Tidbits from the Tony Bettehausen 100 at the Illinois State Fair If the conversation between Gary Bettenhausen told Billy Vukovich III at DuQuoin 20 years ago is true, then Cole White became a man Saturday when he led all 100 miles of the 49th...
Tidbits from the Tony Bettehausen 100 at the Illinois State Fair
If the conversation between Gary Bettenhausen told Billy Vukovich III at DuQuoin 20 years ago is true, then Cole White became a man Saturday when he led all 100 miles of the 49th Tony Bettenhausen 100 USAC Silver Crown race at the Illinois State Fair on Saturday. Whitt earned the pole position by virtue of a new invert procedure implemented Saturday morning then proceeded to out run USAC stalwarts Jon Stanbrough and Levi Jones to the checkered flag. By the way, Bettenhausen allegedly told Billy III that the dirt miles were where the men were separated from the boys.
At 18 years and 2 months, Whitt became the youngest winner of a championship race in the 75-year history of such competition on the Springfield Mile besting a record set by Ricky Stenhouse in 2007. Youth was not only served at the Illinois State Fairgrounds over the weekend, youth put a hurt to the fast and treacherous Springfield Mile as Whitt won the dirt car race Saturday and 19-year-old Parker Kligerman took the stock car event Sunday. It appears Whitt is the youngest winner of any major national championship event at Springfield in the 99-year history of competitive auto racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Whitt became the first driver in 30 years to capture his first USAC Silver Crown victory on the Springfield Mile, joining A.J. Foyt (1971), Larry Rice (1977), Gary Bettenhausen (1978), and Bobby Olivero (1979).
Whitt also became the 16th driver to win from the first starting position and the 16th driver to lead all 100-miles. The 18 year old became the first rookie to start from the first slot since Josh Wise in 2005 and the 13th overall, more amazingly he became just the 5th rookie to win a 100-mile championship race at Springfield and the first in over 46 years, the last being Rodger Ward in a June 1953 event. This means that Cole Whitt is the first rookie to win the Tony Bettenhausen Memorial event which assumed the mantle in August of 1961. He is also the 46th different driver to win a 100-mile dirt car race at Springfield and the 26th different winner in 49 editions of the Tony Bettenhausen 100.
If his youth and skill weren't enough, Cole Whitt had some extra special help Saturday. Owner Keith Kunz had the Eagle chassis set to perfection and this writer remarked to Whitt that his line and style resembled that of 7-time Bettenhausen winner Chuck Gurney. Whitt remarked that while he had not gotten tips from Gurney, a fellow Californian, he did have former Gurney car owner and crew chief Junior Kurtz helping with the car for the day.
Eight drivers bested the 120-mile an hour barrier Saturday with A.J. Fike narrowly missing a new track record with a lap of 29.618, (121.548). Fike's lap was the second best fast time in 75 years at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, however with the invert he was relegated to start 6th. Fike ended the day 4th after a spirited duel with Levi Jones in the late stages of the event.
To be technical 7 drivers were actually over 120 miles an hour, Shane Hollingsworth will get credit for a lap right at 120 though it was announced his actual speed was slightly less than 120 as the time taken out to 4 places was slightly over the 30 second barrier, however officially his lap was a 30 second flat clocking.
Jon Stanbrough finished a career best second at the Illinois State Fair as he took the 2006 Tony Bettenhausen 100 winning Beast to the runner up slot for Terry Riggs and the Indiana Underground Construction team. In fact, Stanbrough was the only driver able to keep Whitt in sight the last 25 miles.
Toyota, which won 2 100-mile dirt track races last year, had nothing but trouble Saturday. A cracked oil fitting sent Brian Tyler to the sidelines before the one-quarter mark. Despite the spewing smoke and the obvious oil spray on the right side of the machine Tyler was on the move in the Fatheadz Beast-Toyota and had climbed into the top 3 when the oil leak became to problematic to deal with. Teammate Kody Swanson also lost an engine after some right front suspension damage, apparently in a shunt that saw another Toyota powered driver, defending national champ Jerry Coons hit the turn two wall. And, Coons' teammate Shane Hmiel, after impressing many with his prowess on the dirt, was an early out.
Veterans Dave Darland and Russ Gamester continue their climb atop the leader board for career starts at Springfield, each made start number 18 and Darland's winnings push him over the $50,000 mark in career earnings at the Illinois State Fair. Darland also made his 17th consecutive start in championship machinery at Springfield, just one behind the legendary A.J. Foyt.
Two-time USAC Silver Crown champ Bud Kaeding had perhaps the best drive through the pack starting 22nd and finishing 7th in his quest for a third USAC national crown. Kaeding seems to be plagued by bad luck in securing a starting position when he hits the Illinois dirt miles, in 7 starts at Springfield he has started 14th or worse 4 times, yet has 5 top ten finishes to his credit.
As usual Illinois drivers help draw fans and their day was a mixed bag of results. Fike set fast time and finished 4th while Springfield's own Donnie Beechler started l5th and had moved to 5th before the engine expired on lap 76. Olney's Levi Jones qualified 4th and finished third, Champaign's Patrick Bruns qualified 23rd and finished 15th while Murphysboro's Randy Bateman broke in practice and he failed to start the 100-mile main event. Powri midget regular Zach Daum of Pocahontas started 16th and finished 12th on the lead lap, while Decatur's Terry Babb made a return to the series and qualified 17th and finished 18th. Lincoln's John Barrick also made a return and ran 25th.
Rookies other than Whitt in the field included Daum, Missouri's Eric Todd who ran 14th, Tennessee driver Justin Carver running for Carl Edwards, Hmiel, and Rex Norris III. Norris ran a car formerly entered by Ebby Bergfeld for Justin Allgaier, and the car is the former Bowen machine driven by Eric Gordon and Tony Elliot.
It appears the hometown Eagle chassis, the creation of former driver Jerry Russell, got its first win on the home turf courtesy of Cole Whitt. The other hometown chassis, a Maxim, won with Ricky Stenhouse in 2007.
Chevrolet tied Offy for the most wins at Springfield with 32 on Saturday, Hoosier tire shod machines picked up a 7th victory in the Bettenhausen 100.
Twenty-seven cars practiced Saturday with 28 alleged to be on the grounds, an increase of 4 entries from a year ago though 32 were expected. The Contos 4 was supposed to be on the grounds with no driver but the car was never seen. The Baldwin 5 was a no show with alleged engine difficulties. The Urish 77 was perhaps the most heart breaking no show as the family home was severely damaged in a tornado that struck northern Sangamon and southern Logan County Wednesday. Joey Moughan of Springfield was supposed to have a ride in the Baker 155 but neither driver nor car materialized, nor did Bill Rose and the Lesko 98 that started on the front row at Indy in May.