Hey, NASCAR: When Tony Stewart is paying the winner of a sprint car race more money than you award your All-Star Race champion, perhaps it’s time for a reset.
That’s one takeaway from the NASCAR Hall of Famer’s announcement this week. Another takeaway: Save me a seat at Eldora Speedway for July 12-13. The little guys could be going up against some huge racing names for more than $1 million, and it’s going to be a blast.
The Eldora Million announcement capped a busy week for Tony Stewart
Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart began his week by announcing that the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) is making two big changes in 2023. Stewart, the co-founder of the IROC-like series, revealed that the six-race competition is moving from Saturday nights on CBS to Thursday nights on ESPN.
While pushing back the start times an hour to 9 p.m. ET will be inconvenient for some wanting to attend or watch on TV, moving SRX off the weekend gets it away from a traditional big night for local tracks across the country.
Stewart followed up on Thursday by announcing he is bringing the richest sprint car race in history to Eldora Speedway next summer. The Eldora Million will pay $1,000,023 to the winner and $1.4 million overall in collaboration with streaming partner FloSports.
The MLB All-Star Game in Seattle is slated for July 11. The Eldora Million on July 12-13 won’t attract as much media coverage, but it will probably be a lot more captivating.
Tony Stewart throws a new wrinkle into the Eldora Million
Tony Stewart has always loved the small tracks, and he took that affection to a new level in 2004 by purchasing Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, from founder and innovative promotor Earl Baltes.
In February 2000, Baltes announced he would pay an unprecedented $1 million to the winner of a Late Models race in October. However, bad weather forced Baltes to push the event back to June 2001, at which time Donnie Moran passed Don O’Neal on Lap 25 and held on over the remaining 75 laps to win the mega-prize.
Stewart brought back the promotion last summer, posting a top prize of $1,002,022 to winner Jonathan Davenport. Thursday’s announcement tacked a dollar into the top prize and revealed a new wrinkle. Rather than Late Models, next summer’s Eldora Million will be contested in winged sprint cars.
“All of us at Eldora are super excited to host the first million-dollar-to-win sprint car race,” Stewart said in the announcement. “Back in 2003, Eldora hosted a non-wing race that paid $200,000 to winner Jac Haudenschild, but this will be the first time a sprint car driver will race for a winner’s check worth $1 million.”
Will Kyle Larson take a run at the $1 million prize?
Tony Stewart possibly was his NASCAR generation’s best-known driver when it came to hopping into any type of car on any given day. He frequently traveled with his sprint car and competed on a nearby track on Friday nights ahead of the Cup Series qualifying and racing on the weekend.
These days, several NASCAR drivers do likewise, with 2021 Cup Series champ Kyle Larson probably the best-known competitor in the bunch. Larson found time to enter 18 World of Outlaws races in the 2022 season, winning four and placing in the top 10 in 14. Had he raced the full season, Larson could have outmuscled brother-in-law Brad Sweet for the points title.
The Eldora Million should be of interest to top WoO drivers. However, there is a question as to whether they’ll participate. The WoO rule for drivers under contract prohibits racing in an unsanctioned event within 48 hours and 100 miles of one of its events. The Eldora Million falls immediately before the Kings Royal at the same track.
Enforcing the rule in this instance would be penny-wise and pound-foolish on the part of World of Outlaws management. WoO makes three stops at Eldora in the upcoming season, and detracting from Stewart’s one-of-a-kind event both takes money out of the pockets of drivers and dilutes an event that could raise the profile of sprint cars in general.
Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected]