Very few Dirt Late Model drivers can boast of the record of consistency at Eldora Speedway that Dale McDowell can. The Chickamauga, Georgia native has finished in the top-10 of every Dirt Late Model Dream and World 100 contested at the historic track since 2014. As a result, few are more qualified to talk about the upcoming events to be held at the Rossburg, Ohio facility than this 56-year-old member of the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame.
The Eldora Million is set to take place on Thursday evening on the half-mile clay oval owned by Tony Stewart. As the name implies, the winner will receive $1,002,022 for his efforts. Further, The regularly scheduled Dirt Late Model Dream will play out on Saturday night with a payment of $128,000 going to the winner.
The only other time such a purse was offered was back in 2001 when home-state driver Donnie Moran claimed the prize. Obviously, that event was a very big deal when it was held. However, there was nothing like the type of media coverage there is today. The internet was still nonexistent in many homes so there were few, if any, websites dedicated to the coverage of dirt racing. And of course, there were no streaming services that aired live racing back then either.
This year’s version of the Eldora Million will take place under a much brighter spotlight than that of the first running.
McDowell attempted unsuccessfully to make the field for the 2001 feature race but he managed to gain a feel for the atmosphere surrounding that race. He agrees that there will be much more attention paid this time around simply because of the availability of information. And because of that, he is going to Eldora expecting the unexpected.
“I feel like, with all the outlets where people can watch it as well as go there and witness it in person, I think it’s going to be bigger,” McDowell replied to InsideDirtRacing.com. “I don’t know what to expect with the event. A lot of times with those special events like that that boost the money way up for the winner’s share, different stuff starts happening. I think people will probably race a little different in heat races and stuff like that, maybe take chances that they wouldn’t normally take. I think you’re going to have a lot of that, not as much give-and-take as the event needs to have happen. That’s just going to be a product of the show.”
Having such a noteworthy purse is good in that it will command a great deal of attention. At the same time, the monster payout will only have an impact on one team.
“I’m mixed on it,” McDowell stated. “Obviously they wanted the hype of $1,000,000-to-win but our sport needs more strength all the way back through the field instead of just on the top. We’re going to go give it a whirl and do our best and see what happens. It has gotten a lot of hype up to this point and somebody’s going to be a million dollars richer.”
Because of the additional coverage and the fact that the motorsports world is more familiar with the top stars of dirt racing than was the case two decades ago, this event stands to be a much bigger deal than was the case in 2001. Although Kyle Larson is not expected to race in the Eldora Million, McDowell believes that the added interest brought by him and other NASCAR Cup Series stars has helped the sport.
“Definitely, I agree with that,” the Shane McDowell Racing driver said. “I think because of all the outlets, the internet and everything. The popularity of our sport is broader now than it’s ever been so I think that’s a huge part of it being a bigger event. And those other guys running with us, the Cup guys, helps the sport too. It makes the sport more popular. Dirt Late Model racing has been introduced to a lot of people that probably didn’t go to the dirt races, they can watch it on TV now and kind of get interested and realize it’s a tough sport and a fun sport and that’s what makes it so good.”
What some might consider an oddity is that the Eldora Million will actually be contested on Thursday night while the Dirt Late Model Dream, with its lower purse, will go off on Saturday. McDowell believes he knows the reason for the bigger race leading off the weekend.
“Obviously that was done purposely to get some of those guys in that might have a conflict of schedule that couldn’t do it on Friday and Saturday,” he pointed out. “I think they did their homework on when they wanted to do it and how they wanted to do it. It’ll bring some new guys in, there will be some new faces.”
NASCAR’s Chase Briscoe and Sprint Car star, and one of last year’s King’s Royal winners, Tyler Courtney are expected to be among those new faces. McDowell wonders if those new faces might bring new driving styles.
“That’s what I think will make it interesting in heat races because you can imagine someone going up to their window right before a heat saying ‘Don’t lift, whatever you do, don’t lift’. I think that’s going to bring some excitement. Who knows? We’ll just take it day-by-day. I think most of your guys are going to race it as a regular race until it gets down to the end. And when it gets to the end, those late restarts will be exciting. It will be something to talk about for a little while.”
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