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Official Review by Joshua Guiher, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Eldora Speedway was built in 1954 by Earl ‘Big E’ Baltes. Baltes sold the track in 2004 to three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart. The track is unique on the NASCAR national series circuit as the only dirt track on any of the top three series schedules.
The 2013 Camping World Truck Series (CWTS) race at Eldora was billed as the first NASCAR national touring series event on dirt in 43 years. However, T.J. Majors told me he raced on dirt in the NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series at Oglethorpe Speedway Park in 2003, although it appears NASCAR does not consider that former touring series to have been national. Semantics aside, the excitement for the inaugural dirt race at Eldora was immense, with tickets selling out in less than three weeks.
Eldora’s dirt surface is constructed out of clay and has 24-degree banking in the turns, while the straights are banked 8-degrees. The track has 17,782 permanent seats, along with additional hillside seating. For the CWTS, Eldora brought in additional bleachers to raise the capacity well over 20,000.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
First off, the track allows you to bring in your own food and beverages; except alcohol due to local law. At most venues when this is the case, you can expect to see food items cost outrageous amounts. Eldora is the exact opposite, with food and beverage prices being well below market prices.
Beer is available in 12oz cans for $2, or you can buy a 6-pack for $10 or a 12-pack for $20. Yes, that's right, no two beer limit at Eldora and it's affordable!
A 20oz bottle of Dasani costs $1.50, and the same for a 20oz bottle of Powerade. Soda is Coca-Cola products and comes in 12oz cans for $1.
Food is available at multiple stands. Some are run by the track and located under the grandstands, while additional vendors are brought in to help with demand and to offer an even bigger variety. Some food offerings by the track include a pub burger ($3 or $3.25 with cheese), a pizza burger ($3.50), a pizza slice (1/4 of a pizza - $4 or $14 for the full pizza), and nachos for ($2.50 or $4 with meat). Some other offerings include a hot dog ($2), cheddar wurst ($2.75), and boneless wings ($3.50).
Some food offerings from outside vendors include cheddar cheese fries ($4), onion rings ($3.50), steak on a stick ($6), the giant tenderloin sandwich ($6), and the Farmer Brown sandwich ($6). The Farmer Brown sandwich is amazing and is shaved top round covered in provolone cheese, lettuce, mushrooms and a special sauce on a toasted and buttered bun. The Farmer Brown stand also has nice variety of ice cream for $3 in a cup or $4 in a waffle cone.
Eldora offers the best combination of food offerings and prices of any sporting venue I have visited. Combine that with the ability to bring in your own food & beverage and if I could give 6-stars, I would.
A sell-out crowd that includes temporary seating, the only NASCAR national touring event on dirt and a unique qualifying and race format provide for an intense event. Host it at one of the most famous dirt tracks in the world and you have the prefect recipe for an amazing atmosphere. The Camping World Truck Series race is the perfect mix of diehard dirt track fans and NASCAR fans.
This is truly one of the best atmospheres I have experienced at a sporting event.
Eldora is located a bit of a distance from any city or large town. Most of the race teams stay around Dayton, which is about an hour drive from Eldora. Muncie, Indiana is another town that some people stay in. Both towns are about an hour drive from the speedway. The closest town to the speedway is Greenville, a quiet little town with some nice shops to get things that you may need. There is a butcher shop that has incredibly low prices on all sorts of deli meats, steaks, hamburgers and sausages in case you're staying at the event and grilling.
If looking for a restaurant, there is really only one place to visit that is worth your time, St. Henry Nite Club. They offer a great all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet on major event weekends. They even provide free shuttle service to and from the track campgrounds for the buffet.
The immediate area around the speedway is mostly empty fields for camping by fans. There are very few houses near the track. A couple of them sold firewood for $5-$10, including one that was all-you-can-take. There is a grocery store about 10 minutes north of the track where you can get any last minute items, including alcohol, but it is a bit overpriced.
The fans at Eldora are a great mix of general dirt track fans and NASCAR fans. Of the people I interacted with, some had never been to a NASCAR race and some had never been to a dirt track race. This created a great ice-breaker for stories and friendships to form instead of the normal banter between fans of opposing drivers.
The best part is that if you had a question, everyone around you is willing to help you get the answer. This includes trying to understand the unique qualifying procedures and the preliminary events such as the Late Model Invitational event.
You would think that with basically one road in and out from the track, there would be a massive traffic jam. This is actually not the case, as the traffic flow is handled exceptionally well. Pedestrians are given the priority, while traffic never seems to back up more than 15 or 20 cars in either direction.
Parking is very smooth, and vehicles with camping spots are even escorted to their spots the first time in so there is no confusion. It is the best setup I have ever encountered at a track.
The concourse is incredibly wide and even has a bypass so that fans in the upper seats are not disturbed by people walking around.
Bathrooms are clean and have plenty of stalls. However, the design is odd with multiple rooms and could use an attendant such as Pocono Raceway uses to alert the next person in line to open stalls. This would keep things moving a bit faster.
General admission prices are $36 and grandstand seats are $40, and these prices are a steal. Both seating areas offer excellent views for well below market value. Camping for the entire week is just $40 and the spot is a huge 40 feet by 20 feet, allowing plenty of room.
Tickets for the opening night prelude are just $14 and include an intense late model invitational race. Combine the cheap tickets with the low food prices, plus the ability to bring your own food, and you have the best return on investment at any NASCAR race.
One of my concerns about camping was having no access to showers. Normally I would use a truck stop shower, but the track location made this impractical. Thankfully the track brought in shower units built into the back of a tractor trailer. For a modest $7 you could take a shower in a private stall.
The track also brought in cell phone towers for AT&T and Sprint coverage. While I had Verizon, so I was still left with virtually no coverage, it was nice to see the track go beyond the normal sporting venue and service customers as well as possible.
Another point for the medical staff that was brought in all the way from North Carolina. The track brought in a mobile unit called the Premier Health Infield Car Center that was able to treat both fans and competitors that may have needed medical assistance. In fact, the track won the NASCAR teamwork award for going above and beyond to make sure everyone would be safe.
One final point for the track having backup generators to power the lights in case of emergency. In fact, they were actually needed and used for the race after a squirrel knocked out electricity. This allowed the race to go on as scheduled instead of the embarrassing debacle that the NFL endured during the recent Super Bowl in New Orleans.
If you want to experience what NASCAR races were like in the early days, or attend what will become the most prestigious race outside of the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, then you should attend the Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora. The best part is the entire event is put on by just seven full-time employees who are the nicest people you could ever meet.
I'm excited to make this an annual trip and already have my tickets for next year.
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