One of NASCAR’s most anticipated races across all its national divisions hits the high banks of Eldora Speedway on Wednesday.
The Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby, NASCAR’s only national race on dirt has a new name, but remains the same as top drivers battle each other and Eldora’s unforgiving concrete walls.
The event starts Tuesday with Camping World Truck Series practice and the Super DIRTcar Series big block modifieds.
Here are seven things to know about NASCAR’s fourth visit to Eldora Speedway:
1. Name game: A dust up with Major League Baseball forced a name change. So after three years as the MudSummer Classic, this year’s event is the Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby. The first three years went by the MudSummer Classic. MLB that was a little too close to their Midsummer Classic, the nickname for the All-Star game. Eldora dropped the name, but not before Eldora GM Roger Slack threw a little chin music at MLB, saying: “We hope all of the baseball fans who traveled to Rossburg, Ohio, the past three years in anticipation of the MLB All-Star game enjoyed the race and the $2 beers.”
2. The dirt on top drivers: Slide jobs – going low into a turn and sliding up the track to pass another driver – is key to getting around Eldora. Few did it better last year than Christopher Bell, the defending Derby champ. He’s one of five drivers with considerable dirt experience at Eldora. Rico Abreu also ran the Kings Royal and scored a 4-Crown Nationals win in 2013. Bobby Pierce is a three-time World 100 qualifier (2013-15) and finished second last year. Tyler Reddick qualified for both the Dirt Late Model Dream and World 100 (2012-13). And current Sprint Cup driver Kyle Larson swept the 4-Crown nationals in 2011.
3. Digging out a win: Austin Dillon won the inaugural race in 2013. Darrell Wallace Jr. followed in 2014. Wallace proved you don’t need a dirt racing background, but it helps. What’s at stake? The winner locks up a spot in the Chase provided they are in the top 30 in points and have attempted to qualify for each race.
4. Race format: With no traditional pit stalls at Eldora, the race is instead broken up into three segments of 60, 50 and 40 laps. Cautions are held between segments for teams to make adjustments. In a tribute to NASCAR’s grass roots beginnings, each truck gets two laps in the single-truck qualifying session to determine heat race lineups. Heat races determine the Dirt Derby field with the top five finishers in each heat qualify for the feature. The rest go into a final-chance qualifying race.
5. Schedule: In addition to the Trucks, the Super DIRTcar Series big block modifieds will also run on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Tuesday: Spectator gates open at 3 p.m.; 5:30 p.m. – Big Block practice; 6:30 p.m. – Truck practice; 8 p.m. – Big Block heats; 9 p.m. – Truck practice; 10 p.m. – Big Block feature (100 laps)
Wednesday: Spectator gates open at noon; 4:30 p.m. – Big Block practice; 5:15 p.m. – Truck qualifying; 6 p.m. – Big Block heats; 7 p.m. – Truck heats; 7:55 – Big Block feature (25 laps); 8:15 p.m. – Truck last-chance feature; 9 p.m. – Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby (150 laps)
6. Empty Cup: NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series runs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend, so the sports top drivers are just a couple hours away from Eldora. But few have elected to run the Truck race in the first three seasons. Kyle Larson has been a regular and Brad Keselowski ran last year. Ryan Newman ran the inaugural race and former Cup guys like Dave Blaney, Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace have also given it a go. Larson and Schrader are scheduled again this year.
7. Tickets: Eldora has packed them in the first three races, but tickets are still available. Tickets for Tuesday’s action are $14 for 13-and-up general admission and $18 for 13-and-up reserved seating. Those 12-under are free for general admission and $10 reserved. On Wednesday, cost is $36 for 13-up general admission and $40 13-up reserved. Those 12-under are free for general admission and $12 for reserved. For more information visit www.eldoraspeedway.com