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Dirt, fast cars and the 'Bad Boy'

'Dirt in your beer'

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Dirt track fans say they love the close-up action of the races.

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ROSSBURG, Ohio (CNN) -- Chances are if you know who Scott Bloomquist is, you have spent a weekend night wearing ear plugs, covering your mouth with a rag and getting doused with mud.

"Bad Boy" Bloomquist, as he's known, is about the best there is when it comes to driving a race car on dirt. He's won more than 400 races in his career, but because he has never, and will never, race in NASCAR, he's not well-known outside the dirt track community.

But that's just fine with him. He finds NASCAR boring, and driving at tracks with names like Dixie Speedway, Paducah International Raceway and Stateline Speedway keeps him plenty busy.

There are races nearly every weekend at many of the 800 tracks in 49 states. More than 30 million people love the ability to be near the swirling action. (Watch fast cars whirl through mud -- 6:42)

"It's so close," said Tim Lee, editor of Dirt Late Model Magazine. "Any seat in the house, you're on top of the action. Dirt flying in the air. There's dirt in your beer, dirt in your hamburger. It's in your face."

Tires spin, mud flies

Dirt tracks are a far cry from the asphalt super speedways where the 3,400-pound rockets of NASCAR compete on television for millions of dollars. The last-place car at the Daytona 500 won $269,000. The winner of one of the most prestigious late model races in dirt tracking, the World 100, will pocket $39,000.

A dirt late model is the kind of car Bloomquist drives. It weighs only 2,200 pounds and often has more horsepower than a Nextel Cup stock car. Dirt late models hit speeds up to 140 mph as they roar around half-mile ovals where traction is a challenge.

"I can't believe we're going that fast sometimes," said Josh Richards, known as "Kid Rocket."

Tony Stewart, who has won two championships in NASCAR's top division, grew up on dirt tracks and occasionally leaves the asphalt to race.

"Being on a dirt track a lot of times is like being on a gravel road," Stewart said. "If you go just a little bit too fast the car's going to slide. If you hit the gas too hard, it spins the tires or kicks the rocks up. If you try to stop too fast, you skid, you lock up the brakes. That's what makes driving on dirt more technical."

Stewart said he's always been partial to dirt racing. (Watch the NASCAR champion tell why he loves dirt -- 1:03)

"I make my living driving on pavement every week," he said. "But for a driver that likes change, I really think that dirt racing is ... where my passion has always been."

Bloomquist, a three-time winner of the World 100, is a California native whose family settled in the hills of eastern Tennessee. His dad was intent on helping his son grow his racing career.

The brash driver is the most loved and most hated driver at every track.

His mother is amazed by her son's sponsorships and by the number of people who buy his T-shirts and hats.

"We didn't know it was ever going to get this big," Georgie Bloomquist said. "Dirt wasn't this big back then. It was just a hobby, something fun to go do."

Rolling in the dirt

To some NASCAR is the pot of racing gold, but to others it's too corporate.

"I'd rather stay in dirt anyway. It's a lot more easygoing," Chub Frank said. "You don't have to put on a certain face."

A lot of NASCAR drivers are beholden to their sponsors, he said. The drivers he knows act differently when they are in front the TV cameras.

"They have to be [that way] for their sponsors, and for NASCAR, they have to be a certain way," he said.

Stewart agreed. He said he was lucky because his primary sponsor, Home Depot, lets him buck the system.

"I can get away with not shaving. I could get away with blue jeans and T-shirts," he said. " But a lot of the drivers [can't]."

At sponsor appearances his comrades wear slacks and nice shirts, but when they join him at a dirt track it's ball caps, shorts and untucked T-shirts.

In 2004, Stewart, a multimillionaire thanks to his success in Nextel Cup racing, bought Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, home to the World 100.

Fans come from about every state to fill the seats and hillsides for the big race. For them it's a two-day party of loud drinking and loud engines.

"Dirt track racing is Americana; it's grassroots," said Doc Lehman, a journalist who has covered dirt track racing for years. "Blue collar and all across the United States."

One fan said he got hit in the face by a big rock at his first race, which caused one of his cheeks to swell.

"It was a great time," the man exclaimed.

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