Not everyone enjoyed racing on dirt. Bobby Allison, the 1983 Sprint Cup (then Winston Cup) champion, was once of NASCAR’s greatest drivers on asphalt, but says he wasn’t as good as he wanted to be on the various clay surfaces. It was a matter of feel and a driving style that few racers had.
“I have to say dirt track racing wasn’t my thing,” Allison confirmed. “I won 85 Cup races during my career but on the downside, I just wasn’t very good on dirt,” Allison said. “(Laughs) I was glad to see so many race tracks being paved during the early 1960s. I will say I finished second at Richmond when it was the old dirt fairgrounds track way back when (April 30, 1967). I was driving Cotton Owens’ Dodge that day and it was one of those rare times when things came together for me. Dirt tracks just didn’t seem to fit my style of driving I guess.
“The trick to driving dirt is you have to be able to slide the car around the track a good bit of the time. Some drivers were incredibly gifted on dirt but I just didn’t have the proper feel for them. On asphalt, it was a different story.”
Jeff Hammond, a former championship-winning crew chief in Cup and present-day television analyst, feels the best of today’s drivers have dirt-track racing somewhere in their past.
“Among the young drivers who race today, I think having experience on dirt helps as far as the car control aspect of it,” Hammond says. “These (Cup and Nationwide) cars slide around so much. When you run a lot of dirt, you’re totally comfortable with that car sliding and then catching and you don’t have a tenancy to overreact. A lot of drivers overreact when a car gets sideways and they feel they have to back steer it. That can get them in trouble. Experience on dirt offers car control and car comfort.
“I’m a big proponent of having experience on dirt. Some of our better drivers have done it. Jimmie Johnson was a successful off-road racer. You can go down the who’s who list and study their lineage and a lot of them you can trace back to having dirt track experience and driving high horsepower cars on dirt. Kyle Larson, Austin and Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier are great examples of where these kids are coming from.”
A milestone event took place last season that proved dirt track racing is still quite popular with race fans around the nation. Forty — two years after Petty’s 1970 win, NASCAR returned to dirt in the Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, on July 24, 2013 with Austin Dillon winning the 150-lap race.
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon was an open-wheel champion before coming to Cup in 1992. Having been a seasoned veteran of dirt track racing around the Midwest, he would welcome a Cup event on dirt.
“I would love to see a Cup race at Eldora,” Gordon said. “Yes, I think that would be awesome. I love Eldora, love the dirt and I enjoyed racing the dirt late model there. I would love to see what a Cup car could do.
“Why not have more races on a dirt track? I don’t think you will ever see a Cup race there at least not while I’m driving, but I would certainly vote for it. I think it would be very cool to do.”