Tony Stewart went to bed at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday after spending an all-nighter at Eldora Speedway.
Stewart has $1 million to give Thursday night and is determined to have his track in Rossburg, Ohio in the best possible condition for The Eldora Million’s return.
“I’m just struggling,” Stewart told The Associated Press Wednesday afternoon by phone, the sound of him moving from various trucks and tractors in the background. “We’ve only had two events so far this year because of the weather, and we need to get the track ready to give away that money.”
Around 130 cars were expected in the night’s preliminaries. The Thursday night feature will pay out a whopping $1,002,022 to the winner – the second-biggest purse in motorsport behind the Indianapolis 500.
Marcus Ericsson raised $3.1 million of a record total purse of $16 million for winning the Indy 500 on May 29; Ryan Blaney won $1 million for winning NASCAR’s All-Star race a week earlier.
The Eldora Million is a 101-lap dirt-track race that takes place on a half-mile clay oval in western Ohio. On a per-mile basis, Stewart’s event will pay more than any race in the United States.
The winner will earn $19,842 per mile, more than three times what Ericsson won at $6,200 per mile. Blaney earned $5,333.33 per mile.
Eldora shelled out $1 million once before, in 2001, when the late Earl Baltes owned the track. Donnie Moran scored the $1 million salary.
Since purchasing the highway in 2004, Stewart has aimed to match the price.
“I said from the first day I took ownership of Eldora that we wanted to make Earl proud by continuing to push the boundaries of racing promotion,” said Stewart. “I can’t think of a better way to honor their legacy than by bringing back The Eldora Million once again for our long-time pilots and fans, as well as a whole new generation who have never heard of it. “
The two nights of The Eldora Million are followed by two nights of Dirt Late Model Dream. The four nights of racing – weather permitting – created one of the richest open competition events in motorsport history, with prizes listed in excess of $1.9 million.
Moran, winner of The Eldora Million’s only other race, recently opened up about the payday that earned him the nickname “Million Dollar Man”. The payout is the largest for a late-model track race in two decades and won’t be snapped until Stewart crowns a winner on Thursday night.
Moran brought a new car and engine to Eldora in 2001 and brought in his retired sister and brother-in-law to help his team. He told them they could get paid or take a percentage of his winnings, and they played and went with the winnings.
But what Moran remembers most is his wife ignoring her doctor’s advice to stay home due to complications she was experiencing while pregnant with their fifth child. She left anyway.
“When I realized that I had really won was when I was on the podium and I was able to give him a hug. It was a magical moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life. “Moran said. “She had watched most of the race sitting on the floor, I think, but she did well. We had our daughter, Savannah, a few days later. Today she works for Tony Stewart in Eldora as one of the trophy girls.
As for the money?
“It allowed me to race for several years and pay some bills,” Moran said. “I was basically a self-funded team, so that really helped.”
Stewart hopes his reiteration of The Eldora Million will help another base runner. He had to buy two new tractors last week and asked another track to send its workers to help prepare the surface of Eldora, which has been soggy with rain all week.
“We’ve always said that one day we want to do the Million again and we’re fighting to make that happen,” Stewart said. “I live, I breathe, this whole circuit right now and I hope Earl is proud of the work we are doing to carry on his legacy.”
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