Thunder on the race track, fire in the sky.
The Prelude 2012.
(Photo: Getty Images/Tyler Barrick)
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PRELUDE TO THE DREAM
By Dick Berggren
NASCAR’s most successful driver-organized
charity event is Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream. Held annually
at Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio (go to the middle of
Nowhere, turn left, then drive miles past the corn fields),
Stewart’s handlers place well-known drivers from multiple racing
series against each other in borrowed high-quality dirt late models.
There have been no surprise winners, including this year’s
champion, Kyle Busch, who has very limited experience on dirt but
straps in with a skill that’s extraordinary even in motorsports’ top
series. Past year’s winners include Carl Edwards, Kenny Wallace,
Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Stewart himself, who has won three
of the eight runnings. Only Wallace in the above-named group had
limited experience going sideways before he won. Eldora, he said,
introduced him to dirt track racing which he fell in love with. It’s
likely that when the year ends, Wallace will have run 50 times on
the mud and will win one-third of his starts.
In an era in
which everyone counts the empty seats in big-league stock car
racing’s grandstands, so many fans come to this one that they fill
the seats and flow to blankets on the hillsides that neighbor the
stands. Most come for the week, staying through to the race long ago
named “The Dream” that is run on the following Saturday night. It’s
an energetic crowd, a group that comes to have a good time and make
a lot of noise. Eldora serves not only beer but hard liquor as well,
so the already jacked-up fans can drink a little more emotion into
their evening if they choose to do so.
Roger Slack, who is
destined to go down in history as one of the best short-track
promoters of all time, is in charge of the show and made his
presence known this year in the most dramatic of all ways: The place
this year exploded with fire and fireworks. When each driver was
introduced to the crowd, flame cannons behind them belched fire.
When the race rolled off pace laps in four-wide formation, the sky
went ablaze with color. Same when the race ended. It was a dazzling
addition to an already spectacular evening.
Two from drag
racing–funny car drivers Cruz Pedregon and Ron Capps–are regulars,
as is Indy car star Tony Kanaan. In a very serious moment, Kanaan,
who has run three times at Eldora as his only experience racing on
dirt, calls his appearance in the events as “the craziest thing I’ve
ever done.” Even Danica Patrick joined the event this year, racing
on dirt for the first time in her life.
This year’s event
featured something fans hadn’t seen all season in big-league NASCAR:
wrecks. The evening began with 2010 winner Jimmie Johnson tagging
the wall in warm-ups. Some just couldn’t get the hang of it and kept
finding the wall. Kurt Busch parked his car before the feature with
all four corners bent, claiming on HBO Pay Per View that crashing
out before the main event “was like premature ejaculation.” Really,
that’s what he said.
Clint Bowyer, last year’s winner, drove
his own car again and was fast enough and smooth enough to make it
two wins in a row. However, a particularly caffeinated Kasey Kahne
slide-jobbed Bowyer into the wall while Bowyer was leading. A few
laps later, Kahne himself evacuated the lead when coming off turn
two he slammed into Bobby Labonte’s car that was sitting in the
groove, having spun out yet again. Kahne’s car, owned by Chris
Madden, was severely damaged. The entire right side including the
right rear wheel, hub, axle and some of the housing were all ripped
from the chassis. It was doubtful that the frame itself could be
With that, Kyle Busch inherited the lead. Busch had
earlier in the evening found the wall with enough force in his
second time-trial lap that the entire right front suspension had to
be replaced on his Scott Bloomquist-owned car. Busch had run the
Prelude five times, finishing in the top-four in four of those
attempts. He had come to win this time and now has won in every
division of racing he has ever attempted except Dwarf cars. Expect
Mr. Busch to rectify that shortcoming in his resumé with appropriate
The Prelude is all about people having a good time.
Many of the drivers call the race the most enjoyable of the year.
Smiles abound in the stands and in the pits. It is above all else a
A different charity benefits from the event each
year. This year, “Feed the Children” received an infusion of cash.
The money generated for charity is considerable, nearing $1 million
at one of the events, in part because of the income from HBO, in
part from the huge crowd that pays to see the race in person, and in
part because so many people donate their time and services. Nobody
in the TV crew, including the announcers, is paid and there’s only
enough money paid out to teams to help cover expenses. Stewart
writes checks to repair crash damage, which this year certainly cut
the amount donated to charity. But, such is the way of this event in
which drivers run as hard for a trophy as they would for a million
dollars to win.
© 2012 Dick Berggren, Coastal 181
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