It doesn't sound likely that a race driver in his mid fifties, who moved from Kentucky to Florida and sold much of his equipment, who had to have help from a rival crew, and who retired at the end of 2001 ought to be able to come to the Illinois...
It doesn't sound likely that a race driver in his mid fifties, who moved from Kentucky to Florida and sold much of his equipment, who had to have help from a rival crew, and who retired at the end of 2001 ought to be able to come to the Illinois State Fairgrounds and beat the best in the business in a 100-mile dirt track race on a Sunday afternoon, but that's just what Bill Baird did Sunday in the 42nd Allen Crowe Memorial 100. Baird, the 1999 winner of the Crowe 100 and the 1999 ARCA RE/MAX champ scaled back his operation at the end of the 2001 season. Bill, who called Sturgis, Kentucky home came out of retirement briefly in 2002 to run at DuQuoin, got punted into the fence and wadded up the car. He had moved to Florida two years ago and got the itch to race the dirt tracks again last year, but by his own admission failed to get the program together. When summer rolled around the itch returned, Baird put together the car he had remaining and a partial crew made up of former crew members from Kentucky. He qualified the Saturn-Hayes Oil Monte Carlo 12th, made an early pit stop and got stronger as the day went along. Once he moved around Centralia's Joe Cooksey into second, Baird hunted down leader Frank Kimmel and held off the four-time Crowe 100 winner for an extremely popular win.
Winning the Allen Crowe 100 Sunday gave Baird a distinction he may grudgingly accept, at 55 years and 27 days he is the oldest stock car race winner in Illinois State Fair history, and according to the available records in the 94 year history of auto racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, the oldest man ever to visit victory lane in any type of racing automobile at Springfield. Baird was about six months shy of eclipsing the late Dean Roper as the oldest dirt track race winner in ARCA history, and behind the late Iggy Katona as the oldest race winner in ARCA history. Katona won the Daytona ARCA 200 at age 56.
Baird's win broke a four race win streak at Springfield for Kimmel, one of the nicest guys you could ever encounter at the race track. Kidding around with Kimmel before the drivers meeting he was told 300 pounds of sand had been deposited in the trunk of the Advance Auto-Pork Ford. Laughing and looking at the freshly watered race track, Kimmel commented that with "that surface now, I might need it". When asked if he was being modest about not being good on the dirt, having won six of the last 8 ARCA dirt events, he stood by his earlier statement that "he wasn't that good on the dirt". However, it was clear to see that Kimmel really liked racing the dirt tracks and considered them a lot of fun, going so far as saying that he wished the two dirt races were televised so fans across the country could witness the spectacle of full bodied stock cars on the dirt.
Kimmel spoke Sunday morning of the fun that fellow drivers Ken Schrader and Tony Stewart expressed running the dirt at DuQuoin the last few years. He noted that both Schrader and Stewart, dirt track veterans, were as likely to throw the car around on the top of the track as to run on the bottom. Kimmel said he preferred going to the bottom and staying there, though he made numerous passes on the outside on Sunday.
Frank Kimmel remains tied with the late Dean Roper and Bob Keselowski as the only four-time winners of the Crowe 100, but Sunday Kimmel broke a seventeen year old record held by the great Dean Roper when he crossed the line in the lead on lap 76, becoming the all-time lap leader in stock car races held at the Springfield Mile. When Kimmel led on lap 38, he broke a 25 year old record held by Don White for the most career total laps led during the running of the Allen Crowe 100. Frank Kimmel has now led 345 laps in stock car competition at Springfield, all in Allen Crowe 100 and all under ARCA sanction.
Had Kimmel won on Sunday he would have passed the legendary Jack Bowsher for second on the all-time ARCA victory win list, currently both are tied with 54. Bowsher is a three-time ARCA National champ and a two-time (1971-73) winner of the Crowe 100 at Springfield.
Statistically speaking, Baird became the 26th different winner of the Crowe 100 and the 30th different stock car winner at Springfield since 1950. He also became the 11th different man with more than one Allen Crowe 100 triumph to his credit. His 20 laps in the lead move him to 9th on the Allen Crowe 100 lap leader list with 153, and 4th on the ARCA lap leader list at Springfield as well. Baird's second Crowe 100 win is the 27th for a General Motors product, and a record 8th for the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. His win also meant the second for his car number, 52.
A number of records were set on Sunday. Galesburg, Illinois' A.J. Fike became the first central Illinois driver ever to set on the pole position for a stock car race at Springfield. And, Fike's age of 23 meant he became the youngest pole sitter in Allen Crowe 100 history at Springfield. Combining Fike at 23 with the age of Indiana's Josh Allison, 16, the front row was the youngest in Crowe Memorial history. Ironically, starting behind them were 71 year old Red Farmer and the 42 year old Kimmel!
By taking the pole,A.J. was able to give a GM product it's 31st Springfield pole position in the 52 stock car races held on the Springfield Mile since 1950.
