ROSSBURG, OH – He’s the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) defending points champion and current points leader. He’s tied for ninth place all-time with 14 career NCWTS victories. He’s either won or finished second in five of the 10 races this season. Johnny Sauter, the driver of the No. 21 Allegiant Chevrolet for GMS Racing, boasts an impressive pavement racing resume. Dirt, however, continues to throw him a slide job. Sauter said the main goal at the NCWTS Eldora Dirt Derby on Wednesday, July 19, is to survive. Keeping his truck from banging that right quarter panel into Eldora’s concrete walls is crucial to staying in contention – both in the race and the points standings. Sauter leads dirt-track ace, Christopher Bell, by 28 points. Sauter’s results have been mixed in the Dirt Derby. He finished 29th in the inaugural event in 2013. He made an impressive drive to eighth in 2014. But he fell back to 22nd in 2015 and finished 13th last year.
“Obviously Eldora is a little bit different situation, especially for a guy like me that’s raced asphalt his whole life,” Sauter said. “I’ve been to a couple of dirt races throughout my lifetime, I guess. But I’ve always been an asphalt guy. So, I have fun at Eldora. I think it’s a fun place – obviously a good atmosphere. A lot of great race fans there. But for me it’s just a place where I just haven’t figured it out quite yet.”
Sauter said the middle stages of the race have been his nemesis. This year he looks to keep his Chevy intact as long as possible to give himself a chance at the end of the 150-lap race run in segments of 60, 50 and 40 laps. Drivers get two practice sessions on Tuesday, July 18, before the main event on Wednesday.
To prepare Sauter said he tried to run a street stock at the half-mile Beaver Dam Raceway near his home in Wisconsin for about five hours.
Sauter also tried to soak up the dirt knowledge of racing teammate Kyle Larson in 2016. Larson won the race to join Austin Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Bell as Eldora Dirt Derby race winners.
“Last year I had the liberty of having Kyle Larson as a teammate. You would think I could learn something from that and I didn’t take much from that,” Sauter said. “I think it’s a feel thing. Like he told me, ‘Man, I’ve done this my whole life and I’ve raced 100 times a year. It’s something you have to get a feel for.’ If you only do it once a year, it’s hard to grasp that concept.”
With the point battle tight, Sauter said he might have to take a more aggressive approach at Eldora to keep up with Bell. Where drivers – especially asphalt drivers – might let an opponent pass during a typical race knowing they’ll have a chance to return the favor, the strategy changes at Eldora. Track position is at a premium for those not familiar with the dirt so giving up one spot can be costly.
“I guess for me, personally, I look at it as sitting at the top of the points. I look at Christopher Bell and say this is his backyard type of a race,” Sauter said. “And if there’s any place he’s going to go and try to make up as much ground as he can and ultimately have a really good shot to win the race, it’s going to be Eldora. I’ve got that in the back of my mind for sure. But I’ve run decently at Eldora. I just haven’t been spectacular. I feel like I’m putting more effort into it this year than ever before. And it is only one race on the schedule, but it’s still a race, nonetheless, and you want to put your best foot forward every week.
“If we can stay out of trouble hopefully we’ll be in contention at the end of that thing. It’s sort of a survival state. But it’s also a place where if you have a win early in the season and you had some good runs going, it’s a place you can kind of just go and enjoy. And believe me, I’m a competitive guy, I’m a racer, and I want to go there and I want to run well. I just don’t exactly know how yet.”
Sauter said he’s a short-track fan and can remember going to watch races at packed tracks as a kid, soaking it all in. He appreciates the support series that will compete alongside the NCWTS. This year it’s the Super DIRTcar Big-Block Modified Tour.
“I always feel like it’s good to have a late model division or a modified division with our races because it brings the hardcore fan to the racetrack,” Sauter said. “(Eldora) is, I mean when we go to the driver’s meeting and they roll out the ropes and tie everybody back the place is swarming with people. Signing autographs and everything for people before the driver’s meeting, it’s a really cool experience.”
The fifth annual Eldora Dirt Derby kicks off with the Tuesday Tailgate, featuring practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and a full program culminating with a 75-lap feature for the big-block modifieds of the Super DIRTcar Series.
Wednesday’s activities begin with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver autograph session at 3 p.m. Single-truck qualifying is slated for 5:15 p.m., the first of five qualifying heat races is slated for 7:30 p.m., and the 150-lap feature will go green at 9:30 p.m. The Super DIRTcar Series modifieds will also be in action with a non-points exhibition event.
Tickets are still available by visiting EldoraSpeedway.com or calling (937) 338-3815.
About Eldora Speedway:
Since carved from a cornfield in the natural amphitheater that existed between the Eldora Ballroom and the Wabash River by bandleader Earl Baltes in 1954, Eldora Speedway has grown to be a frontrunner in motorsports growth and stability. Baltes chose to sell the legendary high-banked clay oval to motorsports entrepreneur and NASCAR, IndyCar and USAC champion Tony Stewart in 2004. Celebrating its 64th season in 2017, Eldora hosts the biggest events in short-track racing including the 23rd annual Dirt Late Model Dream; the 34th annual Kings Royal Weekend; the Camping World Truck Series’ Eldora Dirt Derby – the only NASCAR National Series race on dirt; and the 47th annual World 100. The complete schedule for Eldora’s 64th consecutive season, including ticket and campsite information, is available at www.EldoraSpeedway.com and can be requested by phone at (937) 338-3815. Fans can get behind-the-scenes access of Eldora Speedway by following @EldoraSpeedway on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, hitting ‘Like’ at www.facebook.com/
EldoraSpeedway and subscribing to www.youtube.com/EldoraSpeedway .