Knoxville do what they do with their three-day format. Hail to the Titans, the Mighty, Mighty Titans.

Final Thoughts -

Well folks; this column wraps up my 2013 writing. It’s been fun going back to writing after years away. I’ve enjoyed the few emails I’ve gotten and the conversations with those of you I know at the race tracks. Please feel free to drop me an email anytime. I plan to be back next season as long as you still want to read what I have to say.

Take care, have a great off season. It’s time to do all the things we can’t do when we’re racing.