When the dust settled both literally and figuratively Wednesday night, Austin Dillon held the trophy from his first win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series since 2011. He wasn’t the only winner however.
NASCAR staged its first race on dirt since 1970 Wednesday night at a little track owned by three time Sprint Cup series champion Tony Stewart carved out of fertile farm soil in Ohio. Stewart, who had lobbied for a NASCAR race at his track both humorously and seriously for several years, finally got his wish last year when NASCAR announced the Mudsummer Classic.
Through the tireless efforts of Stewart, his full time staff of 7 augmented by volunteers, local high school students and others from NASCAR venues around the country, the half-mile Eldora Speedway shined. Some of the best racers in the country from both from dirt and asphalt staged a show to packed grandstands, hillsides and a worldwide TV audience.
When the NASCAR regulars first took to the track for practice this week, many did so gingerly. There were a great deal of spins, meetings with the wall and scratching of heads as drivers and crews tired to figure it out; in the end they certainly just that.
There were five heats races followed by a last chance race that set the field for the main event. When it came time to race what fans and drivers got was one hell of a show, typical of short track racing all across the country. While there were several accidents, there were no massive pileups, nor were there any big issues that affected the racing. That alone was a testament to the hard work by Stewart, his staff and NASCAR.
In the end fans saw furious edge of your seat action. Dillon’s win was just one of many memorable moments. Those included independent driver Norm Benning taking the last transfer spot in the last chance race as fellow drivers and crews cheered for him in the infield and a four wide salute to the fans prior to the start of the main event.
After it was over there were no brawls among drivers or crews, no temper tantrums, no ill will in the makeshift pits. Even those drivers who lost were smiling. In the end there was no question whether the event was a winner.
“I think it was a success,” winner Dillon said. “It was such a great show… This is real racing right here.”
The only question is if NASCAR will return next year. On that subject NASCAR president Mike Helton seemed noncommittal.
“I think that’s what makes tonight very special, the fact that it is a combination of Wednesday night racing, on a dirt track, which has been a long-time coming from a lot of our fans who requested it,” Helton said. “So, tonight is very unique, and that’s what makes it special. What the future holds? We’ll see, but I know tonight is something everybody is going to check off and say that was a historic moment. “
That historic moment will be on the minds of fans and competitors alike for some time to come. NASCAR and Tony Stewart put on a show like nothing that has been seen in NASCAR for decades. Let’s just hope that NASCAR fans won’t have to wait another four decades to see it all again.
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