It’s The Big E. It’s The House that Earl Built. It’s home to so many major moments of Sprint Car Racing. And it’s where another historic milestone will be reached this weekend (July 14-15) when Eldora hosts the 40th edition of the Kings Royal.
Mention the track to any fan of the sport, and it’s guaranteed to have an impact. Whether it’s home to favorite racing memories over the years or highest on a bucket list of tracks to visit, Eldora maintains a poignant presence in the minds of all within the community.
When the World of Outlaws began in 1978, Earl Baltes elected to bring Ted Johnson’s group to his high banked half mile nine times including the season finale. After the successful debut season, it became an annual tradition for The Greatest Show on Dirt to visit the Rossburg, OH oval several times a year.
In late 2004, track ownership changed hands when Tony Stewart purchased the facility from Baltes. While it was a new name in command, the relationship between Eldora and the World of Outlaws powered on as strong as ever.
The long-standing connection between the Series and track has led Eldora to its current status as the most visited in World of Outlaws history at 232 trips. The first 140 visits came under Baltes’ leadership, and Stewart is quickly closing in on hitting the triple digit mark himself with 92 Eldora World of Outlaws races since taking command.
“It’s something I’m really proud of,” Stewart said. “We’ve carried on Earl Baltes’ tradition of doing things big and being the first track to pay $175,000 to win an A-main event. And this year to have a million dollar to win race right before Kings Royal. We’re proud of what we’re doing in Sprint Car racing and proud that the World of Outlaws are a part of it with us for so many years.”
The most impactful of the World of Outlaws chapters written at Eldora over the years have come during the Kings Royal. Baltes developed the idea and hosted the first edition in 1984 with $50,000 going to the winner. The event moved to World of Outlaws sanctioning in 1996. Throughout the first 39 editions, the Kings Royal has helped birth legends of the sport. The Crown Jewel is a must-have for any driver looking to cement their status as one of the greats.
Fittingly, “The King” himself – Steve Kinser – topped the inaugural Kings Royal. That marked the first of his current record seven crowns. The Bloomington, IN native also owns the owner of being the only driver to win the event in four different decades (1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s).
The early years also produced an unforgettable night when in 1986, Don Kreitz Jr. wheeled his way to Victory Lane to claim the crown for the PA Posse. It would be another 36 years before a “Keystone State” native returned to their Pennsylvania palace with the spoils of the Kings Royal.
One year later the crown was kept in the home state for the first time as Wooster, OH’s Jac Haudenschild climbed atop the throne. “The Wild Child” went on to top two more Kings Royals (1994 & 1998).
The 1990s were highlighted by another Ohioan – Dave Blaney – claiming two more crowns for “The Buckeye State,” making Ohio the first state to have multiple champions.
When the 2000s began, Dale Blaney rose to the occasion to give Ohio a trio of Kings. Not to be outdone, the Hoosiers quickly responded by supplying a pair of winners with Mark Kinser (2001) and Joey Saldana (2002). The year 2004 brought the first time that the Kings Royal delivered a first time World of Outlaws winner when Bartlett, TN’s Jason Sides survived a chaotic main event for the win.
In 2007, Donny Schatz claimed the first of his current tally of five crowns (second most all-time). Fast forward a decade, and the Fargo, ND was the first to reach the elusive feat of winning back-to-back Kings Royals in 2016 and 2017. Then, for good measure, Schatz added a third straight in 2018.
The first California King was crowned in 2011 when Tyler Walker slipped by Sammy Swindell on the final corner of the final lap as Swindell’s right-rear tire went down with the checkered flag in sight. Two years later Brad Sweet added another for “The Golden State” when he earned his second career World of Outlaws win in the Crown Jewel. When the winner’s share was upped to $175,000 in 2019, it was also Sweet driving to Victory Lane and giving fans one of Sprint Car racing’s most memorable celebrations with his famous leap on stage and emphatic yelling.
“The feeling of winning the Kings Royal is pretty indescribable,” Sweet previously said about the historic event. “You never know what it’s going to feel like to win a big race – you always dream about doing it. Once you do it, it’s just nice to have it on your resume and no one can ever take it away from you. There’s only so many guys that can say they’ve won the Kings Royal. It’s just unbelievable that I get to put my name on the trophy with those guys.”
At the dawn of the 2020s, the Kings Royal was not contested for the first time since its inception as COVID pandemic regulations made doing so impossible. The following year, Tony Stewart deciding to host a pair of Kings Royals to make up for the missing edition. Rainy weather resulted in both $175,000 main events taking place on the same day. Indianapolis, IN’s Tyler Courtney won the first – making Indiana the first to four different winners. “Sunshine” also became the second driver to earn his first World of Outlaws win in the event. Later that day, Kyle Larson added the Kings Royal to his résumé.
The most recent addition brought the second PA Posse triumph when Brent Marks came out on top in 2022. As a bonus, they Myerstown, PA native also earned the victory in the return of the Historical Big One earlier in the week, giving him $275,000 in winnings for two nights of work.
And that brings us to today. The 40th edition of the historic race will begin tonight with the running of “The Knight Before.” Then, on Saturday, many drivers will vie for a spot in history and a $175,000 paycheck. The next chapter for Eldora and the World of Outlaws has commenced and “Smoke” doesn’t see this book turning to the last page anytime soon.
“Eldora is a special racetrack and facility,” Stewart said. “I watched a lot of World of Outlaws races and been able to compete in some World of Outlaws races there in the past. It’s something that we’re proud of at Eldora that we’ve had a long relationship with the World of Outlaws and see the greatest in the sport – Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Doug Wolfgang, Brad Doty – the list just goes on and on and on of great race car drivers that have raced there and ran with the World of Outlaws. It’s a tradition that we’re proud of, and we don’t have any intentions of stopping anytime soon.”
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch every lap live on DIRTVision.