MOORESVILLE, N.C. — For all the good things I saw during Saturday’s 4-Crown Nationals program at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, there was one thing I was disappointed by amid all the action.
And before any of you start jumping in with accusations of, “How could you not enjoy that racing?” let me be clear that, no, it wasn’t anything that was done wrong by the drivers or even USAC, All Star or Eldora Speedway officials.
The on-track entertainment value from this year’s 4-Crown was among the best I’ve ever personally seen since I started paying attention to the sport. The skill it took to run the cushion on Saturday at Eldora, combined with the ability for drivers to throw some wicked sliders, made for all-out war.
It was thoroughly entertaining and a product I hope we see at Eldora for years to come.
My disappointment came from a lack, this year, of a single driver attempting to compete in — and therefore have a shot at winning — all four crowns, like we’ve had in many years past.
The closest we got this year was a quintet of drivers — Chris Windom, Tyler Courtney, Jason McDougal, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Justin Grant — who ran in all three USAC events, and Brady Bacon, who competed in the USAC sprint car, USAC Silver Crown and All Star sprint car features but didn’t have a midget ride.
Bacon raced in all four divisions last year, but after stepping back to part-time duty with Frank Manafort Racing during the offseason, the team focused on primary driver McDougal’s mount during the 4-Crown festivities.
Even though I’ve never driven, I recognize it takes an immense amount of skill, effort, physicality and mental fortitude just to drive four very different race cars at the same race track, let alone doing so all in the same night within minutes at a time.
That’s why, over the years, we haven’t seen too many drivers tackle the challenge of running the entire 4-Crown Nationals slate. It’s a tremendous undertaking, not to mention expensive.
But when this event was first dreamed up back in 1981, that concept of a driver running in, and potentially winning, all four divisions was part of the inherent lore of the event.
It was part of what made the 4-Crown special and gave it it’s mystique. To this day, I believe it still does.
After all, who doesn’t remember or still talk about that legendary Saturday night in 1998, when the incomparable Jack Hewitt triumphed in a USAC midget, USAC sprint car and USAC Silver Crown car, then hopped in a UMP dirt modified and went to victory lane in that division too?
It was a historic sweep of the night that remains, to this day, unmatched in Eldora Speedway history.
That’s why it created a few little cracks in my heart Saturday afternoon when I realized that there wasn’t a driver entered for the night that could take a shot at matching Hewitt’s feat. It’s always been one of the special talking points about the 4-Crown weekend and it just wasn’t there this time around.
He was two for two at that point. What’s to say he couldn’t have gone four for four?
Now, to be fair, I’m not claiming Courtney would have gone out and blown All Star winner Aaron Reutzel’s doors off to win in the winged portion of the night, but it’s just the fact that he didn’t have a ride to even take a shot at it that disheartened me in that moment.
Of course, he got collected in an accident with McDougal in the Silver Crown race to end any hope of even a trifecta for the night, but Courtney’s performance was easily the most impressive of this year’s 4-Crown event.
It was the second consecutive year that Courtney won two of the four events.
Over the 38-year history of the 4-Crown Nationals, only Hewitt has ever done what many claimed before 1998 was “impossible” and “inconceivable.”
Kyle Larson came close to matching Hewitt — in a sense, at least — when he ran the table with the USAC-sanctioned divisions in 2011, but he didn’t have a modified ride that night to go for the fourth crown.
Other than Larson, many have tried, but none have succeeded in conquering all facets of the 4-Crown.
Next year, I just want someone to have the chance to try to do so again.
Is that too much to ask?