Dirt, NASCAR, Eldora are big winners after Mudsummer Classic

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Occasionally, you just need to tip your cap to someone on a job well done.

In this case, a tip of the cap to two parties: NASCAR, for taking a chance on a dirt track race for the first time in 40 years, and to Eldora Speedway, its track president Roger Slack and track owner Tony Stewart.

It looked weird at first glance – the sight of these lumbering, overpowered and under-tired NASCAR Camping World Trucks attempting to “slide job” and ride loose around the top groove of the half-mile oval in Rossburg, Ohio.

But after just a few minutes and few laps, it looked massive, and it looked like a spectacle.

From the sold-out crowd, to the heat race format, to Norm Benning making the feature race after holding on in his last-chance qualifier, to the four-wide tribute start and salute to the fans, to the race itself. It looked like authentic racing without appearing contrived. It wasn’t a crash fest; it was fairly clean. It was three hours of racing action, but it was never three hours of tedium.

In fact, the only disappointment was that it seemed every time the leaders were approaching traffic, a caution flew for debris. Now in all cases, the big pieces of debris were shown, so you can put the “phantom debris caution” theory to rest on this occasion.

Kyle Larson drove the wheels off his truck but race winner Austin Dillon came through the field just as much, in fact more so than the widely accepted wunderkind who has been hailed by many as NASCAR’s next big thing.

The immediate cries on social media and in some reports was for “MORE DIRT RACING!” or something along those lines.

The challenge for NASCAR, and perhaps for other domestic forms of motorsport, is not to lose the unique nature of this first, one-off dirt track NASCAR experience.

Some of racing’s most iconic races are that way because they’re sparse. Because they’re unique. Monaco, Indianapolis and Le Mans are iconic; Kansas, Kentucky and Chicagoland are not.

Over-saturation of a certain kind of racing – the preponderance of 400-mile snooze fests on 1.5-mile ovals as an example – pretty much reduces those races to also-ran, can-miss status because there’s no differentiating one from another.

NASCAR’s most exciting races have tended to occur on slower tracks visited infrequently. Bristol and Martinsville, the two half-mile tracks, are among the most fun to watch, as are the two road course races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Eldora fits this bill to a T.

For NASCAR, perhaps one or two more dirt track races in a year could go a long way toward building up enough sustained season-long interest in dirt, but not overdoing it.

The easiest way to get “MORE DIRT RACING” from here is to simply visit your local short track and see the action there. They need the support.

But as for last night, it was an excellent dirt-digging, groundbreaking ceremony for a form of racing that seeks to make a resurgence in the minds and wallets of race fans.

Here’s a few extra takes on the race from AP/Dan Gelston, USA Today’s Jeff Gluck and Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass.

And here are tweets from Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.

Bryan Sellers aims to be first Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY Champion

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Bryan Sellers will leave the familiar confines of his Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan GT3 and head into the unknown in 2019.

At the age of 36, Sellers has 25 years of competitive racing behind him and is turning his attention to the battery-powered Jaguar I-PACE sedan that he will driver for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – something he describes as “the way of the future.”

Racing for Ohio native Bobby Rahal, it is a connection that brings him home to his roots. Sellers was born in Centerville, Ohio. 

“I’m very proud to be a part of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing,” Sellers said in a press release. “I grew up in Ohio watching Bobby (Rahal) win races and build an incredible racing program and it will be nice to finally get to see it from the inside.”

Sellers’ electric-powered Jaguar won’t have the same horsepower as the V10 Lamborghini that he steered to victory in the 2018 IMSA Weather Tech Sports Car championship with co-driver Madison Snow and Katherine Legge.

At his heart, Sellers is a  racer chasing a championship and it’s not the horsepower but the potential for close competition that drives him. Next year, he has an opportunity to win the first ever Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY Championship.

In 2016, Jaguar joined the Formula E series. Now they are looking to make history with the world’s first all-electric production-based international race series that will compete at 10 venues next year in support of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

The series’ 10 venues will be international, racing on tracks in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, China, Italy, Mexico, France, Monaco, Germany and the USA, which will showcase electric cars on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, in July.

“Electric cars are clearly the way of the future and to be involved with the first electric production car racing series is very important to me,” Sellers said. “I’m very thankful to everyone at RLL and Jaguar for giving me this opportunity.”

Sellers raced fulltime in the American LeMans Series from 2005 through 2013 – amassing four victories and two other podium finishes. In 30 career races in the Grand-Am Series, he added three more visits to the podium.

But it was last year that was clearly the highlight for Sellers. For the second time in his career, he scored multiple wins in a series (Sellers had two wins in ALMS in 2011), but he stood on the podium eight times in addition to winning the championship.

Joining Sellers in the I-PACE eTROPHY Championship Jaguar next year will be Legge, who was one of his co-drivers in 2018.

“Experience, maturity and pace are very important qualities that I was looking for when we chose our driver lineup,” said Rahal, the former IndyCar Champion and Indy 500 winner.

The series will kickoff with the Formula E season-opener in Riyadh on December 15, 2018. They will not run in conjunction with the next two Formula E rounds and will rejoin for most of the remainder of the 2019 season.