2021 World 100 at Eldora Speedway

Remembering The First World 100 At Eldora

Remembering The First World 100 At Eldora

A look back at the inaugural running of the World 100 at Eldora Speedway in 1971.

Sep 2, 2021 by Bob Markos
Remembering The First World 100 At Eldora

In the Beginning, God created the World, and he made the skies and the heavens above. He made the oceans and the seas and the rivers. And he said: “This is good”.

Yet once there was no World ... There was no single place for the Dirt Late Model racers to meet and do battle at the end of each regular season. ... There was nowhere for America’s dirt bowl fanatics to gather to watch their heroes go for the gold. ... There was nothing on the horizon for these broad-sliding soil specialists to look forward to.

Followers of the sport realized something desperately had to be done.

Into the chasm stepped promotional wizard Earl Baltes. During an era when many major dirt tracks were throwing in the towel and laying down the hard stuff because of dust and maintenance issues, Baltes hung tough. He had turned his Eldora Speedway, just up the road from the sleepy little Ohio community of Rossburg, into a magical haven for dirt track enthusiasts with successful USAC sprint and open-competition Late Model action on its schedule.

Baltes also understood the full-fendered dirt boys needed somewhere to romp in the fall. In 1971, he decided the time was ripe for a major end of the season dirt championship race and that his Eldora half-mile would be just the ticket for such a venture.

But what should this crown jewel be called? There was already an Ohio State Championship, a Tri-State Championship and even a U.S. Dirt Championship. So what would be more appropriate for the biggest dirt stock car race than a world championship race? Then let it be named — the World 100.

The first Sunday in October would serve as the ideal date as Indian Summer in central Ohio was in full bloom and most of the Midwestern tracks had concluded the regular season. This would give “The Earl” a vast number of eager drivers to draw from for his World. The posted $4,000 winner's prize wouldn’t hurt, either. A record number of entries was anticipated.

So the stage was set, nearly 50 years ago, on Oct. 3, 1971. The dream of a truly lucrative season-ending Dirt Late Model race had finally become reality. When the gates swung open and fans poured in, there was enough electricity that day to power all of Darke County.

The event drew 122 race cars (including 54 support division claim stocks) towed from all directions to roll down Highway 118 and onto the Eldora grounds. A fine field of 68 Late Model all came in quest of the same goal: To head home that evening with $4,000 of Earl Baltes’ cash for being crowned the inaugural World 100 champion.

As qualifications concluded, 1970 Eldora track champ Chick Hale of Lewisburg, Ohio, who had been competing at the Big E since Day One, was quickest, guiding the Woodbury Welding Chevelle around the high banks in 20.20 seconds. Second quick was Milford, Ohio’s Bruce Gould motoring the Stricker Auto Parts Ford Torino, a Jack Bowsher-built and Grand National-legal entry.

Other top dogs put their cars in the show:

• The nation’s winningest driver on dirt in 1971 with 51 feature victories, Paul “Butterball” Wooldridge, manning the all-aluminum block Duncan’s Delight Chevelle.

• The famed “Evans City Flash”, Bob Wearing from Pennsylvania with 29 season victories on the tough Tri-State area circuit to his credit at the controls of George Leon’s 8-Ball 1966 Chevelle.

• The “Fairborn Flyer” Larry Moore, who totaled 38 feature victories that season across the Midwest on both asphalt and dirt surfaces behind the wheel of the Don Thompson Excavating 1971 Monte Carlo.

• And Ralph Latham, the 1970 champion at Tri-County Speedway near Cincinnati, Ohio, piloting the potent Morgan Chandler-Luther McDonald Chevelle.

Only the top 20 qualifiers that afternoon would line up for America’s first Dirt Late Model crown jewel, leaving an array of talented drivers as spectators.

Alternates set to fill in if any of the chosen 20 would miss the call were Michigan short-track masters Art Sommers, Gary Fedewa, Bob Senneker and Marv Parenteau along with Pennsylvania dirt legend Herb Scott.

Following preliminaries and a 20-lap semifeature captured by Dayton, Ohio’s Dick Eder, World 100 participants lined up on pit road, anxious to do battle and chase the big payday. With the top six for the main inverted, Quaker State star Wearing was on the pole inside Chuck McWilliams, the 1968-69 Tri-County Speedway champ, as they led a star-studded field.

With the pack coming around for the initial green, a false start occurred. Bellevue, Ohio’s Jim Fleming, who captured Eldora's 100-lap championship one month earlier, bounced off the frontstretch guardrail, eliminating himself from the run. Wolverine hotshoe Art Sommers, with 18 feature wins and the Mount Clemens (Mich.) Raceway season title under his belt, gunned his car off pit road to join the field as first alternate.

As the green was unfurled the second time, things went much smoother and McWilliams in his Jerry Valance-owned Chevelle blasted around polesitter Wearing and into the lead. McWilliams began to pull away, masterfully driving around the Big E’s high banks while showing plenty of power in his Chevrolet big block.

With big Chuck on the point the racing back in the pack was fast and furious with plenty of competitive passing. Tri-County champ Larry Moore was moving up quickly when he spun between turns one and two. He recovered, but nearly lost a lap. Multiple-time Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway champion Earl Smith was making a run from deep in the field to roll the Cliff Polking Chevelle up to fourth in a hurry. Asphalt specialist Joe Ruttman of Dearborn, Mich., starting from 19th in a Stan Yee-owned Chevrolet, powered his way into the top 10.

