“If I sell one more hotdog I might break even” – Earl Baltes.
What can be said about Earl Baltes that hasn’t been said in the past 90 years? Born April 27, 1921, Baltes had the ability to re-invent himself and work in some self promotion to become a master at the art of promoting races. Working as a local bandleader at the end of the ballroom dance era, Baltes switched hats and became a race promoter with no previous racing experience to his credit.
Seemingly taking notes from another promoting expert, Bill Veeck, who once owned the Ohio based Cleveland Indians baseball team and was known for his outlandish promotions, Baltes tried his own wild promotional deals.
Building Eldora Speedway in 1943, Baltes claimed that he had “stumbled onto a race at New Bremen Speedway and was impressed by the big, enthusiastic crowd.” He decided to build his own track. Earl was no stranger to owning businesses. Two years prior to building the racetrack, Baltes had purchased the Eldora Ballroom which hosted weekly dances and musical performances. As the racetrack became more successful, he cut back the operations at the ballroom.
Baltes masterminded bringing some of the most popular sanctioning bodies of the time to the track. USAC Sprint Cars came to the track for the first time in 1962 and became the favorite venue for the series. In 1965, He promoted the first Eldora 500 that featured 33 sprint cars running for 500 laps around the half mile track.
500 laps in the open wheel sprinters was a tough race and lasted only three years before Baltes pulled the plug on the endurance race. By this time he was already promoting several other tracks in addition to his chief duties at Eldora Speedway.
In the 1970’s, Baltes brought out the endurance race theme back to the forefront when he introduced the inaugural World 100 for late models with an unheard of purse of $4,000 to win. This is often considered the beginning of the modern dirt late model racing.
It was Baltes that recognized the potential of the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars and booked several events for the new series at his Eldora Track. From that moment on, Eldora has remained a key venue on the World of Outlaws circuit.
Never one to miss a promotional opportunity, Baltes held the “Eldora Million” in 2001. Offering a one million prize to the winner, Late Model Star Donnie Moran went on to become the winner and was instantly dubbed “The Million Dollar Man.”
Looking to retire from race promoting and track ownership, Baltes sold the track that he had cared for over the past 50 years. Seeking a new owner that would care for the track in the same manner, he sold the entire operation to racing star Tony Stewart.
Baltes and his wife Berneice retired a short distance from the track where they could keep a watchful eye on things. Upon his retirement the state of Ohio honored Baltes by renaming Hwy. 118 “Earl Baltes Highway” from Ansonia to the South to St. Henry to the North.
The dirt track racing community owes Earl and Berneice a debt of gratitude for all they have done for the sport. Join us by wishing Earl Baltes a very Happy 90th Birthday.
~ Salvador Dali