Donnie Moran claimed the richest prize in short-track racing history June 9, 2001, when he earned $1 million for winning a 100-lap dirt-late-model race at Eldora Speedway.
Known as the Eldora Million, the unprecedented event was the brainchild of Earl Baltes, owner and promoter of the legendary half-mile dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio. The race was originally scheduled for Oct. 6-7, 2000, but rain and cold weather forced an eight-month delay.
Editor Chris Economaki opened his June 13 column with: “Our hat is off to Earl Baltes, the ‘Earl of Eldora.’ This 80-year-old promoter’s dream of paying $1 million to the winner of a late-model race at the track he carved out of a western Ohio farmyard in 1953 was realized Saturday night. …This unique contest, which drew thousands of fans and hundreds of entrants (who paid the $500 entry free), not only makes this popular speed spa the richest-paying short track in the nation, but also its most notable.”
Moran, a four-time winner of Eldora’s prestigious World 100, started second in the 26-car feature and chased polesitter Don O’Neal for the first quarter of the race. Moran then drove around O’Neal on lap 26 and never looked back. His most tense moment came on lap 67 when he bounced off the turn-four fence for a second time.
“It’s Eldora,” Moran said about the contact. “You know, if you’re not up by the wall, you’re not going anywhere. The Rayburn car with this style bumper has gotten where you can rub that wall and it doesn’t hurt anything. I really didn’t want to hit it, but I was trying to drive hard and go as fast as I could. When you’re on the edge, you’re going to scrape it a little bit now and then.”
Steve Smith erased a portion of Moran’s advantage during the closing laps, but the Dresden, Ohio, owner/driver held on for the victory.
“I really wasn’t worried about winning the money,” Moran said. “I was worried about winning this race. Yeah, we were running for a million dollars, more than I’ll probably even run for again in my life. But it was very important to run that car around that race track and not worry about what you’re racing for. It’s why you’re racing, to do the very best you can.”
Smith collected $50,000 from the $1.2 million purse for finishing second while Scott Bloomquist, Wendell Wallace and Davey Johnson completed the top five.