In our monthly photo-essay feature, National Sprint Car Hall of Fame photographer John Mahoney shares his memories and images from some of the most amazing and historic sprint car and midget races in history.
This month, we re-visit another historic day at Earl Baltes’ Eldora Speedway; this time June 20, 1976 when he staged the first-ever USAC sprint and midget doubleheader. It would prove to be a long day at the half-mile. With a total of 67 cars hot lapping, qualifying, plus 10 races including the features, it looked like a long day was in store. Adding to the fans’ seat time, Earl decided midway through the program that the track needed a complete re-build, adding another hour.
Baltes’ efforts paid off with two great features.
In the preliminaries, Tommy Astone would set fast time in the midgets over James McElreath (in his first midget ride) and Sleepy Tripp, who would also win the dash. Chuck Gurney and Dana Carter paced the two heats.
In the sprints, McElreath was quickest in qualifications followed by Billy Cassella and Larry Kirkpatrick. Cassella’s time was noteworthy, as he clipped the frontstretch wall on his second lap and flipped. Heats went to Ron Rea, Dana Carter, Ed Lute, and Clark Templeman. Kirkpatrick won the semi.
In the midget main, Dana Carter would take the lead from outside front row and lead all 40 laps in his Shannon Bros Higman No. 2. By lap 10, Carter held a commanding lead over Tripp, Rich Vogler, Gurney (from 11th), and McElreath.
A spin by Gurney closed the field and set up a tremendous challenge for the win by McElreath. James managed to get around Tripp on lap 22 and pressured Carter for the remainder of the race. The final four laps found James drawing even with the leader several times, but that was the best he could do. At the checkers it was Carter, McElreath, Steve Cannon, Tripp, and Vogler. Gurney had raced back to fourth after his spin, but car problems on the last lap relegated him to 11th.
Bubby Jones led the sprint feature for the first 22 laps until steering woes sent him to the pits. Meanwhile, Clark Templeman and Karl Busson were charging through the field from 16th and 19th starting spots, respectively. Clark would take the lead by lap 23 and hold that spot the rest of the way in the Smith Speed Shop No. 14. It would be his first (and only) USAC sprint win. Finishing second through fifth were Rollie Beale, Busson, Gurney, and McElreath.
Despite the length of the program, the day was a rousing success and would be followed by more and more doubleheaders…and, of course, the annual Eldora 4-Crown Nationals beginning in 1981.