COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Eldora Speedway, the half-mile clay oval in western Ohio that promotes itself as “The World’s Greatest Dirt Track,” will lose its unique NASCAR race in 2021, but it will be featured in track owner Tony Stewart’s new racing league.
The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series has run the Eldora Dirt Derby at the track in New Weston since 2013 when it became the first major NASCAR race on dirt since 1970. But in a Wednesday letter to ticketholders, Eldora general manager Roger Slack announced the race will be off next year’s schedule.
“We had a great seven-year run that ushered in many firsts for NASCAR, namely heat races, last-chance qualifiers, four-wide salutes and stage racing,” Slack wrote.
“Rising stars and dirt-racing specialists ensured we never had a repeat winner and that all winners came from various racing backgrounds,” Slack continued, “from dirt and asphalt to open wheel and stock cars.”
Originally called the “Mudsummer Classic,” the Truck Series’ annual trip to Darke County held a unique place on the NASCAR schedule by returning stock car racing to its dirt roots, even awarding race winners with a golden shovel trophy. The race was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Clearly that was a great show and a really great facility with a lot of history, and to have the trucks be part of it was phenomenal,” said David Pepper, team manager of Truck Series team ThorSport Racing, NASCAR’s only full-time organization based in Ohio.
ThorSport, a four-truck team from Sandusky, won the Dirt Derby in 2017 and 2018 with drivers Matt Crafton (left) and Chase Briscoe (right).
“Anytime you take a track off the schedule that you’ve had some of your teams win a handful of races at it’s going to be disappointing,” Pepper said Wednesday in a phone interview, “But also being here based in Ohio, it’s our home track, and that’s kind of disappointing. It was a couple hours down the road for us.”
Eldora was one of two NASCAR races in Ohio, along with Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course about an hour north of Columbus. That track’s Xfinity Series race, also canceled in 2020 because of coronavirus, will be held in 2021.
The Dirt Derby is just the latest NASCAR event in or around Ohio to disappear from the schedule. Next year, the Xfinity Series and top-level Cup Series will not travel to Kentucky Speedway outside Cincinnati or Chicagoland Speedway in Illinois. And Michigan International Speedway outside Toledo will lose one of its two race weekends.
Eldora posted to its Twitter account on Wednesday after the announcement a look back at the Dirt Derby’s history:
Slack added in his letter to ticketholders that Eldora’s 2021 schedule will be announced soon. NASCAR president Steve Phelps has said the full 2021 Truck Series schedule will be out as soon as this week.
Although NASCAR leaves Eldora next year, it will not leave dirt track racing. The Cup Series will race on a dirt-surface Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee in April.
Eldora to host new racing league
As NASCAR leaves Eldora, the track gains at least one race in the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX), a new stock car racing series run by Stewart, a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series champion the 1997 champion of the Indy Racing League.
SRX plans a six-race season next summer consisting solely of short track events with identical cars and an all-star lineup of famous former race car drivers. Races will be nationally televised in primetime and be no longer than 90 minutes.
Confirmed SRX drivers include former NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte, IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan and Champ Car champion Paul Tracy. Stewart, as well as Willy T. Ribbs, the first Black driver to race the Indianapolis 500, will also compete.