FTE Goes Raptoring with Tony Stewart at Eldora Speedway
NASCAR Cup champ shows us how to go fast at the famous track.
The sound was definitely not good. Considering that we were just flying through the air in a 2017 Ford Raptor, we immediately thought we had broken the truck.
“Damn,” we muttered as we turned off the ignition and climbed out.
Ford Truck Enthusiasts recently spent an afternoon checking out the Raptor at the world-famous Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Ford invited us there to hoon some pickup trucks and check out the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. It was hot and humid, which didn’t help the sinking feeling we had in our stomach about what happened to the truck.
After a few minutes of investigating and noting that everything was intact, a rescue Raptor came up to make sure we were okay and see what happened. Piloting that truck was none other than former NASCAR Cup series driver and owner of the facility, Tony Stewart. It’s at that moment we realized that this was no usual afternoon.
Accompanying him was Ford Performance director Dave Pericak. He and Stewart are friends, and they tell us that this whole NASCAR/Raptor day was a result of a night of the pair sitting around talking and thinking, You know what would be cool?
Now the only concern the two guys had was if we were okay. “Yes,” we replied.
“Where’s the truck?” one of them asks.
We pointed to where we had left it.
A few minutes later an engineer determines that it’s most likely just a stone or rock that got lodged somewhere and had broken free. The truck was back in business with no actual damage caused. It’s hard to break a Raptor, and, of course, we were relieved that we weren’t the one who did.
It was obvious at the track that Stewart enjoyed the Raptor. Every time he got back from taking someone around the off-road course, he’d be laughing like a kid.
Everyone already knows that the Raptor is an amazing pickup truck with loads of capability. Through a partnership with Ford Performance, Stewart uses those trucks at the track, and they were even the pace truck for the big race. That led to Stewart buying his own personal Raptor the moment after he had a chance to drive one.
“The suspension is what makes the truck so good,” says Stewart. He is referring to the Fox Racing shocks at all four corners of the Raptor. Their tuning adds so much control and confidence to the truck in any driving situation. Stewart says he is fond of the ride quality both on and off road.
It was very obvious during our time at the track that Stewart enjoyed the Raptor. Every time he got back from taking someone around the off-road course at speeds the average person wouldn’t attempt, he’d be laughing like a kid. In fact, everyone felt that way after driving the Raptor that day. It’s an expensive toy, but it’s a toy that can bring so much delight. Can you really put a price on that?
After we were sure the truck was okay and we finished getting our kicks on the makeshift off-road course, we drove into the infield at Eldora and set up for one of the coolest things ever: getting to drive the epic dirt track.
With Stewart watching, we powered out of the pits and into the first corner. “Drive within your limits,” was the only rule given. We were in Baja Mode.
The Raptor is an expensive toy, but it’s a toy that can bring so much delight. Can you really put a price on that?
Once you get past the fact you’re driving on one of the most-famous tracks in the country, especially for dirt-track racers, you start to focus on your line. Building speed is easy in the Raptor but we quickly figured out that Baja Mode isn’t the right setting.
We return to the pits and talk with Stewart and Pericak. “It has too much grip,” we tell Stewart.
“Put it in Sport mode,” he suggests. Where Baja Mode is four-wheel drive, Sport mode is just rear-wheel drive with better throttle response. Sure, it might not have the anti-lag of the Baja setting, but a little bit of rotation would help.
Immediately, we could tell the difference. The truck turned into the corners faster and easier. Lifting before a turn caused the back end to rotate out, pointing the nose of the truck towards the apex almost telepathically. The traction control light was blinking, but at no point did it feel like it was slowing us down or cutting us, it was just preventing the truck from getting away from us.
The KO2s provide copious amounts of grip with little complaining and the suspension feels just right to keep the truck planted but not upsetting the momentum. We were quickly smitten all over again with this truck, and we are still in awe of how good it is.
Of course, we couldn’t go to Eldora and not have “Smoke” himself take us around. In Sport mode with the traction control completely off, Stewart was dive-bombing each corner and getting the truck sideways around each one. All the while he was grinning from ear-to-ear. Maybe it’s just blowing off some steam after a stressful week making sure his NASCAR race went off without a hitch, but he was clearly having a blast.
From the passenger seat, Stewart was clearly one with the truck. Everything was so smooth, and even when the truck started to get a bit away from him, he quickly caught it and brought everything back under control. It’s obvious he’s a dirt track pro, but combine man and truck and you have a lethal combination. We weren’t keeping track of his times but we wouldn’t be surprised if he was nearly on pace with the prepared trucks that raced the night before.
Ultimately what’s truly impressive about the Raptor is that immediately following this event, we drove 150 miles home in the same truck that Stewart had been stomping on all day in air conditioned comfort without a care in the world. It can take a beating but still make sure you get home.
There are very few cars, especially off-road trucks, that can make a similar claim.
— Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) July 20, 2017
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