Before the race, a group of...
Before the race, a group of drivers and media chose to support cancer research and have their heads shaved. Brave The Shave was a huge success and was spearheaded by driver Jeep VanWormer.
Our next two stops on the AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour took us to extremes. The dirt track located in Crossville, Tennessee, is one of the more out-of-the-way tracks we will visit on our four-year tour, but it does attract dirt racers from around the Nashville area as well as a few asphalt converts. The very next weekend took us to one of the most famous and well attended racetracks in America, from both a team and a spectator standpoint: Eldora Speedway.
Crossville is about 110 miles east of downtown Nashville. It's a small track, meaning it doesn't attract large numbers of racers or fans per se. But it does run a very good show. The track is family owned and the racers are loyal. We even ran into a few former asphalt racers who decided to make the switch to dirt this year. They were lovin' every minute of it.
The gang of local AMSOIL dealers...
The gang of local AMSOIL dealers was on hand to spread the word about the benefits of all of the line of products. Even though this was a relatively small venue, the group thought it made significant contacts with the race fans. AMSOIL is our primary sponsor for the Great American Circle Track Tour.
Our trip to Crossville was a hurried one. We were at Paducah, Kentucky, on Friday night, August 27, and had to get up early and make the 250-mile trek to this track, stopping in Clarksville, Tennessee, to drop off our 28-foot trailer on the way.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the owners, Buddy and Sandy Sheehan. They were both very glad to be chosen to be represented on our Tour, but somewhat confused as to why. Why would Circle Track choose, out of all of the other tracks around the Southeast, to come to little ol' Crossville?
We explained that our goals for the Tour did not only include large purse races, but that we needed to see what the regular Friday/Saturday night tracks were doing and to get a feel for the health of short track racing across America.
The track at Crossville was...
The track at Crossville was in very good shape and maintained a smooth and moist consistency throughout the event. With that, the cars were able to run several grooves and there was plenty of side-by-side action all night long. One driver's driving style and setup would be just right for those conditions for the Late Model races.
As is often the case personally, when I visit racetracks I've never been to before, something magical happens in one way or another. It happened again at this track. It wasn't necessarily the friendly atmosphere, or even the warm welcome we received from the people who ran the track and the racers, it was in the competition.
In one of the four-cylinder classes, the feature became a classic battle between two cars for the win. All during the race, they changed the lead, they worked lapped traffic, and time and time again each would come back from multiple car lengths back to retake the lead. It was honestly one of the very best races I've ever seen.
But that was just a prelude to a very interesting and telling race in the Late Model division. There was a fairly large contingent of teams in this class and as usual there were a few top teams who, rumors had it, were the ones to beat.
The chrome car of Mark Martin...
The chrome car of Mark Martin (no, not that Mark) was rumored to be the team to beat here. He qualified on the pole, but was not able to beat out a new comer to dirt racing and former asphalt racer for both Late Model races.
Each of the top two competitors had big-dollar built motors, but at this track, crate motor cars were allowed, with a weight break, to run with the built motors. Qualifying proved out the rumors as the two built motor cars qualified first and second. The third fastest time, interestingly enough, was a crate motor car.
In the heat races, each of these three cars won. Now it was time for the showdown. The A-main featured two separate races with a roll of the dice to determine the invert for the second race. Chris Wilson, in the third-qualifying crate motor car won both. It was how he did it that was interesting.
I watched as he circled the track, entering the corner smoothly and straight ahead almost as if braking, then running the middle groove again straight ahead, and then motoring off the corners with barely a wiggle. The other cars, especially the top two qualifiers, were entering the corners at full speed, throwing the car sideways, running the top groove, and using a small cushion up there, and watching as Wilson ran off with the show.
This was to be Paul Ramsey...
This was to be Paul Ramsey Jr.'s very first race ever in the highly competitive Chevette division at Crossville. I watched him and for never having raced before, he was able to negotiate the track and not get into much trouble. And that's the way you learn.
The track has Victory Lane setup outside Turn 2 after the race and I had a talk with Wilson after all of the photos had been taken. I asked, "Where did you learn to drive like that?" He explained that he had run on asphalt tracks the past seven years or so and this was his first year on dirt. He said he didn't know any other way to drive. I said, "Well, don't change a thing."
It was interesting to me that in all of the time I've spent at dirt tracks and watching the cars, as well as suggestions I give in articles in CT, that I have always advocated this style of driving. I had explained in past writings that when I raced Karts on a very good dirt track in central Florida, I drove in straight, braking as much as I could, then drove straight off and I won a bunch of races. I never understood why racers in stock cars couldn't drive like that.
Then I noticed Billy Moyer's and Scott Bloomquist's driving styles in the mid to late '90s and concluded that not only could it be done, but it could be done in a very successful way. We now see more and more drivers using that style and most times it's successful. In this case, our driver with less horsepower, was able to beat a couple of better-funded programs. That is a victory inside of a victory.
In one of the four-cylinder...
In one of the four-cylinder classes, I guess this team had lots of weight it needed to add. Please, if you're reading this, do not add weight in this way. These are dumb-bells of considerable weight mounted through hastily welded pieces of tubing. If the track were to get rough or if the driver rolled the car (far more likely), the bouncing around could definitely break the mounts and this kind of weight flying around could cause serious injury to the driver or others. I think it should be the job of the tech officials to point out obvious safety defects such as this. Don't you agree?
And so I learned something valuable that I hope you take into account with your program. It's not always possible to drive your dirt car like an asphalt car, but the more moisture, the more banking the track has, and when the track has no berm to drive off of, driving more straight ahead into, through the middle, and off the corner, the lower your lap times will be. And the fewer mistakes you'll make, which adds up to much better finishes.
