Around 130 cars were expected to arrive at the beginning of the night. Thursday night’s feature will pay the winner $1,002,022 — the second-largest purse in motorsports after the Indianapolis 500.
Marcus Ericsson collected $3.1 million from his record-breaking total purse of $16 million to win the Indy 500 on May 29; Ryan Blaney won $1 million to win the NASCAR All-Star Race the week before.
The Eldora Million is a 101-lap dirt-track late model race run on a half-mile mud oval in western Ohio. On a per mile basis, Stewart’s event would pay more than any race in the United States.
The winner will earn $19,842 per mile, which is more than three times Ericsson’s earnings of $6,200 per mile. Blaney earned $5,333.33 per mile.
Eldora once paid the first $1 million in 2001, when the late Earl Balts owned the track. Donnie Moran paid $1 million.
Since purchasing the speedway in 2004, Stewart has aimed to match the prize.
“I said from day one that I took ownership of Eldora that we wanted to make Earl proud while continuing the range of promoting the race,” Stewart said. “I can’t think of a better way for both our longtime drivers and fans, as well as a whole new generation who have only heard about it, to honor their legacy than by bringing back the Eldora Million once “
Two nights of The Eldora Million is followed by two nights of Dirt Late Model Dream. The four nights of racing – weather permitting – have made it one of the richest open competition events in the history of motorsports, posting more than $1.9 million in prize money.
Moran, the winner of the only other running of The Eldora Million, recently reflected on the payday that earned him the nickname “Million Dollar Man.” The payout is the largest for a dirt-track late model race in two decades and will not be broken until Stewart is crowned the winner on Thursday night.
Moran brought a new car and engine to Eldora in 2001 and lured his sister and brother-in-law out of retirement to help his team. He told them that they could get paid or take a percentage of his winnings, and they gambled and went away with the win.
But what Moran remembers most was that his wife ignored her doctor’s advice to stay home because of complications she experienced while pregnant with their fifth child. She went anyway.
“When it hit me that I really won was when I was on the podium and I got to hug her. That was a magical moment I’ll never forget in the rest of my life,” Moran said. “She spent most of the race sitting on the ground, I guess, but she came through just fine. A few days later we had our daughter Savannah. Today she works as one of the Trophy Girls for Tony Stewart at Eldora.
“It drove me a lot of years and paid some of the bills,” Moran said. “I was basically a self-funded team, so it really helped.”
Stewart is hoping that his reprise of The Eldora Million will help another grassroots racer. It has had to buy two new tractors in the past week and has asked its workers to send in another track to help prepare the surface of Eldora, which has been drenched with rain all week.
“We’ve always said that one day we want to do the million again and we’re fighting everything to make it happen,” Stewart said. “I am living, breathing, everything in this racetrack right now and I hope Earl is proud of the work we are doing to carry on his legacy.”
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