Earl Baltes, who built the half-mile Ohio oval in 1954 and grew the track into a short-track racing juggernaut before selling it to Tony Stewart following the 2004 season, died Monday morning at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. He was 93 years old.
The track was originally built as a quarter-mile, but grew to its longstanding half-mile configuration in 1958.
The phenomenal growth of Eldora can be traced to a few key races. The debut of USAC sprints in 1962; the inaugural World 100 in 1971; and Earl’s decision to host the World of Outlaws sprint cars — a concept as new and shaky as a chick nudging out of its shell — in 1978. Those three dates, and the way in which Earl promoted them to the racing community, are what brought travelers from far and wide to Eldora.
It wasn’t an easy road for Earl and Berneice Baltes. They forged their success not with glitz and glamor, but with sweat and worry. Earl was a certified workaholic, with the desire and ability to take on a schedule that would crush most men. Eventually he added other tracks to his workload: Dayton, New Bremen, Salem, Millstream, Mansfield and others.
Eventually the other tracks were ceded away to someone else and Earl held onto Eldora. He steadily built it up, adding seats, paying bigger purses, attracting people from a wider circle. In due course he earned great recognition. He is considered one of the most accomplished promoters in the history of motorsports.
In addition to the World 100, which remains a fixture on the Eldora Speedway schedule, Baltes created the Kings Royal sprint car race, the 4-Crown Nationals and the Dirt Late Model Dream, which pays $100,000 to the winner each year and paid $1 million to Donnie Moran in 2001 when Baltes promoted the first $1 million to win short-track race known as the Eldora Million.
“Earl was the yardstick other track promoters measured themselves by," said Tony Stewart. “He constantly raised the bar, and he did it by creating events everyone else was afraid to promote. He did them himself, too. Not as a fair board, or a public company, or with major sponsors or millions of dollars in TV money. He put it all on the line with the support of his family. He and his wife, Berneice, created a happening at Eldora. They turned Eldora into more than just a racetrack. They made it a place to be. They were integral to the evolution of dirt-track racing and the sport as a whole. Earl will be missed, but he won’t ever be forgotten because of his devotion to auto racing."
He is survived by Berneice, his wife of 67 years; daughter, Starr, and her husband, Joe Schmitmeyer; son, Terry, and his wife, Dee; beloved sister, Susie Barga, and six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.