Veteran driver Ken Schrader is coming back to Eldora Speedway.
Schrader will extend his streak as the only driver to take part in all eight editions of the former Prelude to The Dream, as well as the first four NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series races at the half-mile clay oval in Rossburg, Ohio.
Schrader said in a recent interview that he’d like to take part in the fifth Truck race at Eldora, the only dirt race scheduled among NASCAR’s top-tier series, on July 19.
Bolen Motorsports owner Jeff Bolen heard that interview, reached out to Schrader and a deal was struck for Schrader to drive the team’s No. 66 Chevrolet Silverado. Paul Clapprood will serve as crew chief.
“With Ken’s history on dirt and success at Eldora Speedway, we knew that he would give our team a great chance to win,” Bolen said in a statement. “This is our team’s second full season of competition and having Schrader in the truck at Eldora will help continue the successes so far.”
Added Clapprood, “When it comes to dirt and putting a driver behind the wheel with experience, you can’t beat this opportunity with Schrader.”
Schrader, 62, had five top-10 finishes in the eight-year history of the Prelude to The Dream, with a pair of fourth-place showings as his best outings.
The Prelude was an all-star exhibition race of drivers driving late model cars from 2005-2012, put on by track owner and former NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, that drew drivers from various motorsports series including NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA and World of Outlaws.
In the first four Camping World Truck Series races at Eldora, Schrader won his qualifying heat race three times and was second in the fourth. His best overall finish in the event was fourth in the 2014 race. He also holds the track’s pole record in a Truck.
“We are thrilled to be running Eldora again this season,” Schrader said. “It is truly a classic event and I enjoy every aspect of the race – the fans’ excitement, the level of competition and the fun of running at this iconic track. Driving the Bolen Motorsports Silverado will be a blast.”
However, do you remember what happened 20 years ago this week?
An Andretti won at Daytona.
Thirty years after Mario Andretti won his only Daytona 500, his nephew John Andretti put his name in the history books by winning the 1997 Firecr … I mean, the Pepsi … wait, the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola.
You know what I mean.
On July 5, 1997, the 34-year-old Andretti won his first Cup race, what was then the Pepsi 400.
That weekend Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were exterminating space bugs in theaters in Men in Black. In music, the top song was “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy … I mean P. Diddy. No, it’s Sean Combs. Yeah, that’s it.
You know what I mean.
When ESPN began its broadcast of the race, Andretti was third on the grid. He was next to Gordon and behind the Richard Childress Racing front row of Mike Skinner and Dale Earnhardt. The latter was in the midst of his first winless season since 1981.
To get the audience up to speed, ESPN featured a series of four musical montages to recap the season to date.
The songs of choice are in included in the below Spotify playlist.
In none of the storylines set up by those montages was Andretti’s name mentioned.
He drove the No. 98 RCA Ford owned by Cale Yarborough, who himself won at Daytona nine times in his racing career. Andretti was in his fourth full year of Cup racing and was three years removed from being the first driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coke 600 in the same day.
As the field came to the green, Andretti was 27th in the points and had only one top-10 finish through 15 races, a fourth-place finish at Talladega.
By Lap 3, Andretti was in the lead after having led only 20 laps the whole season – 19 at Talladega and one at Pocono.
On Lap 12, announcer Bob Jenkins made first mention of Andretti seeking his first Cup win. The son of Mario Andretti’s twin brother, Aldo, John Andretti made his first NASCAR start in October 1993 at North Wilkesboro Speedway driving for Tex Powell.
By July 1997, the cousin to Michael Andretti had only earned four top fives in 109 starts.
Here’s an observation on restrictor-plate racing in the mid-1990s – it was better.
This isn’t intended to be a typical “the racing then was better” statement.
In the years since tandem drafting was banned, restrictor-plate racing has largely become a large pack of cars where moves must be cherry picked at the right time and nothing can change for laps on end.
But in 1997, 10 years into the plate era, the field wasn’t bunched together, almost held against its will. While still close in proximity, drivers had room to maneuver in a slightly strung out snake, with no clearly defined lines. A driver could make something happen more easily without the risk of starting the “Big One.”
Instead of keeping your eyes on the screen waiting for chaos to break out, you were left waiting to see who made a push toward the front.
And when something bad did happen, chances were half the field wasn’t taken out … probably.
This was the case on Lap 33, when Jimmy Spencer got turned on the backstretch and only Chad Little and Mike Skinner were caught in it.