On lap 16, Smith’s sprint to the front came to an abrupt end in the event's worst accident when 21-year old Rodney Combs dropped a driveshaft from the Jim Stall Chevelle in turn three. Smith, a 21-year racing veteran, ran over the errant driveshaft, turning his machine sideways and in the process was T-boned by Sommers. This triggered a multicar crash involving Moore, Latham, Jay Wyatt in the Hoot Gibson Ford, Billy Teegarden in Frank Ruth’s Chevrolet, Wayne Watercutter in the Ward Racing Chevelle and Ohio runner Carl Poole.

Smith was taken to nearby Coldwater Mercy Hospital and treated for broken ribs and a fractured hip and wrist. The Richmond, Ind., native, who raced out of Georgia later in his lengthy career, called it his worst accident in in more than 60 years behind the wheel. “I was rolling along pretty good there and then I ran over Rodney’s driveshaft,” Smith recalled. “It vaulted me into the air and when I came down I got clobbered. I broke a bunch of ribs and cracked a few other things.”

The melee eliminated any hopes for the highly favored Latham and Moore. Latham parked his Chevelle for the afternoon after running over debris and breaking his car's frame. Moore pitted for repairs in the Thompson Monte Carlo and lost several laps, returning to finish eighth.

“Doggone it” said Moore, who chose to race at Eldora over the Dri-Powr 400 the same afternoon in Winchester, Ind. “I’ve raced here for years without tearing up a car and this year I won once and tore up the car four times. I should’ve gone to Winchester.”

Following the mayhem, only a dozen cars were set to continue. On the restart McWilliams continued to rule. Gould, who hadn’t begun his racing program until mid-June because of injuries suffered in an early-season garage mishap, pushed his No. 427 Ford into the runner-up slot and took up the task of chasing the high-flying McWilliams. Gould would later reveal that his hard-compound right-rear tire took about 40 laps or so before it became hot enough for the proper bite.

At the halfway point, disaster struck for McWilliams, dramatically changing the event's complexion. A lower radiator hose let loose on his Chevy heading through turns three and four, resulting in a rendezvous with the outside guardrail and taking what appeared to be a sure victory from his grasp. It was a tough pill for the Walton, Ky., driver to swallow.

“Something didn’t feel right going into the second turn,” McWilliams said. “Then it seemed to straighten out down the backstretch … then she popped and it was all over.”

To add insult to injury, fellow racer Bob Senneker, who failed to crack the starting lineup, was clocking the leader pitside and told McWilliams afterward that his laps were getting faster as the race progressed. What was initially a letdown for McWilliams later grew into utter disappointment with the World 100's growth in stature over the years.

With the heartbroken McWilliams pitside, Gould inherited the top spot with quick-timer Chick Hale now providing his chief competition. Hale would continue to pressure the leader until the 72nd lap when his Darrell Woodbury-owned overheated.

“Lost all the water from the radiator,” Hale said. “I was going good, too. I was working over Gould real well, about ready to take him. Oh well at least I got $200 for fast time.”

From there to the checkereds, Gould and his mighty Henry J would roll home into history books. His crew gave him the slowdown signal, yet Joe Ruttman was closing fast. Ruttman had continued the drive of the day by placing his machine in second position and challenging the winner in the final laps, finishing in the bridesmaid role directly on Gould’s bumper after starting in the 10th row.

“Stan (Yee) had probably the best dirt car there was at that time,” recalled Ruttman, the younger brother of 1952's Indy 500 winner. “I was an asphalt racer then and just being around all those great dirt racers I realized right then I was way out of my element. But when the track turned all black and hard, it rode like pavement and I went like a sumbitch and very definitely could have won the darn thing, but I got second.”

Gould, a regular that season at Tri-County Speedway, had won a big race at Eldora a few years earlier, yet had very little luck at Earl’s place on his occasional visits there until his monumental World 100 moment.

George Branscom, a top runner at both Ohio's Atomic and Salt Creek Valley speedways, finished third while Kentuckians Wooldridge and Joe Greenslate, the Southern Ohio Speedway champ, rounded out the top five.

“I was never in any serious trouble during the race,” the smiling 31-year-old winner said later. “It ran a little hot in the beginning but it cooled down and then I started to relax. I was running 11-inch tires while the others ran 15-inchers. To run the 15s, we’d have to cut out our wheel wells and we didn’t want to do that because our car is legal for USAC racing without the wheels cut out.”

Years later, the first World 100 winner called it “my biggest win ever. Of all the hardware I’ve collected over my racing career, that World trophy is the one we polish the most.”

Bruce Gould would move on to ARCA new car racing and was ARCA Rookie of the Year in 1973, capturing 16 victories. He died in 2008 at the age of 68 and was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame the following year. His treasured first World 100 trophy was generously donated to the Hall by his family, where it is kept on display.

The World 100, of course, became an institution, Dirt Late Model racing's most prestigious event. It’s as much an American tradition as fireworks on the Fourth of July. It remains a gathering of the clans, the country’s grassroots racers and the traveling pros doing battle for the highest honor. A victory in the World means more than just monetary gain. It means national distinction as dirt racers high and low would give anything to have a win in the fall classic on their resume.

Yet very few enjoying that Indian summer afternoon way back in 1971 realized they'd witnessed history in the making — the birth of the biggest of all Dirt Late Model events.

And when he saw what his World 100 had become, Earl Baltes said: “This is good. This is very good.”