RIC FELD / Associated Press Enlarge
ROSSBURG, Ohio - It started out as a modest little party with a few friends.
Now it is Woodstock on a dirt track. Tony Stewart knows how to throw a bash, but he just can't keep it a secret.
The Nextel Cup driver purchased the Eldora Speedway near here with an eye on preserving and enhancing its already rich history and tradition in the dirt-track ranks, one of the premier grassroots motorsports venues in the country. Stewart thought he would bring a few of the guys over and let them take a few laps around his new backyard.
That modest idea has grown into an event called the Nextel Prelude to the Dream, which will be staged at Eldora on Wednesday night. Fans were calling for tickets before the event was even set, and the available seats were quickly sold out.
Rossburg is west of Piqua, about 12 miles from the Indiana border.
For some of the NASCAR drivers taking part in the event, like Stewart, the evening on the clay track at Eldora will be a return to their racing roots.
For others, it will be a somewhat daunting experience because it's their first run on non-paved surfaces.
"Some of the guys who don't know this stuff are nervous," Stewart said. "I heard they are sneaking off and getting in some practice laps on any dirt track they can find. It should be a lot of fun, no matter what happens."
Stewart, who won a number of races at Eldora as he was rising through the ranks, first asked just three or four other Cup drivers to join him in the exhibition.
"Then guys started coming up to me at our races, tapping me on the shoulder and asking if they could come too," Stewart said. "To be honest, I don't know if I can name everybody who will be there. Bill Elliott just asked me the other day if he can come, so the list keeps growing."
So far, Stewart has his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte, 2003 Nextel Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth, five-time Cup winner Kevin Harvick, Kyle Petty, Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace, Dave Blaney and now Elliott.
"Eldora has always been a place that goes above and beyond for its fans, and that's something we plan to continue with this event," Stewart said. "We can give the local, grassroots fans a special and memorable evening. We'll have some of the best race car drivers in the world competing right here at Eldora. There won't be a better way to spend a Wednesday evening in June."
The Nextel Prelude serves as a mid-week promotional tie into the Dirt Late Model Dream next weekend at Eldora. Tickets for that event remain available through the track box office at (937) 338-3815.
Stewart hopes to accommodate the droves of fans who had to be turned away from next week's star-studded event with a second big show in August. He will have fellow Nextel Cup drivers Kasey Kahne and Blaney join him then to run against the National Racing Alliance (NRA) Sprint Invaders.