Max Gresham is accustomed to getting dirty. The Georgia native would rather be getting stuck in the mud on a four wheeler or baiting a hook and casting a line, than anywhere else. However, getting dirty while racing in his No. 8 Made in USA Brand (MIUSA) Chevrolet Silverado in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) will be a new experience for him. The opportunity to throw big globs of muddy earth up in the air in a competitive tribute to the rich history of dirt racing is reason enough for Gresham to get dirty.
Gresham will transition to dirt track racing with his No. 8 Eddie Sharp Racing (ESR) team on Wednesday, July 24 for the The CarCash Mudsummer Classic presented by CNBC Prime's The Profit at the Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Don't blink, because anything can happen at any time. It is all part of the inherent challenges of short-track dirt racing. Gresham is ready for the dirt and mud to fly as he prepares for the clay oval for the 75-mile main event.
When Gresham reached out to fellow NASCAR drivers for tips on racing on dirt, he quickly realized acquiring such skill can only be learned on the track. So the Milner, Georgia, native shifted his attention to driving at several local short tracks.
"You can get some helpful hints, but the only way to really get a feel for it is to get out and do it," Gresham said as he prepared for Wednesday night's inaugural event at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway. "It's definitely different than anything a lot of us are used to doing."
NASCAR will return to the dirt for the first time since 1970 when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series makes a unique mid-week appearance at the half-mile track that's 54 miles northwest of Dayton. For many drivers, including Gresham, it will be their first race off pavement.
"While there are some things that don't change whether you're on asphalt or dirt, other things are dramatically different," Gresham said. "You still want balance in your truck so you have good corner exit speeds because you know the truck's going to do a lot of sliding in the corners. In fact there's a real talent to making the truck jump left as you enter the corners. If it happens on asphalt, it's disastrous. But on dirt, it's the fastest way around the track."
Gresham got his first taste of dirt racing in January testing in a Late Model at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, N.C. A month later, he arrived early for the season-opening race at the Daytona International Speedway in February to drive at Volusia Speedway Park in nearby Barberville.
He also has tested his Eddie Sharp Racing truck at Wythe Raceway in Wytheville, Va. Jared Landers, who is ranked seventh nationally in the current Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, will be Gresham's teammate at Eldora Speedway. They worked together during the test at Wythe.
Wednesday's race, which will be televised by SPEED, will be a homecoming for crew chief Chris Showalter. He grew up in Amherst, Ohio, and worked with legendary short-track racer Butch Miller for years before moving to the truck series for its inaugural season in 1995.
The CashCar Midsummer Classic will be Showalter's 499th career start as a crewman or crew chief in the truck series.
"There always has been a great passion for racing in Ohio," Showalter said. "Dirt racing is really big, especially at Eldora. It's always been one of the premier short tracks in the country. That's why it's been around for 60 years. When Tony (Stewart) bought it several years ago, he really took dirt-track racing to a new level. I'm really happy and proud to be part of Wednesday's race."
Although this is Gresham's first race on dirt, it is not the first dirt event for Eddie Sharp Racing. The team has competed in the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) Racing Series at both the Illinois State Fairgrounds and the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. So the challenges on the dirt will not throw a curve ball at Eddie Sharp Racing as the team has years of experience.
Gresham knows he did all that he could do to get ready for his first race on dirt. He asked a lot of questions and, most importantly, drove enough laps to figure things out for himself. He is confident he is prepared for his debut on dirt.