DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A dirt track driver from Pennsylvania heard about the fancy new paved track being built not far from his home. He was curious, and made it a point to attend the track’s inaugural race night on June 21, 2002.
“I was there on opening night,” Eric McCray said, recalling how the new generation facility named Lake Erie Speedway, a .375-mile paved oval near North East, Pa., drew him in.
“I thought to myself that I’d love to race there someday. If I get the chance, I will,” he recalled.
Lake Erie Speedway’s overall facility is one of several “super short tracks” built in the era. It took a few seasons to catch on, but when it did the fans had every reason to keep coming back.
McCray, 36, of Corry, Pa., was racing at a New York dirt track in 2002. He finally got his chance to compete at Lake Erie five years later. Since then, he has won championships in two of the three divisions he has competed. He’s presently racing for his second Lake Erie Speedway Modified division championship against the very man who suggested he become a regular there.
McCray is also a professional mechanic and works for the City of Corry, Pa. He honed his mechanical skills by graduating from the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima in 1996. He completed the two-year Auto and Diesel Program in 13 months. He lived near the university during the week and worked on weekends back home in Pennsylvania.
McCray’s 2012 racing record to date is one win, five top-fives and seven top-10s in eight starts. He’s ranked 84th in current NASCAR Finalist Division II paved track standings.
The NASCAR Finalist Division program recognizes drivers who compete in support divisions at NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks. With “Division I” being each track’s top division, the NASCAR Finalist Division line-up at each track highlights drivers competing in their second, third, fourth and fifth tier divisions. A NASCAR-licensed driver’s best 14 finishes are counted toward their final point total for the year. Points are kept separately for dirt and asphalt tracks.
Paved track NASCAR Finalist Division leaders this week include Division II Zack Clifton, Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Division III Scott Sundeen, Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway; Division IV Ken Cassidy Jr., Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl; and Division V Jack Purcell, Raceway Park in Shakopee, Minn., and Elko (Minn.) Speedway.
NASCAR Finalist Division leaders on dirt tracks this week include Division II Chuck Schutz Jr., Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa.; Division III Craig Whitmoyer, Grandview; Division IV Jeffrey Jones, Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa, and I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb.; and Division V Jeremy Auten, Adams County.
A racer on a budget, McCray got his chance to get acquainted with Lake Erie Speedway as a driver when the track hosted an Enduro race in 2006.
“We built a car in a week and won with it,” McCray said. “One of the Lake Erie regulars Dave McAvoy told me he thought I should be racing there every week. I was winning about 50 percent of the Enduros I entered and used the money to get a Compact division front wheel drive car.”
“Pavement racing was completely different to me but Lake Erie Speedway fit my style,” McCray said.
Despite missing several early season races, McCray won the track’s 2006 Compact division championship and rookie-of-the-year award.
“The track had a champion’s program at the time to help drivers move up a division,” McCray said. “They gave me a track-owned Street Stock for a year so I moved up in 2007. I treated that car like it was my own.”
He finished fourth the division’s point race, won another good paying Enduro and scrimped enough savings to buy a Modified.
“Some friends let me hot-lap their Modified to help me make up my mind. It took me two laps to know that’s what I wanted to drive,” McCray said.
He’s been in the division since 2008. He won the 2009 championship, placed third in points in 2010, and placed second to McAvoy in last year’s point race. McAvoy leads McCray in this week’s track standings.
For the most part, McCray, his wife Julie and their young sons Wesley and Drake, both Bandolero drivers, are their own crew. Bandolero driving brothers Donald and Daniel Buell share shop space in a barn.
McCray’s sponsors include Snyder’s NAPA Auto Parts, Lictus Keystone Inc., and RGS Products Inc.