AP Auto Racing Writer
(AP) - NASCAR will go back to the dirt for the first time since 1970 when the Truck Series visits Eldora Speedway in Ohio.
The July 24 event at the Tony Stewart-owned track in Rossburg will be a lead-in to the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races later that weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion, believed the Wednesday night race would attract drivers from all three NASCAR national levels and maybe even other series.
"Younger drivers and veterans from the World of Outlaws, late models, USAC drivers that will have an opportunity to land rides for that race ... Wednesday night at that time of the year is normally a pretty free night," Stewart said. "It gives us an opportunity to get guys in there that don't normally have that chance."
The deal to race at Eldora was announced Wednesday as part of next season's 22-race schedule, which will also include the series' first international stop. The Camping World Truck Series will visit Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Ontario in September. It will be the first road-course track for the series since 2000, and ensure a NASCAR national series presence in Canada for a seventh consecutive season.
"It's very important that we maintain our national series presence in Canada," said NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations Steve O'Donnell. "We've accomplished that goal while also bringing a world-class venue like Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on board. The Canadian fan base is so passionate and has a high regard for NASCAR."
The Eldora race has long been rumored, but a deal could not be put together until safety experts from the University of Nebraska visited the track Monday to determine if SAFER barriers needed to be installed. Although it was decided that the track needs some minor modifications to the inside walls, actual soft walls will not be installed.
"We are going to be making changes to the exits and entrances to the pit areas," Stewart said. "That's stuff we already started looking at. With the university's help, they're helping us make that even better than what we had planned. There will be some changes structural inside the track, but all for the safety obviously. I was pretty surprised and pleased of the report that we got from them.
"We had our heads held up after they left. We felt the few things they asked us to change really gave us a lot of confidence that what we have been doing there has been done well."
The format of the race is undecided, and it could include heat races.
"We are looking at how races are competed at dirt tracks historically with heat races or last chance races," O'Donnell said. "As Tony said, we think we're going to have huge interest, not only from the series, but young up and coming dirt racers, veteran dirt racers. We think it will be a pretty compelling format. It will be a points race on the schedule, but probably some different variables included in the event."
Stewart and Austin Dillon participated in an October compatibility test to determine if the trucks were a fit at Eldora, and Stewart said Wednesday that rain had made the conditions less than favorable. But aside from removing the splitter from the trucks, Stewart said there were no issues.
At the time, Stewart believed it was just a test. But because it went so well, he quickly determined he had a real shot at landing a race at his speedway.
"I didn't actually honestly believe that it was going to gain the momentum that it had," he said. "Obviously, this year when the discussions came up again, the interest was there, I was definitely pleased and caught off guard by it for sure. But definitely at that point, realizing that everyone at NASCAR was genuinely interested in doing it, it was something we put the full court press on."
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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