Eldora Speedway Founder, Earl Baltes, Celebrates 90th Birthday
by Bobby Kimbrough on April 27, 2011
“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.
Earl Baltes makes his famous 'if I could sell just one more hotdog' quote at the 1998 World 100. (photo by Larry Reese)
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.
Earl and Berneice Baltes dance at Thursday night party before the 1991 World 100 weekend. This picture was taken after Berneice surprised Earl with a dancing girl that jumped out of a cake. (photo by Harry Dunn)
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.
'Preacher Pancho' Carter marries a set of apes in a Earl Baltes promotional stunt performed at the 1975 season finale. (photo by Rick Lane)
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.
Earl working the track in 1986. (Photo by Ted Van Pelt)
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.
Earl Baltes repairs the catch fence on Saturday afternoon of the 1996 World 100 weekend after a wreck damaged it on Friday night. (Photo by Micheal Shultz)
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.