What do you say about something that’s been widely reviewed as wildly successful?
I wasn’t thinking. I was so excited to go to the MudSummer Classic at Eldora Speedway for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this past week, that I contacted My Life at Speed and offered to write about it.
And so, I’m left trying to find words that haven’t been said about this great event.
I’m not going to shame myself and dissect the racing. I went as a fan and it was awesome. Just awesome. If you didn’t see it, go find it online and watch, drool, even. I went as a guest of Ashley Parlett, a mechanic for the No. 31 Turner Scott Racing truck of Ben Kennedy. Ashley is a fabulous person and truly a role model for women in racing. That’s another article.
I landed in Indy early in the afternoon and hustled my way to Eldora. It’s just over a couple hours to get there but the last ten seem like an eternity. 1) You start to feel as if you’re never going to get there and 2) that the little blue dot on the map app somehow has it wrong…until you see the signs. The farm houses with “Honk if you’re a NASCAR fan” in the front yard. It didn’t seem right disturbing the farming landscape with a loud city-like horn. The black and white checkered flags attached to every fence post and the ‘”Welcome race fans” in all the small town establishments. The invasion is noteworthy and friendly.
Simple instructions from my friend/partner in Twitter crime, @nascarcasm, got me to my credentials in short order. At times I felt like someone was going to stop me and yell for going the wrong way, or that I shouldn’t park there, even temporarily… but no, they pretty much let you figure it out. When I did ask for instructions, they were more than helpful. The size of the venue was just right… a nice local crowd mostly, from what I could tell. They looked like most race fans.
I made my way through the Late Model paddock and noted that they are the size of about 1.5 Porsches, maybe two. They seem to defy logic on the track but that’s the fun – just don’t question it. I needed directions to the infield, and the nice lady pointed me in the right direction, clearly and concisely. Although, when she said to go to the “Love Tunnel” I did a double take, and asked if I heard correctly. “Oh yes, The Love Tunnel.” I admit that I was a bit worried about who or what I would find, and might have walked slower. And right outside the Love Tunnel, I ran into @nascarcasm and @theorangecone. Both Twitter heroes of mine, because of the snarky humor they deliver everyday and amplified on race weekends. Follow them.
So I had escorts through the Love Tunnel. My only comment about it: it doesn’t smell like love.
On the other side was a race fan’s amusement park. It was muddy, loud, trucks and haulers everywhere, track grooming equipment that belonged on the farm, and the teams. It wasn’t crowded or over-controlled. You could get up close with everything. Everyone mingled and Tony Stewart was casually cruising around with his signature grin (smirk?) on his face – I ran into him a couple times. In looking back over the day, it could have been a muddy disaster for him, but the weather gods were kind.
I settled in and tried a few viewing vantage points during the heats. I was in the pits on top a pile of tires for one heat. I tried the viewing stand above the pits for another. I watched the TVs in the media center. At one point before the main event, we decide beers were needed. We made the short walk out to the grandstands for a couple of those and then returned. We decided to watch the start on the inside of Turns 3 – 4. Well, I didn’t leave but for a couple nature breaks because it was just, well addicting, in that corner of the world.
I stood up against the fence the whole race. Mostly because I loved the exhaust-fume-breeze through my hair and to be so close… the trucks that ran the low line came just a few feet from us. There was lots of action on that part of the track. I swear Hornaday was using the wall and mud berm against like curbs on an asphalt track. Huge mud balls were being kicked up on every lap. Since I was on the left side of the trucks, I couldn’t see the wall damage on the right sides but I could see enough that some looked like they were decorated with fringe or as if they can ran into a cheese grater. Surveying the damage post-race is another rite of passage to this experience, unfortunately, I didn’t get to do much of that because I had to get back to Indy.
I ended the night covered in dirt. Lots of it. I wasn’t complaining. I wore it with pride all the way back to Indy and despite a long shower, probably had remnants that stayed with me the next day. I shamelessly bragged about being there. I couldn’t help myself.
I grew up in Nebraska. Small-town racing, like dirt track ovals, is in my blood. Dad even crewed for a tractor-pull team when they were still tractors and not jets. We spent plenty of Saturday nights at the races and lots of Sundays watching them on TV. I’m embarrassed that it took so long for me to get back to this kind of racing. All racers need to check themselves with a trip to Eldora. If not for the trucks, but for the Late Models making them look slow. It’s a great lesson on what makes American racing so different, and reminds us to embrace it. NASCAR is uniquely American. No preaching or over-thinking this concept. Fast guys show-up and win; or don’t and go home. Not much is left to debate at the end of the day. You win or you lose. The excuses are virtually eliminated. Simple. Honest. Straightforward racing.
After my evening at Eldora, I was back at Indy to work with Dempsey Racing in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series. I have to admit to a few daydreams of running the Porsche 911 at Eldora. Why not? [Yet another article.] I felt rejuvenated, energized and ready to race. The business of racing can be brutal. Eldora was the medicine to make me believe again.
Beyond the magic of the racing; it was the surprises along the way that I keep replaying in my mind. The venue was easy to navigate, the people were friendly, the prices are reasonable; I found lots of flushing toilets, and a really nice media center. The racing wasn’t clean, but the officials let them fight it out. I’m almost afraid to say it, but by NASCAR standards, the keepers of the event were as laid back as the Ohio countryside. Refreshing.
In the afterglow, I’ve read many social media posts proclaiming that Tony Stewart has discovered the new NASCAR series or Cup cars should try this, or even that Trucks should only race in the dirt. Here’s where I go technical… this event is a success, a spectacle even, because these purpose-built trucks are not built to race on a half mile dirt oval in the middle of nowhere Ohio. The fun is that the racers are out of their element, just like the machines, and they race. For the glory of a once a year celebration of America racing… The Eldora Speedway MudSummer Classic.
Add it to your bucket list
— Melissa Eickhoff (@meickhoff) July 24, 2014