Notes from the ARCA-Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fair The Springfield Mile on the Illinois State Fairgrounds can be an intimidating and harsh mistress and usually the old adage that old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill ...
Notes from the ARCA-Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fair
The Springfield Mile on the Illinois State Fairgrounds can be an intimidating and harsh mistress and usually the old adage that old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill applies to her fast gumbo surface. Not so this past weekend. Saturday Cole Whitt became the youngest championship race winner in Illinois State Fair history at 18 years and 2 months, while Sunday Parker Kligerman at 19 years and 15 days became the youngest stock car race winner in Illinois State Fair history when he captured the ARCA Allen Crowe 100. Throw in 23-year-old Justin Lofton as the Menard's-Ansell pole winner and new track record holder Justin Lofton and 23-year-old Patrick Sheltra who finished third in the 100-miler and Springfield's dirt was certainly conquered by a new generation of Americans.
Kligerman had never seen a one-mile dirt track prior to Springfield but showed he was not intimidated as he set quick time in practice near the end of the one hour session. At times he looked as cool as any veteran out there biding his time and keeping the car out of harms way. At one point he stumbled coming off turn four and it appeared the car might have been in trouble but the youngster kept going and in a daring pass of leader Lofton on lap 89, secured a lead he would never relinquish. It appears this is the first ever 100-mile dirt track victory for a Roger Penske backed driver adding one more accolade to the already stellar resume of the 'Captain".
Not so fortunate was fellow Cunningham Motorsports driver Mark Gibson who crashed with Craig Goess on the main chute on a lap 57 restart and the car was heavily damaged, with the driver uninjured but quite dejected. Gibson came out of semi-retirement to don the helmet for the two dirt races he loves so much and had an excellent chance to run at the front on Sunday.
An excellent job of track prep by Bob Sargent and crew Friday and Saturday led to a blazing fast track on Sunday, assisted by unseasonably cool temperatures and fall like weather. Temps in the 60's in the morning gave way to only the upper 70's late in the afternoon. Sargent and crew spread liquid calcium on the track Saturday after the USAC Bettenhausen 100 and ran the track in Sunday morning, leaving much of the rubber from the day before. What was once thought impossible became probable one qualifying began and Lofton who drew the 6 pill for time trials put up a 32.552 mark and smashing the 110-mile an hour barrier in the process. Lofton knocked .3 off the track record set by Frank Kimmel the previous year and in the process set another new world's record for a stock car on a one mile dirt track, further cementing Springfield's reputation as the 'World's Fastest Mile Dirt track'.
Kimmel looked tough in the early going and it looked like his 'Dean Roper strategy' of pitting early was going to pay off with victory number 8 at Springfield. However, Frank slid high going into turn one trying to lap a slower car on lap and Lofton, who had been pressuring Kimmel for several miles, seized the opportunity and went for the lead on lap 70. The two rubbed fenders and Lofton came away with the lead much to the delight of a large portion of a sizeable crowd. Not long after Kimmel pitted on a caution as the tires were blistered from the hectic pace.
Speaking of pace, it sure looked as if the 100-mile track record would finally fall. Lofton ran a 35.36 opening lap and completed the first ten in about 5:40. The first 25 were completed in about 17 minutes and the first 50 in a little over 34 minutes, thanks to two minor cautions. The second half was plagued by six more cautions all for wall contact and while several cars sustained major damage, all the drivers walked away unhurt.
Local drivers had mixed results Sunday, just like Saturday. A.J. Pike of Galesburg duplicated his Saturday run with a fourth place finish Sunday. Fenton, Missouri favorite Ken Schrader started 8th and finished a strong 7th, Centralia's Joe Cooksey came back after an two year absence and ran 11th with Springfield's Kelly Kovski 12th. Mark Littleton of Arenzville finished 18th on the lead lap. Benton's Kyle Chady hit the turn 3 wall on lap 71 and his day was done, Dale Shearer of Chillicothe, Missouri hammered the turn 3 wall on lap 50 and his day ended on the hook.
Local owners Brad Hill of West Frankfort and Bill Hendren of Normal had frustrating days. Hill's driver Eddie Pearson ran strong early on until a flat tire pushed him back in the pack, and later contact further damaged the car. An axle came loose putting him to the sidelines on lap 83. Hendren brought former Springfield pole winner Damon Lusk to the capitol but a problem in practice caused Lusk to use a provisional position, starting 37th Damon moved into the top 20 but got caught in the sandwich from the Gibson-Goess contact and went to the pits. The same accident took out the other double duty shoe, Brian Tyler who had Doug Stringer's Chevy up to third at one point.
Ron Cox of Tennessee is another lover of the one mile dirt tracks and desperately wants a win, he returned Sunday and ran a strong second to Kligerman despite losing part of the rear body panel in turn one early in the going.
Rookies Steve Arpin, Will Kimmel and Robb Brent all drew interest and ran well in their first Springfield dirt track start. Arpin desperately wanted to run the dirt as he has extensive modified experience on the clay and despite losing his Eddie Sharp ride finished 5th after securing a ride with Billy Venturini. Kimmel, the nephew of the 7 time winner, ran in the top ten much of the day and wound up an impressive 8th in his first mile dirt track run leading one to believe a second member of the Kimmel family might end up taking the Allen Crowe trophy one day. Robb Brent filled the seat of the Allgaier Motorsports machine and ran a creditable 13th.
Speaking of Allgaier, Justin himself was on the grounds Sunday morning and helped not only Brent but fellow Penske driver Kligerman as well. Apparently Allgaier's advice helped as Kligerman won and Brent finished on the lead lap, Justin got perhaps the biggest ovation of the day when introduced by long time announcer Jim Childers.
Two other former drivers were spotted as well, Springfield's Rich Hayes always has a smile and a handshake while Kenny Rowley was walking around the pit area after undergoing a lung transplant and is said to be doing very well.
ARCA has one more dirt track date at the beautiful DuQuoin State Fairgrounds on Labor Day. Entries have already started to roll in and it should be noted at this point in time that Venturini Motorsports has two cars entered, both with the driver TBA. Arpin may be slated for one. NASCAR has a Sunday night event at Atlanta freeing up anyone who wanted to come run the ARCA event at DuQuoin on Monday. Hmmmmmm