Eldora Speedway has been on the forefront of American Dirt Track Racing for generations. Founded in 1954 by Earl Baltes, the "Big E," quickly became a destination stop for drivers, teams, fans and media alike. The facility has rivaled the likes of Knoxville and Williams Grove as the most prestigious and popular dirt track in the United States, with major events like the World 100, Dirt Late Model Dream, Four-Crown Nationals and Kings Royal pushing Eldora into the national and international mainstream limelight. The New Weston, Ohio racing surface became one of the unofficial hubs of the United States Auto Club (USAC), bringing names like Andretti, Foyt, and Unser to the hallow, Dark County grounds, on their way to success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which lies just around two-hours west of Eldora.
Throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Eldora Speedway rose to one of the top motorsport venues in all of the mid-west, taking second-only-to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as mentioned above. Even with this national success and international respect, the Baltes family, Eldora officials, and local sponsors made a-point to make sure local drivers, teams and fans had a place to compete and attend races, nearly on a weekly bases, and not only when the major series rolled into town or a big event graced the calendar. Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and even a few Canadian drivers made the haul to Eldora Speedway each Saturday evening, to try their shot at the track and prove their abilities to all in attendance. Eldora seemingly became the one-stop for all of those who wanted national success or even just dreamed of becoming local heroes, aiding in the venue becoming one of the most historic and well-respected, in all of the country.
The modified, stock car and late model divisions, along with years of various sprint car track championships, became some of the most competitive class fields in the Midwest and really helped to fill out the track's schedule, making each and every week an important race.
When Earl Baltes stepped down, and Tony Stewart stepped up, as the owner of the Speedway at the conclusion of the 2004 racing season, many thought it would carry-on as it had, business as usual. For many years, Stewart handled things just as Earl did, only changing a few schedule aspects, like bringing in his NASCAR-peers for an evening of fun, once-a-year, with the annual Prelude to the Dream. In 2011, however, the three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, hand-picked former Charlotte Motor Speedway Vice President of Events, Roger Slack, to run the day-to-day operation of Eldora, and boy did he ever.
Since 2011, Eldora Speedway has been able to do many things with their facilities that have excited drivers and fans alike, some of those changes include a widened pit road, a dedicated helipad for Premier Health's CareFlight and Infield Care Center providing on-site facilities for Level 1 Trauma and ER staff, as well as a Media Center for Driver's Meetings'. among other uses. Along with raising payouts for races like the Dirt Late Model Dream and Kings Royal, as well as hosting the only NASCAR race on dirt, each season, with Gander Outdoors Truck Series Dirt Derby, introduced in 2013, in front of a sell-out crowd. The team of Stewart and Slack have been able to accomplish a lot of things that would make the late Earl Baltes proud and have taken Eldora to an even bigger level of prestige and popularity, but like any other story, there is a negative chapter.
Tony Stewart, Roger Slack, and the Eldora Speedway staff have made it-a-point to push the Big E even further in the direction of an exclusively Major Event Facility. In just the last decade, Eldora has gone from around fifteen events with UMP DIRTcar Modifieds and Eldora Stock Cars on various race-class rosters, to just six scheduled for both divisions in 2019. Venues like Knoxville Raceway and Williams Grove Speedway remain committed to their roots, competing week-in and week-out, with events for the classes that helped establish their popularity, along with support divisions that have been the backbone of their business, since their inception. Despite many of these tracks prestige rising over the last several years, their foundation hasn't changed.
Eldora Speedway's foundation, on the other hand, has changed in a big way and those that have supported the track for generations are starting to become fed-up with the current state of their beloved track. It's not the facility updates, purse raises for big events or even the entrance of NASCAR at the track, but rather the exit of aspects like the UMP DIRTcar Modified and Stock Car presence as a support class at nearly every race, as well as the UMP DIRTcar Nationals, one of the biggest modified and late model events of the calendar year, going from a staple on Eldora's last season schedule, to a race at I-55 Raceway, in Missouri.
These fundamental changes, along with a number of smaller alterations, have either directly or indirectly pushed local drivers, teams, and fans away from Eldora Speedway and to other facilities around the Midwest. As a businessman myself, I understand the dollars-and-cents reasoning behind cutting local events out, to put more focus into crown jewel or big money opportunities, to increase your profit and thus help take your business to the next level, but the way Eldora has gone about it turns this all into a short-term-gain, long-term-loss situation.
As a leader, when you lose the trust of your community, it takes generations to gain back. Eldora Speedway, Roger Slack and Tony Stewart are on their way, at an accelerated rate, to losing the respect of the people that helped build Eldora into what it is today, and if lost, they may never gain it back.