This summer, those words will be chanted from NASCAR Nation far and wide as the Camping World Truck Series becomes the guinea pig for one of the sport’s most noble modern experiments: a return to dirt racing. On July 24, Tony Stewart’s short track bullring in Rossburg, Ohio, will be the site of the first major sanctioned NASCAR event on dirt since 1970. With a starting field of just 30 trucks, an entry list expected to be double that, and the added bonus of a Wednesday night showdown, it’s not hard to find this division’s biggest storyline entering 2013.
It also shouldn’t come as a surprise. Always known for a perfect mix of veterans and young drivers, this series has become the “chemistry test” as the sport looks to mold its long-term future. Last fall, NASCAR VP Steve O’Donnell suggested heat races could be introduced, along with additional short tracks by 2014, as the series looks to recapture the fan base by getting creative with the series that offers arguably NASCAR’s closest competition. Between the “old school” connection to Rockingham, whose 2012 Truck Series event was its first on the NASCAR schedule since 2004, to the “new school” of Mosport, Ontario, bringing trucks past the Canadian border for the first time in history this September (and on a road course, no less), full-time competitors will be faced with the most diverse set of challenges in the sport.
No statement of parity describes the Truck Series better than this little-known fact: In 18 years, there’s never been a repeat champ. Current titleholder James Buescher may not even get the chance, as it’s believed he’ll move up to the Nationwide Series. Even without Buescher, there’s plenty of talent on hand in a diverse set of title challengers (from rookie Jeb Burton to sophomore Ty Dillon to 12-year veteran Matt Crafton) in what’s bound to be a wide-open title chase. Younger drivers could find themselves a part of the fray, too — at least part-time — as new rules, announced late last season, allow drivers as young as 16 to compete on shorter tracks (1.1 miles or less) along with road courses.
Even the most competitive series comes with its share of concerns, though. Most events on the schedule haven’t changed, with only five races in the first three months. That means teams and fans alike will once again struggle to find momentum. As with the Nationwide Series, purse money is so low at some tracks ($6,000-plus for a finish in the 30s) that sponsorship becomes a necessity to survive.
Still, with a healthy TV contract (FOX/SPEED has re-signed through 2022) and after another set of nailbiting finishes in 2012, this series should be thought of as healthier than its Nationwide counterpart. While the title race is undecided, one thing that can be counted on is that Trucks will once again put on the best show. Perhaps it’s race length; maybe it’s drivers looking to make an impression, trying to work their way up the ladder. It could be that truck chassis, less aerodynamic than their “car” counterparts, produce closer competition. Regardless of the cause, know that the Truck Series remains the sport’s hidden gem entering 2013.
Eldora’s about to find out.
—By Beth Lunkenheimer
2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Schedule