We'd put quite a few miles on the ol' motorhome by now, and were getting worn out. So, we had pre-planned a mid-tour break renting a cabin in Townsend, North Carolina, near the Great Smokey Mountains National Park for a few days. We made numerous trips up into the park in our Jeep Wrangler with the top and the doors removed and the weather turning cooler. It was a refreshing change from a very hot and humid trip so far.
Once we had recuperated, it was off to the north and a 400-plus-mile trip to Eldora. But before we left the great state of Tennessee, we did a quick trip up the road to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to see the folks at Holley Performance Products. In last month's issue, editor Rob explained some of the new technology these folks are working on.
Here I am with Chris Wilson,...
Here I am with Chris Wilson, who put it on the other Late Model teams with his crate motor and asphalt driving style. I asked him where he learned to drive like that and he told me he was a recent convert from asphalt racing. I'd say he's a fast learner.
I had been to Eldora before and for our readers who have been with us for a while, you might remember we wrote a report on a test we did in March, 1998. I attended both the Dream and the World 100 that year and I have been back to this race a few more times since then.
Our thanks go out to the track management, especially Larry Boos, for getting us set up along the midway section where we were able to meet and greet many of our readers and fans. In fact, at the annual Thursday night concert, our bus served as the backdrop for the event with the band playing and crowd having lots of fun all around us.
The facilities were in great shape too. Much has been added to the speedway since Tony Stewart took over ownership in 2004. Lots of new concrete has been added, suites have been built outside Turns 3 and 4 and the event is as well run and organized as any time in the past.
It always amazed me how well organized everything was over the years and it was a tribute to the founder of Eldora, Earl Baltes. He built the track in 1954 and had owned and operated it till Stewart took over. That anyone could pull off a race where, in past years, more than 240 teams came to race for 28 starting positions, is a wonder of promoting.
There were lots of great-looking...
There were lots of great-looking Late Models at Eldora. Many of these teams are up and coming tour teams that are getting a firsthand look at the big time. Austin Dillon, the grandchild of Richard Childress of Sprint Cup fame, set the fast time by two tenths over Josh Richards.
This year we saw upwards of 160 teams show up for the $43,000 purse. Usually at these big money races, we see teams that just show up well prepared and fast. These are normally the teams that have done well in the past including drivers like Bloomquist, Moyer, and Donnie Moran-all multiple winners of this event.
We had been keeping an eye on Moyer in our last installment where we had seen him winning a large amount of money and more than 21 races so far this year. After all, he had won the Dream here in June, so it was expected that he would do well.
It wasn't to be easy for Moyer. He placed ninth in his heat race and had to race his way into the A-main from B-main #1, starting on the pole and finishing Second. This put him starting 23rd on the grid with a long way to go to the front.
Heavy fog rolled in by the time the race started and from my vantage point between Turns 3 and 4, I couldn't see much of the progression of the race. But I spoke with several observers who filled me in on how Moyer got it done. He ran the track through the middle and bottom grooves, kept his momentum up and he put it on whoever was in front of him until he no longer had anyone else to pass.
At all of our events we give...
At all of our events we give out material about our sponsors as well as some free Circle Track magazines for those who have been living in a cave the past 28 years. At Eldora, the response to that was huge. We went through much of our inventory in a short amount of time. What an enthusiastic crowd they were.
By lap 29, he was racing side-by-side with Bloomquist for sixth. On lap 51 he took second place from Don O'Neal. He took the lead on lap 66 and never looked back completing his second sweep of the Dream and the World 100. And he did it in much the same fashion using his signature driving style. And like the kid from Crossville Raceway, he drove mostly straight ahead, keeping his momentum up.
The rest of the story is that Moyer went on to sweep the three races at the Knoxville Nationals on September 30, and October 1 and 2, for two $7,000 payouts and the final race for $40,000 for a yearly total for wins alone of $324,000. Why do I impress this on you so strongly? Because success is the only measure we should, and ultimately do, use in racing.
The work Moyer has put into his cars as to front end geometry by his own admissions in interviews we have seen, the setups he chooses, and the way he drives the car all point to superior methodology using the one true measure-success.
So, if you are faced with decisions related to how you set up, design, and race your car, look to those who have been successful, learn the areas where they concentrate their efforts, and do the same. That is our message this time around from the Tour.
Next Up Next we head for the big state of Texas and the dirt track at Texas Motor Speedway just up the road from Dallas. From there, we conclude this portion of our AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour with a visit to Columbus Motor Speedway located in Columbus, Mississippi.
Dewayne Ragland, the field...
Dewayne Ragland, the field rep for All Star Performance products, and driver Kevin Weaver discuss current events before qualifying at Eldora. Ragland is a longtime friend of mine who is probably the one person I can go to and get the honest low down on current technical trends in the top ranks of Dirt Late Model racing in America. He is well respected among all of the top teams. Weaver is an Indiana driver who has visited this event many times over the years. He finished Second to Moyer in the '98 World 100 and was our test pilot in March of that year in a published test here.
The media was chosen to select...
The media was chosen to select the best appearing car. This is an annual event whereby teams create special designs for their cars for this race. My pick was this interesting design by Don O'Neal where the cards spell out his name. It was one good looking car.
The Brave The Shave event...
The Brave The Shave event wasn't just for the drivers, some of the fans participated too and 12-year-old Andrew Short sports his shave on the midway. This is proof positive that the drivers can influence the youngsters with their actions, be they good or bad. In this case, and I think this reflects the general population of racers, the rub-off was all good.