Eldora Speedway founder Earl Baltes died Monday morning, the track confirmed via its website. He was 93.
Baltes built the famous dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio, in 1954 and helped promote it into one of the greatest short tracks in the country. Eldora lays claim to playing host to the world’s largest and richest dirt late model races. In 2001, Baltes posted a $1 million payout to the winner of the Eldora Million dirt late model event. It also was a popular location for sprint cars, which made it a favorite of Tony Stewart.
In 2004, Stewart bought Eldora from Baltes, who remained a regular attendee at the track. Under Stewart’s stewardship, the track has expanded seating capacity to 20,000 and began playing host to a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event in 2013 – the first dirt event in a NASCAR national series in more than 40 years.
“Earl Baltes was the yardstick other track promoters measured themselves by,” Stewart said in a statement. “He constantly raised the bar, and he did it by creating events everyone else was afraid to promote. He did them himself, too. Not as a fair board, or a public company, or with major sponsors or millions of dollars in TV money.
“He put it on the line with the support of his family. He and his wife, Berneice, created a happening at Eldora. They turned Eldora into more than just a racetrack. They made it a place to be. They were integral to the evolution of dirt-track racing and the sport as a whole. Earl will be missed, but he won’t ever be forgotten because of his devotion to auto racing.”
Stewart had a statue erected of Earl and Berneice Baltes at the track in 2008.
Baltes is survived by his wife of 67 years, two children, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
A mass of Christian burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Burkettsville, Ohio. Baltes, who was in the U.S. Army during World War II, will be buried with full military honors in the St. Bernard Catholic Church Cemetery following mass.
Family will receive friends from 2-8 p.m. ET Friday at the Oliver-Floyd Funeral Home in Greenville, Ohio.
In lieu of flowers, the Baltes family requests that memorial contributions be given to the American Heart Association.