Jeff Babcock considers himself a seasoned dirt-track racer.
He’s driven successfully at Ohio tracks such as Limaland Motorsports Park in Elida and at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg. Today, the 33-year-old will get to test his wares on a familiar surface, but in an unfamiliar vehicle.
The Wayne resident will attempt to qualify for NASCAR’s Camping World Trucks Series CarCash Mudsummer Classic at Eldora, the half-mile oval dirt track owned by three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart.
Babcock typically drives Late Model and Modified cars on Eldora’s half-mile dirt-track oval, which is 135 miles southwest of Toledo, and doesn’t anticipate a rough transition, mechanically.
“It’s a track I’ve had a lot of success at,” said Babcock, a project manager with GEM Inc., a contracting company in Walbridge.
“It’s definitely a good opportunity for me and a new thing, and I don’t think it will be too much of a transition. A car can get somewhat out of control on dirt. It’s a little more forgiving than asphalt, and you can drive a little bit harder on dirt.”
Babcock has driven competitively since he was 15 and has 156 career wins. With Best Performance Motorsports, the St. Mary’s, Ohio, company that Babcock races for, moving into the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series, Babcock will drive for his first time in the circuit.
While Babcock is among the 37 drivers entered for today’s NASCAR trucks race on the dirt track, 30 drivers will start the 9:35 p.m race — 20 guaranteed starters, five spots earned through five initial qualifying heats, and five spots determined by a last-chance qualifying race.
Qualifying begins at 5 p.m. today at Eldora, with five eight-lap qualifying heat races to follow between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., and a last-chance race at 8:45 p.m.
The 150-lap race will be split into segments of 60, 50, and 40 laps.
“I think for a lot of those guys, it's going to be the first time they've raced on dirt,” Stewart said. “I think it's going to be a big challenge for the teams and drivers.
“It's a neat facility. Like I say, it's well-lit, it's a wide racetrack, it gives you a lot of options of where you can go and what you can do. I think it gives those guys an opportunity.”
Among the entries for today’s race are Sprint Cup driver Ryan Newman; Austin Dillon, who is currently third in the Nationwide Series points standings; Ty Dillon, Austin’s brother and the 2012 Camping World Truck Series rookie of the year; and Ken Schrader, a veteran NASCAR driver who became the oldest driver to win an ARCA race when he won the Menards 200 in May at Toledo Speedway.
“The heat races are definitely going to be wild for the guys that are trying to get in the race and slide jibing, and hopefully you see some of that stuff that dirt tracks are famous for,” Austin Dillon said. “I think you will, it's just a matter of keeping everybody calm at the beginning to not have a ton of cautions and making sure that the guys with less experience are talking to the guys that have some dirt experience out there.”
Babcock will compete in an event that has some historic value too.
The trucks race at Eldora is the first time in more than 40 years that NASCAR has run a series race on a dirt track.
“Hopefully we can make the race and run good,” Babcock said. “I’ve come from nowhere, from the little town of Wayne, and it’d be really neat to show something for all of this that we’ve done.”
This will be the first time one of NASCAR's top series has competed on dirt since 1970.