It was a contrast worthy of Charles Dickens.
This historic week in NASCAR racing truly was a tale of two cities — or, more accurately, a tale of one city in the middle of Indiana and one whistle-stop town in the middle of nowhere.
It was a tale of Indianapolis, the state capital, home to upscale hotels and restaurants of renown.
It was a tale of Rossburg, Ohio, where, if you want a place to sleep, you drive it there, and if you want food to eat, you bring it.
It was a tale of two speedways. It was a tale of the Brickyard, a 2.5-mile colossus where every crevice in the well-worn asphalt oozes history.
It was a tale of Eldora, an alien footprint in the corn country of northwestern Ohio, a half-mile oval — smaller than Bristol, smaller than Martinsville — that each year crowns the royalty of dirt-track racing.
Amid the striking contrasts, though, were common threads. First, and most obvious, NASCAR raced on both.
Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway marked the 20th renewal of one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races, the continuation of an experiment that has become an institution.
Wednesday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora, which has its own storied history, was an experiment, too. For the first time in 43 years, one of NASCAR’s national series raced on dirt.
For the first time in almost two decades, one of NASCAR’s national series raced on bias ply tires, which had been phased out in favor of radials by the mid-1990s.
It took courage to try something that far out of the box — courage on the part of the sanctioning body and courage on the part of track owner Tony Stewart, who risked sullying Eldora’s reputation if the event didn’t come off as envisioned.
To the credit of all who worked tirelessly to stage the Inaugural Mudsummer Classic, the race, which played to a packed house, was an unqualified success. Whether it was Norm Benning stalwartly refusing to give up the final transfer spot in the last-chance heat or Kyle Larson using up the left side of Ryan Newman’s truck in the main event, the drama was palpable.
It worked, and in doing so, threw temptation at the feet of those who reveled in the first blush of dirt-track racing success.
“It would be fun to go to some of the fairgrounds race tracks, the mile race tracks, Springfield, DuQuoin (both in Illinois), Indy Fairgrounds, places like that,” said Newman, who figured prominently at both speedways, winning Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Brickyard after running third at Eldora.
“There’s other dirt tracks that we could go to that I think would be fun as well.”
To those who might find the siren song of other dirt venues irresistible, please reconsider. The atmosphere at Eldora isn’t something that can be bottled and moved from place to place. Stewart called it “magical,” and it was.
It was also unique, and that’s what made the contrast with NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide weekend at the Brickyard so compelling.
It would behoove all of us to keep it that way.
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- Jimmie Johnson scores miraculous top 10 at Daytona - February 17, 2019