With today’s big announcement The Eldora Million is returning in 2022 I thought it would be interesting and fun to revisit the 2001 race. It was the biggest race ever 21 years ago and will be again. If you’re going to go BIG, Eldora Speedway knows how to do it. Hope you enjoy going back in time with me.
Bleacher Views by Mike Ruefer
The Eldora Million 2001
It’s funny what dreaming of big money can do to you. Everyone has done it. I’ve done it. You know that dreamy state you get in when you play the lottery and you think of all the great things you can do with the money. For most of us, these are just daydreams and then with “Hey you,” from the boss, it’s back to work. The same thing happened last Saturday night at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg Ohio. The only difference is that one man and family actually got to live out their dream and win the Biggest Dirt Late Model show of all time.
The weekend started like most normal big show weekends at Eldora. The campers and motorhomes filled the campgrounds and dirt hungry race fans from across the country made their way to the grandstand. 235 cars cleared UMP inspection and packed the infield. It looked normal but something was just different.
Everyone seemed to know that this was not your typical race. You could see it in their eyes and in their conversation. Know matter where I went, everyone was talking and speculating about winning the Million and what it would take to win or just to get into the show. What was going to happen on the last lap? Would there be carnage on the track? Would there be a big controversy? Just what was going to happen? Everyone wanted to know.
Time trials on Friday night had that normal World 100 frenzy. Each race team was anxious to attack Earls High Banks and for all 235 participants, they still had a chance. As the night wore on, the chance to win Earls cash looked better for one driver, above all others. Coming off his big weekend at Bristol, Scott Bloomguist and his familiar Black Hot Rod set fast time. His 16.187 was the mark to beat. Chub Frank gave it his best and was a little slower at 16.197. By the end of the night it was now down to the fastest 120 and they would have one more chance to make the field and join Bloomquist and Frank in the biggest race.
Saturday was another beautiful sunny day. The fans and racers were upbeat as everyone knew, NO rain would ruin this day. Before long it was race time and the Heat races were lining up. One by one the cars were pushed to the grid. Today looked different. There was seriousness about things with the contending teams who have had previous Eldora glory including those looking for their first big win. Many only had 15 laps to go and they would head home but they still hoped for the chance to play for the Million. Here we go.
Heat 1: Ronnie Johnson used his pole to launch his Barry Wright race car to the lead and the win. In great side-by-side action it was Terry English and Steve Shaver. Bloomer looked smooth and settled for fourth. It was all thumbs up by Mr. UMP at the scales and these drivers were in the Million.
Heat 2: Jack Hewitt looked strong and was poised for the win till he went up in smoke. Chub Frank put on a great show to win followed by Billy Moyer. Both had the crowd on their feet as they came through the field. Eddie Rickman held off a strong running Greg Lucas for third.
Heat 3: The boys went 3 wide all race long. Steve Boley was Shootout strong and had the red MasterSbilt humming for the victory. Wendell Wallace stayed in the hunt with his GRT. The wild ride went to Jimmy Mars as he was charging ahead of Ray Cook.
Heat 4: The front row still was the place to be. Steve Hillard had the ride of his life and won. From the fourth row John Gill blasted the GVS Rocket and kept moving forward. At the line he grabbed second ahead of Shawn Negangard.
Heat 5: The carnage started and Jeff Martin came back on the hook. The loaded race with superstars of dirt throughout the field was quite the show. Donnie Moran and his Rayburn were the class of race as he held off a fast Rick Aukland. Freddy Smith, still riding strong from his Show Me win, kept Steve Francis at bay.
Heat 6: You had to expect that another wreck would be on the way; this was the last heat race. In a rock and sock adventure both Ronnie Fisher and Anthony Rushing went home with torn up race cars. When things settled down, it was all Don O’Neal and the Ware Rayburn. O’Neal was awesome in the win. In second was Steve Smith and the CJ Rayburn #3, as he chased in vain to beat the “The Real Deal.” The best run was Skip Arp. Starting from the 10th position he worked the 15 laps in a GReaT fashion. High and Low he went as clawed his way to the front for third, ahead of charging Darrell Lanigan.
Consolation: This was it. It was the final last chance for drivers who had finished 4-7th in the heat races to make the Million. The last 6 spots would come out of this race. It was going to be exciting. Based on fast time provisionals, Scott Bloomquist was in and so was Dan Schlieper. The rest had to race. At the get go, it looked good for Rodney Combs and Greg Lucas. Steve Francis then lit the torch on his Rocket and went to the front. Ray Cook and Wesley Hood grabbed 2nd and 3rd. As the laps came down to the end, Darrell Lanigan and Davey Johnson were in the show. The final big move was from Tim Hitt as he passed Lucas. The field was set. Who wants to be a Millionaire?
The Million: History was in the making. It would be 100 Racing laps and someone would take home the biggest paycheck in Dirt history. Again you wondered, who would do it? Was Moyer strong enough? Could Bloomer come from the back and win? How about O’Neal or Hillard or Boley? Moran? Everyone was guessing. The large crowd was on their feet and on the fence. Flash bulbs were blinking and the cars were ready. There were NO “life lines,” there were NO “call a friend” and it was NOT “50/50.” This was for the money and glory. It was put up or shut up! It was time to race!
At the drop of the green flag the Rayburn cars of O’Neal and Donnie Moran jumped out from the front row. Steve Boley looked fast and Hillard went side by side with Ronnie Johnson. As the early laps were counted off, O’Neal and Moran stretched the lead. From 19th, Bloomquist was Zeroing in on the leaders. Billy Moyer used his Eldora mastery to get in contention. Every corner had action as the Dirt stars gave it their all. Chub Frank’s night went poorly after he tore the spoiler up, against the turn 3 wall. Donnie Moran was working on O’Neal and zoomed ahead. Moran then started to pull everyone down the straightaway. Bloomer then did the same and was now in second. It was about time for Steve Smith to show all his cards. While working the middle of the corners he started to cut down Bloomer and passed him. With around 5 laps to go, the ground was closing between Moran and Steve Smith. Moran kept cool and rode the rim on the High Banks, even scraping the wall a time or two, to stay out front. At the wave of the checkered flag Donnie Moran made Dirt racing history to win the Eldora Million. He was followed by the great run of Steve Smith. Bloomquist, Wendell Wallace and Davey Johnson (another great run) followed to round out the top five.
It was a great night for a great Dirt Late Model driver. In the post race inspection Donnie was calm and cool and when the final word came, he had won the Eldora Million. The victory celebration to follow was awesome. It was emotional at times for everyone on the race team, family and friends. The best part to see was the exchange between Donnie and his wife. Behind every good man is a very good woman. This win tonight was her victory too. We all knew now that this was a special race. It was the win of a lifetime.
Thanks Earl and Berneice Baltes, “The Eldora Million” will go down as the Biggest Dirt Late Model show ever. You guys made this all possible. I was glad to be there.
Hey Earl? If you sell a few more Hot Dogs, could we do it again next year?
Photographer & Writer