It resulted in the first pit stops of the day and a near scare for Andretti as he left the pits and Gordon nearly took him out at the pit exit.
He restarted second behind Bill Elliott and had the lead back by the time the field got to Turn 4.
Andretti’s previous career best for laps led was 41 in the 1995 Southern 500. In this race, he led 80 of the first 89 laps.
All the videos in the post are from a YouTube video that is the raw satellite feed from the ESPN broadcast, which means you don’t see the commercials.
“Hey guys, I don’t know if you can get a shot of him, but Cale Yarborough is on top of the RCA truck in the garage and he’s so excited. He’s taking on the radio, he’s driving the race car. He’s cracking the guys up in the pit. He’s saying, ‘John, John, go help the 3, help that 4, help that 3, help that 4.’ They’re just dying. They said he’s jumping up and down on top of the truck.”
ESPN never got a shot of him.
Yarborough had reason to be excited. A 83-time Cup winner as a driver, Yarborough was a car owner from 1987 – when he drove for himself – to 1999. He fielded cars for Dale Jarrett, Dick Trickle, Derrike Cope and Jeremy Mayfield. Andretti replaced Mayfield with eight races left in the 1996 season.
In 371 races, Andretti’s win would be the only visit to victory lane for Yarborough as an owner.
“And I was just as happy walking in there as I was when I was driving in there,” Yarborough said.
With 43 laps to go, Andretti pulled off a maneuver that would be declared illegal in today’s NASCAR. Going down the backstretch, Andretti dove his No. 98 Ford down below the dotted white line to get by Rusty Wallace into fifth.
This was similar to the move Gordon made on Bill Elliott six months earlier on the frontstretch that eventually led to him winning the Daytona 500.
Speaking of Gordon.
The 1995 Cup champion was on his way to his second title that season. He would do it on the back of 10 wins, which matched his total from 1996. From 1995-97, the “Rainbow Warriors” won 27 times and they would add a modern record 13 in 1998.
By July 1997, many in the grandstands were sick of it.
So, when Gordon smacked the backstretch wall on Lap 125, they let their pleasure be known as the No. 24 limped to pits.
If you want to party like it’s 1997, you have my permission to crank this up while you sip a cold Pepsi or a Coca-Cola depending on your sponsor obligations.
When the race went green with 30 to go, Andretti was second. A lap later he had to take the lapped cars of Bill Elliott and Spencer three-wide to make a clear path to Mark Martin.
Now Andretti was experiencing déjà vu. Earlier in the year, Andretti finished fourth to Martin in the caution free Winston 500 at Talladega, a race he had the pole for and led 19 laps of early on. That day, no one could get out of line to take a shot at Martin in the closing laps.
“I got behind Mark and thought, ‘Not like Talladega again,’” Andretti said later, according to the Associated Press. “Luckily for me Bill Elliott pushed me through. I guess I owe Bill a check for this.”
The drafting help from Elliott came on Lap 137 after coordination between the two team’s spotters.
By the time there was 13 laps to go, The Intimidator was stalking his prey in the form of Andretti. Earnhardt was running in second, followed by Dale Jarrett and Martin.
The end of the race was heating up when the final caution of the race waved for a five-car crash in Turns 1 and 2 with four to go.
As the field raced back to the flag – which was still a thing at this point – ESPN cameras caught the No. 98 crew mildly celebrating, thinking the race was over.
They were wrong.
The wreck was cleaned in time for a final lap, with the green and white flag being displayed together.
When they waved, Andretti had a rear-view mirror full of a certain black car.
As Andretti celebrated his win, Ward Burton was put on a stretcher. He was taken to the hospital to be tested for a concussion, but results were negative.
Also negative were driver reactions to how the race ended.
“That wasn’t a shootout,” Earnhardt said. “That was a slugfest, a wreckfest. They know better than to do that.”
Said Kyle Petty, “What they just had is a recipe for somebody getting hurt real bad. NASCAR got what they wanted, the fans didn’t get anything because they saw some of their favorites get taken out on the last lap. And the same guy that was leading the race before the restart still won. Why didn’t we just end it under caution?”
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO: John Andretti
When it came to NASCAR, Andretti wasn’t a one-hit wonder.
He won once more in 393 Cup starts. Two years later, while in his second stint in the No. 43 for Petty Enterprises, Andretti found victory lane at Martinsville Speedway after leading only the final four laps.
