The Only Other Winner of the Eldora Million
Reflects on the Race That Defined His Career
ROSSBURG, Ohio, June 6 — At one point or another, most people dream about what it would be like to win a million dollars. That dream will become a reality for the dirt late model driver who wins the “Eldora Million” on Thursday, June 9 at one of the nation’s most historic short tracks, Eldora Speedway.
It’ll actually be even better than that, because this year’s Eldora Million will pay $1,002,022 to the winner.
What is it really like to win a million dollars? We asked that question to Donnie Moran, who is known as the “Million Dollar Man” for winning the Eldora Million at Eldora Speedway more than 20 years ago, in 2001. It was the defining achievement not only for him but also for the track promoter, the late Earl Baltes. Until the current Eldora Speedway promoter, Tony Stewart, surpasses it on June 9, that race was by far the richest dirt-track late model race in history and one of the richest races in the world.
All those years ago, what did Moran think when he first heard that he had the chance to compete in a $1-million-to-win race?
“I thought it would be cool to win it,” said Moran, who is based in Dresden, Ohio. “That was my first impression.”
He brought a brand-new car and engine and his best equipment to the race.
“We built a brand-new C.J. Rayburn car for that race, and Charlie Fisher built a brand-new engine for it,” he said. “We worked hard to have 100 percent of our equipment in top shape.”
It was all hands on deck, too.
“My sister and brother-in-law retired in 1996, and we were a good team,” Moran continued. “I had a top-notch team in 2001 too, but I hired them back for two weeks of work to help us. I said they could get paid for their work or they could get a percentage if we won, and they took the percentage,” he added with a smile.
“Charlie Fisher built us a great engine,” he continued. “He actually also built Jac Haudenschild’s engine when Jac won the Mopar Million for sprint cars, which had a million-dollar purse. That’s why I think he should be inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame for his engine work. He’s unbelievable. He still lives on the west side of Columbus. His niece is Sarah Fisher, who raced at Indy.”
It often takes a couple races to get everything sorted out with brand-new race cars. That wasn’t the case with this one, though.
“I was confident in our car, and that we would have no problems with it,” Moran said. “Everything was the same as the car I had been running, except everything was all new.”
The pressure of being in such a big race might have gotten to some drivers, but Moran took it in stride. “We did as much preparation as we could, but I just took it like another race,” he said. “I never raced for the money; the money was just a bonus.”
Moran said when he thinks about the 2001 Eldora Million, he also thinks about his wife and the birth of their fifth child.
“My wife had some complications with the pregnancy a few weeks before the race, and the doctors advised her not to go,” he remembers. She didn’t want to miss the race, so the couple checked on hospitals around Eldora to see where they would go in case she had any further problems.
The excitement of seeing her husband win a million dollars could have started contractions, but luckily everything worked out fine.
“I took the checkered flag, and then I had to go through inspection,” Moran said. “When it hit me that I had really won was when I was on the podium and I got to give her a hug. That was a magic moment that I’ll never forget the rest of my life. She had watched most of the race sitting on the ground I think, but she came through fine. We had our daughter, Savannah, a few days later. The race was the 9th and Savannah was born on the 14th. Today she works for Tony Stewart at Eldora as one of the trophy girls.
“It was just through the kindness of Earl Baltes’ heart that we had the opportunity to win a million dollars,” he added. “Earl wanted to give that opportunity to the dirt late model racers.”
How did he spend the money?
“It kept me racing for quite a few years, and paid off some bills,” he said. “I was basically a self-funded team, so it really helped.”
Moran says he still has his winning car. “It’s setting in my shop,” he said. “After that race, it’s never been on another track.”
Today Moran runs a driving school at the Muskingum County Speedway in Zanesville, Ohio. His father owns the track, and Donnie is the promoter. They don’t run weekly, but hold special events there. Donnie’s son, Devin, is a driver now and he will be entered in the Eldora Million this week in the Tye Twarog Racing No. 9.
“I go watch Devin race, and also watch my other children when they have special activities,” Moran said. “All my children help with the racetrack when they are available. It’s a family deal.”
And of course all the Morans are hoping that winning big prizes will run in the family June 9 at Eldora.
The Eldora Million is part of an action-packed four days at Eldora, which is located at 13929 State Route 118, New Weston, Ohio, near Rossburg. The action starts Wednesday, June 8 with a full program on Eldora Million qualifying night, including $12,000-to-win Twin 25 features. The Eldora Million paying $1,002,022 to win the feature is Thursday, June 9. Another full program including two more $12,000-to-win features is on tap Friday, June 10. Heats, B-features and the $128,000-to-win, 28th running of the Dirt Late Model Dream race is Saturday, June 11.
Tickets, schedules, entry lists , camping information and other information are available on the track website at eldoraspeedway.com. The speedway office phone number during normal business hours is (937) 338-3815.
Additionally, fans and teams can get behind-the-scenes access by following @EldoraSpeedway on Twitter, hitting ‘Like’ at Facebook.com/EldoraSpeedway and viewing video highlights at YouTube.com/EldoraSpeedwayInc. Mobile device users can access the Eldora Speedway app for the iPhone, iPad and Android, which is available for download via iTunes and Google Play.