When he looks at you with that baseball cap bill tipped up, there's a gleam in those dancing eyes. You just know that he's up to something, and his cunning mind is figuring out all the angles.
Eldora Speedway owner/promoter Earl Baltes might at times try to come across as a good ol' country boy, but don't be fooled: There's a savvy businessman behind that devilish grin. Well into his ninth decade, he's still the king of all he surveys, the owner and promoter extraordinaire of the best-known short track in the nation, and the dirt stock car sport's master innovator. A measure of his respect is that he was recently voted Most Influential in dirt Late Model racing, along with being inducted into the first class of the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame.
He carved out the track himself 50 years ago, and it continues to amaze, year after year. His accomplishments are legendary at his famous speed plant. Many will tell you that it's hard to separate the man and the facility. He thinks about his 50 years in the sport and readily admits that he's amazed at what has evolved. It seems that every time a new classic event is introduced, with more money up front, you can bet that Earl is the man to get it done.
He'll tell you quite frankly, though, that there are similarities between his early music career and racing. "They are both entertainment when you come right down to it; a lot of the same prin-ciples apply. You have to give the people a good time," Earl says. "It's something that I've tried to do through the years. Do that, and they will always come back for more." Five decades is a long time to run the same track, but the great moments seem to keep getting better in the latter years. We'll show you some highlights of the first 50 years of the famed track and why it's ranked as one of the top dirt tracks in the country.
Humble Start To The World 100How many owner/promoters do you know who are in charge of grooming the track? Out there grading or watering the track, or running on the track with his infamous pick-up truck, Earl's an expected part of the Eldora landscape. He rules that surface, and not one drop of H2O is added without his blessing.
It didn't start with big crowds in the beginning. Eldora opened with a very humble quarter-mile oval. "Had to think a long time about cutting it out in the first place because we were getting 125 bushels per acre on that land," Baltes recalled. In 1956, the track grew to a 31/48-mile and then to its present half-mile distance in 1958.
Earl remembers well that first stock car race back in 1954. "I didn't know nothing at the time and got all screwed up in the scoring. Everybody was mad at me. Even my mother told me to stay in the music band business." It's been stock cars at Eldora since the beginning with a Sportsman class (actually '30s-vintage coupes) powered by period V-8 engines. There was also a Street Stock beginner class. Later, there would be more advanced machines called Semi-Late Models, before the speedy Late Models came on the scene in the late '60s and early '70s.
Even during those early days, there were some amazingly long races run at the western Ohio oval. Would you believe 500 laps, on a dirt track? You better believe that there were a bunch of exhausted drivers falling out of their cars after 2,000 turns on those high-banks. In the early '70s, Earl got to thinking about having a big race for the Late Models. He decided he would call it the World 100, and today the World remains the premier Late Model race to win. As former World 100 winner Mike Duvall put it, "This was the first dirt stock car race to pay the big money. The best cars from all over the country are always there. Today, I think that Earl could pay $500-to-win for the race, and everybody would still come!"