Story and photo by Patrick Reynolds
The year was around 1980 give or take. Iâ€™ll even widen it out to a late 1970s or early 1980s time frame. My memory cannot pinpoint the date. What I can recall was that ABCâ€™s Wide World of Sports was broadcasting from a dirt track on a sunny Ohio afternoon. A member of the â€˜Big Threeâ€™ television networks at that time was airing a short track race. Not IndyCars, not NASCAR, but legitimate weekend warriors. This was big. My TV channel changing stopped and I was glued to my parentsâ€™ couch until this was over.
The program was typical of â€˜Wide Worldâ€™ auto racing in which it was mixed in with other not-so-extreme sports. What was not typical of edited 500-mile major league broadcasts was that the racing format was laid out just like many local weekend short tracks- heat races, a consolation race, and then the feature. The natural break in between races presented ABC the perfect seam to place their other â€˜Wide Worldâ€™ non-motorsports coverage.
This magical place was Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. The cars were USAC Silver Crown machines. This viewer of around 10 years of age was absolutely captivated.
Many years later, I do not recall the results but I remember the excitement the track and broadcast generated.
From then on, Eldora Speedway popped up on my radar in racing publications- Illustrated Speedway News, Stock Car Racing Magazine, National Speed Sport News, and many others. I learned about the high banked half-mile track and how it hosted open wheel and stock car races.
I grew up on a regular diet of shorter 25 and 30-lap Saturday night features, but developed a propensity for special extra-distance contests. Any 100 and 200-lappers really jazzed me up.
Then one day, amongst my frequent reading and digesting of auto racing written content, I saw an article about the World 100.
That was a race that caught my attention. Late Models, 100 laps, big money to win, and a massive car count to try for just 24 starting spots.
Over time, I read more about the raceâ€™s history. Bruce Gould won the inaugural 100 and the $4000 first place prize. That was a very impressive short track purse for the time.
The big favorites in my introductory years were Larry Moore, Charlie Swartz, Mike Duvall, and some up-and-coming kid named Jeff Purvis.
In September of 2015, I checked off another â€œBucket Listâ€ track and race.
Driving to Eldora Speedway for my very first look at the high-banked half-mile brought me through miles of rural two-lane roads. Many acres of Ohio corn fields separated my journey from any major interstate. When I took the last highway exit possible, plenty of roadways still awaited, before any sign of a speedway existed.
After following countryside roads for some time, suddenly fields were filled with tents, campers, and motorhomes. I kept filing past campsite after campsite and wondered how many hundreds- or how many thousands- of motorhomes were on the Eldora grounds. I was well aware I was heading to a dirt late model event but the sight sure resembled any Sprint Cup race.
Healthy crowds filled the grandstands during Thursdayâ€™s preliminary racing and even for Fridayâ€™s eventual rainout. A packed crowd of around 18,000 took in the Saturday finale. Not a large number by NASCAR superspeedway standards but mammoth for a half-mile grassroots track.
Walking into the infieldâ€™s pit area brought about a special-event feeling. There was a definite buzz in the air. A feeling of excitement that everyone knew, that this was a special race, and a special place.
â€œItâ€™s a totally different atmosphere ,â€ said young driver Austin Hubbard. â€œIt seems almost like NASCAR with the amount of people, the fans, and how many cars you get and the level of competition. If you want to be the best and want to compete with the best, you got to be here. Everybody knows that it has always been that way. Iâ€™m glad to see that has stayed that way. Itâ€™s very obvious when you come here; itâ€™s nothing like anyoneâ€™s ever seen before.â€
Hubbard said about winning the World 100, â€œitâ€™s a childhood dream of mine. Ask anybody in this pit area, and Iâ€™m going to say nine out of ten are going to say that this is the most important race for them to win.â€
The excitement increased each day from Thursday to Saturday. By Saturday afternoon when the sun got lower, the shadows reached further, and the temperature dropped- there was a feeling in the air. Not a tangible feeling that I can show you a photo of or display on a piece of paper- just a feeling.