His last full-time season came in 2002.
From 2003-10 Andretti competed sporadically in Cup while competing in one full Xfinity campaign in 2006.
His final NASCAR start came in the 2010 Daytona 500, where he finished 38th for Front Row Motorsports after a crash.
From 2007-11, he made 10 starts in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The final four, which included three attempts at the Indianapolis 500, were in a No. 43 Honda co-owned by Andretti Autosport and Richard Petty Motorsports.
General Tire announced during a Friday morning press conference at Daytona International Speedway that it has partnered with eight different racetracks for ARCA Racing Series events in the 2016 season.
The agreement will cover entitlement events at Daytona, Talladega Superspeedway, Pocono Raceway, DuQuoin (Illinois) State Fairgrounds and Kentucky Speedway.
The races with entitlement sponsorship are:
Feb. 13: Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona.
April 29: General Tire 200 at Talladega.
June 3: General Tire #Anywhere Is Possible 200 at Pocono.
Sept. 4: General Tire Grabber 100 at DuQuoin.
Sept. 23-24: General Tire Super Weekend at Kentucky.
General Tire will also have activation programs at Michigan International Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Kansas Speedway, the company announced.
“To see a company like General support our series … we’re very excited about new involvement and how you’re approaching it,” ARCA team owner and former NASCAR great Ken Schrader said during the press conference.
ROSSBURG, Ohio – Just a couple of kids playing in the dirt.
That was the simplest way to describe the spectacle that unfolded in the third annual Mud Summer Classic at Eldora Speedway, where Christopher Bell, 20, won by outdueling Bobby Pierce, 18.
It hardly would do justice to what the top two finishers in Tony Stewart’s rapidly emerging dirt-track classic accomplished Wednesday night – and the unbelievable ways in which they did it.
This was a spectacular coming-out party for two stellar prospects who might have been well-known to dirt-track fans but virtually unknown in NASCAR circles.
They now are on everybody’s radar after delivering a scintillating show on the half-mile oval that is known for producing what Stewart calls “defining moments.”
Those seemed innumerable Wednesday night.
Pierce, who hadn’t raced a NASCAR truck before qualifying on the pole position Wednesday, slammed into the concrete so many times, the rear end of his No. 63 Chevrolet was being held together by pins and tethers – just as he’d expected it would be after taking his cue from watching Kyle Larson nearly win last year with a style just as brutish.
“It was awesome,” said Pierce, a dirt Late Model ace from tiny Oakwood, Ill. “I know a lot of people were telling me before the race, I was going to be the Kyle Larson. Beating down the wall is something I’m pretty good at. I didn’t want to be the guy in second, but Bell did a great job of doing everything right to win the race.”
Bell, a USAC open-wheel prodigy who scored his first Camping World Truck Series victory in only his third career start, drove his No. 54 Toyota into the wall about a half-dozen times in wrestling leading the final eight laps.
“This is just unbelievable,” Bell said. “It’s pretty cool that a couple of dirt guys can run 1-2.”
It’s pretty unbelievable, actually.
In a field filled with the likes of NASCAR veterans such as Ken Schrader, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Matt Crafton and Brad Keselowski, Bell and Pierce combined to lead 145 of 154 laps.
How unexpected was Bell’s win? The Norman, Okla., native didn’t know he would be racing until a week earlier – and he doesn’t have another truck event scheduled this year.
“Whatever opportunities come my way, I’d be thrilled to take advantage of them,” said Bell, who raced for Kyle Busch Motorsports with sponsorship from Toyota (whose motorsports executives have been staunch supporters). “I never would have thought I’d get the opportunity to do it.”
The NASCAR future is just as uncertain for Pierce, who just recently began running on asphalt in the hopes of jump-starting a stock-car career.
He already seems on the right track considering he posted a career-best finish for team owner Mike Mittler, who had only one top 10 in 212 previous starts of fielding trucks for a roster that includes Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray before they became Sprint Cup winners.
“Almost any racer who gets this far always has (NASCAR) in the back of their mind,” Pierce said. “Racing dirt late models has been my life, but if it comes to it, NASCAR is definitely something that I’d look to go forward to.”
“You’re perfectly fine to stay here,” Eldora general manager Roger Slack playfully interrupted.
A cursory check of social media showed that some major players in the NASCAR world already were taking notice.