Fike's qualifying time of 34.168 (105.362 mph) was the second fastest pole speed in Springfield history, and he covered the opening ten miles of the 100-mile grind in just over 6 minutes, averaging 94 miles an hour. However, ten cautions and the extra laps at the end made this the longest and slowest stock car race in Springfield history, the average speed 66.724 miles an hour and the running time over one hour and thirty six minutes.
Several drivers had very good days at Springfield, one of those was two-time Crowe 100 winner Bobby Bowsher of Springfield, Ohio. A son of legend Jack Bowsher, Bobby returned in 2004 after an absence of several years to run a limited ARCA schedule. Bobby qualified 23rd, then ran in the top 5 before pitting and ended up 7th on the day. For his efforts, he earned the Hoosier Tire Hard Charger award. Another veteran with a good day was 71 year old Red Farmer, back after competing here as a "rookie" in 2002. Farmer qualified third, and outran many men half his age to a fine 5th at the end. His teammate Jason Jarrett had a good finish despite some overheating early on, the car sounded at times as if it had a miss but the Gladiator-Benningan 's Chevy came home in the fourth slot.
Norm Benning had an excellent day, starting 8th and coming on strong at the end for third. Illinois driver Brent Sherman started 18th and ended the day in 6th, while Chicago's Billy Venturini started 13th and finished 8th. Wisconsin's Rick Tackman, once a competitor on the Springfield Mile in a sportsman car, ran Bob Schact's number 75 and got a top ten.
Springfield's Justin Allgaier, the 18 year old who started college Monday, unfortunately missed the "double" when he finished 11th in the Bettenhausen 100 Silver Crown semi-feature Saturday, one place out of the final transfer slot. He was attempting to become the first man since Tom Bigelow in 1989 to make both the dirt car and stock car race at Springfield on the same weekend. Justin made up for Sunday, qualifying a strong 7th and challenging for a top 5 finish when he got caught by Andy Belmont's spin on lap 71 in turn 4. The car suffered extensive body damage and perhaps a little suspension damage, but he soldiered on for tenth. A lot of work lies ahead of the Allgaier team, their Toledo car is nearly ready and they must fix the dirt track machine for the Labor Day event at DuQuoin. Once again Justin will attempt the double, trying to become the first there since Bigelow in 1989. He will have company though in the aforementioned A.J. Fike. Immediately after the Crowe 100 Justin headed for the Bob Wente midget race at Granite City, where he finished 3rd.
Heartbreak loomed for Joe Cooksey, who hauled out his Chevrolet for the Servpro team and qualified fifth. Looking very good early on, Cooksey ran as high as second and was in the top three when he may have gotten together with another car on the lap 100 restart. The left rear tire went flat, and Joe ended the day 12th. Rookie Ryan Howard was fastest in practice and looked very good during the race, but ended 13th one lap down.
In the movie Days of Thunder Robert Duvall (alias Harry Hogg) tells his driver Cole Trickle (alias Tom Cruise) that "he didn't hit you, he rubbed you." "And rubbin' son is racin." Well, there was plenty of rubbin' going on Sunday as evidenced by the ten cautions for 51 laps. In fact it appeared some of the blocking and pushing on the race track could have led to some pretty hot tempers in the cockpits and the pit area before the day ended.
Unfortunately A.J. Fike was a victim of the fence Sunday, he spun in turn 2 on lap 100 and tore up the Chevy of owner Andy Hillenburg. It was hard to tell from the stands if contact precipitated the spin. Hillenburg is very pleased with A.J.'s performance so far and said so in a pre-race interview.
A.J. Henriksen bought the car used by Bob Strait when he drove for Bill Hendren, and both Strait and Hendren were on hand to help out. Also on hand was former Hendren driver Ken Rowley, marking the 30th anniversary of his 1974 USAC Stock Car debut at Springfield. Henriksen was also a victim of the fence, and it appears he is questionable for DuQuoin.
Other victims of the "fence monster" included Charlie Schaefer, Mark Gibson (who appeared to have help), Frog Hall, Andy Belmont and Josh Allison.
Sunday saw a large crowd turnout in beautiful August weather, it was warm but comfortable and not overly humid. Bob Sargent and crew had the mile in excellent condition once again as evidenced by the speeds turned in qualifications.
Steve Sheppard, Jr. of New Berlin won the companion race, the 11th Wynn's Sportsman event. Jeff Leka failed to defend his title as Sheppard was in the car Leka won last year's race in. Five time winner Wes O'Dell came from the back of the pack toward the front but blew an engine in spectacular fashion in front of the grandstand, just past halfway of the 20-mile event.
Several of the ARCA teams loaded up for a test at Chicago before heading home to prepare for Toledo on September 3rd, then the big Labor Day race at DuQuoin on September 6. NASCAR's Ken Schrader has entered the DuQuoin race, a rumors abound about the participation of other NASCAR drivers including defending race winner Tony Stewart.