The type of feeling that one experiences on Sunday morning in Syracuse NY before the Big Block 200, or in Middletown NY prior to the Eastern States 200, or at Thompson CT early race day when a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion will be crowned later that afternoon.
Eldoraâ€™s World 100 is not just another race.
Tim McCreadie grew up in the D.I.R.T. modified world of upstate New York and is the son of dirt racing legend Bob McCreadie. The family knows about the big Syracuse and Middletown Modified races.
Winning the World 100, â€œâ€¦ would rank up there somewhere along the lines of the Chili Bowlâ€¦ Syracuse.â€
â€œItâ€™s (World 100) unique,â€ said McCreadie. â€œYou get your big (short track) events all over the country and itâ€™s probably in the top ten. Itâ€™s an event and a race. Its aggressive racing, lot of fans, overpopulated all week. Itâ€™s fun to be in when youâ€™re competitive, thatâ€™s for sure.â€
The top car counts occurred during the high water marks of the U.S. economy with well over 200 cars entered. This year a still very impressive 106 cars entered for 30 starting positions in the 100.
Donnie Moran has won â€œThe Globeâ€ four times and was victorious in the 2001 Eldora Million. His twenty-year-old son Devin competed this year and is respectful of Eldoraâ€™s- and his familyâ€™s- history.
â€Itâ€™s the Daytona 500 of Dirt Late Models,â€ Moran said. â€œItâ€™s not the most paying race, but you come to it and itâ€™s the race everyone in the country wants to win. You walk in the doors and you get cold chills.â€
â€œIt would mean the world,â€ Moran said with an intentional pun and chuckle. â€œDadâ€™s always going to have stuff on me. Heâ€™s had an awesome career. To start it off by getting a World 100, thatâ€™d be pretty cool to get my first crown jewel here.â€
Moran was credited with a 23rd-place finish in the 100.
Younger generation stars appreciate and respect Eldora. Twenty-two year old Brandon Sheppard won preliminary Twin 25-lap A-Mains on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon prior to Saturday nightâ€™s big 100 lap feature.
Sheppard in particular is an example of the highly competitive nature of the race. When it came time to execute and qualify for the 30-car A-Main, Sheppard fell short of making it into the 100.
â€œItâ€™s a really prestigious racetrack. It means a lot to me and my family,â€ Sheppard said. â€œItâ€™s definitely all the way at the top. Either one of the big races at Eldora (The Dream and World 100) are obviously at the top of the list (to win).
â€œThe track, the fans, the mediaâ€¦ itâ€™s just a huge place to get a win. Knoxville is up there, thereâ€™s some other places are up there, but everyone wants to win at Eldora,â€ said Sheppard.
Who didnâ€™t make the 2015 World 100 would make an excellent feature lineup in most dirt late model tracks around the country. Along with Sheppard, McCreadie, and Hubbard not making the World 100, also loading early were Vic Hill, Matt Westfall, Billy Moyer Jr., Greg Satterlee, and 69 others.
If the above drivers were competing at your local short track, a promoter would be wringing his hands at the crowd this group would attract.
The original big purse trademark since 1971 has not stopped. A tradition of adding $1000 to the winnerâ€™s share every year continues. The 2015 World 100 champion Jonathan Davenport earned $48,000.
NASCAR has the Daytona 500. IndyCar has the Indianapolis 500. Sports car racing has the 24 Hours of Lemans. Dirt Late Model racing has the World 100 at Eldora.
ABC broadcast that USAC race so many years ago that captured my attention and drew me to the Ohio speedway. Times and technology have advanced and in 2015 there was a live internet race telecast. Whatever the method, Iâ€™m fairly certain there were a brand new crop of 10-year-old race fans that also made commitments to themselves to go see a World 100.
Although not qualifying for this year, Hubbard may have put the race into the simplest, yet most accurate terms.
â€œItâ€™s one of coolest races there is.â€
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Motor Week LIVE! Mondays 7pm ET/ 4pm PT onwww.racersreunionradio.com