Illinois State Fairgrounds pre-race notes

USAC Silver Crown Title Up For Grabs as Illinois Drivers Look to Win 47th Bettenhausen 100 The 47th Tony Bettenhausen 100 stands to play a pivotal role in the 2007 K&N Engineering USAC Silver Crown Series championship points battle when ...

USAC Silver Crown Title Up For Grabs as Illinois Drivers Look to Win 47th Bettenhausen 100

The 47th Tony Bettenhausen 100 stands to play a pivotal role in the 2007 K&N Engineering USAC Silver Crown Series championship points battle when the upright championship dirt track machines make their annual trek to the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Saturday August 18. Just 18 points separate the top six drivers as the Silver Crown machines prepare for battle in the Illinois state capitol, the 9th of 14 scheduled races in 2007 and just the second to be contested on the dirt.

Second-generation driver Wayne Reutimann, Jr. of Zephyr Hills, Florida is something of a surprise leader in the USAC Silver Crown title chase leading by just 7 points at press time without the benefit of a victory in 2007. Other drivers currently in the top ten expected at the Illinois State Fairgrounds include defending national champion Bud Keating of Campbell, California (2nd ), who led 44 laps of the Bettenhausen 100 in 2000, Cameron Dodson (3rd) of Greenfield, Indiana who drives for NASCAR star Carl Edwards. Dodson has risen from 8th to the 3rd slot in the last few weeks and looks for his first one mile dirt track start at Springfield. Fourth is Chilean Pablo Donoso driving for A.J. Foyt but he is not expected to rn the dirt tracks, fifth is road racing veteran Tim Barber looking for his first dirt track start

Sixth is a youngster who could become the first Illinois native since Gary Bettenhausen (born Tinley Park, Illinois) in 1983 to capture the USAC Silver Crown Series title. Twenty-six year old A.J. Fike has secured a USAC pavement ride with 1996 Indianapolis 500 winning car owner Ron Hemelgarn and a dirt track ride with father Don Fike in pursuit of a championship. While Fike has never posted a 100-mile dirt track win in USAC competition he has plenty of experience on the dirt miles having qualified for the pole at Springfield in an ARCA stock car in 2004. In fact, Fike is looking to pull double duty once again in championship dirt cars and stock cars at Springfield. Seventh is Darlington winner Aaron Pierce of Indianapolis, with two-time Tony Bettenhausen 100 winner Brian Tyler of Parma, Michigan in 8th, 2001 Bettenhausen winner and USAC Silver Crown champ Paul White 9th while former Springfield pole sitter Jerry Coons is 10th.

Several youngsters who have become regular competitors in USAC 's top three open wheel divisions are also in the hunt for a Bettenhausen 100 trophy as well. Perhaps the leading candidate among those shoes is second-generation driver Ricky Stenhouse of West Memphis, Tennessee as one half of the powerful Tony Stewart Bass Pro Shops team. Stenhouse won the season opener on the half-mile at Manzanita Speedway in Arizona driving for the Edwards operation but moved to the Stewart team when one of the two USAC Silver Crown rides became available. A rookie in the series comes to Springfield with a well funded operation as well as Billy Wease of Noblesville, Indiana has a ride in the Western Speed car, however overseeing that operation and Wease's development is none other than Indy 500 winning car owner Roger Penske who has Wease signed to his driver development program.

Unfortunately for Springfield race fans the chance of a repeat victor went by the wayside in the spring when defending Bettenhausen winner Tracy Hines suffered multiple fractures in a motorcycle accident. Hines had been part of the Tony Stewart operation and his rides went to Ricky Stenhouse when Hines was injured. While Hines recovers from a number of surgeries needed to repair the damage, a number of experienced drivers will be at the ready looking for a Bettenhausen 100 win. Among them is three-time (1997, 1999 and 2003) Bettenhausen 100 winner Dave Darland of Lincoln, Indiana, returning once again at the wheel of the potent Galen Fox owned machine. Darland could face a serious threat for a first time win in the form of Shane Cottle of Kokomo, Indiana. Cottle, driving for owner Larry Contos led several laps at DuQuoin in his rookie campaign of 2006 and is a terror in sprint cars on the Indiana short tracks.

While Cottle may be a terror on the Indiana sprint car scene arguable the best sprint car driver in the country comes to Springfield in search of his first 'big car' victory. Jon Stanbrough of Jamestown, Indiana is rapidly approaching the twenty-five victory total in sprint car competition in 2007 and shows little signs of slowing down at age 39. Stanbrough has run a number of times on the dirt miles and has a front row start at Springfield as a teammate to Dave Darland, however this year he drives for the Baldwin Brothers out of Indianapolis. One other veteran continues to amaze race fans and fellow competitors though he is not yet the oldest driver to make the field at Springfield. Sixty-two year old Johnny Parsons, a three-time pole sitter at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, returns for his 38th year of running dirt track championship machinery as the pilot of a car owned by Benton, Illinois businessman Ricky Nix.

A number of Illinois drivers are expected to come out for the 47th Bettenhausen 100 as well in addition to the aforementioned A.J. Fike and Robinson's Mat Neely. One of those drivers is a former basketball star who stands an excellent chance at becoming the first Illinois native since Gary Bettenhausen in 1983 to win the Tony Bettenhausen 100, while another is a most popular local shoe who last year became the first Springfield, Illinois driver in the 72 year history of national championship racing at the Illinois State Fair to post a major race win on the Springfield Mile.

Levi Jones of Olney, Illinois captured the 2005 USAC National Sprint Car Series crown and was hired by Tony Stewart as part of the Stewart Racing operation for 2006. Jones looked ready to post his first major national championship win when he led 99 laps of the 2006 Hoosier Hundred on the Indiana State Fair mile only to be passed on the last turn of the last lap by teammate and former Springfield track record holder Josh Wise. Jones, a former star guard for the East Richland High School basketball team, returns to Springfield with a car that has a connection to the capitol city as the Maxim chassis run by the team is built right in Springfield!

Springfield has an even stronger connection to the Tony Bettenhausen 100 in the form of hometown driver Justin Allgaier. A veteran of dirt late model, midget and ARCA competition, last year the 21 year old became the first central Illinois winner of the ARCA Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and the first Springfield driver since 1934 to post a major national championship win on the Illinois State Fair mile. Allgaier should return pulling 'double duty', running the Bettenhausen 100 in Ebby Bergfeld' s car while defending his Crowe 100 title the next day in the family owned stock car. Two other Illinois drivers are familiar names across the state, Murphysboro's Randy Bateman is a veteran of sprint car and Silver Crown racing while Dupo's Tim Siner is one of the stars of the Belleville based Powri Midget Car Series.

Word came from the USAC office this week that an entry of hometown driver Donnie beechler was also expected to arrive before Saturday's Bettenhausen 100. Beechler has several starts USAC competition on the Springfield Mile with his best finish before the home folks coming in 1997 when he ended the day third. The 46 year old Beechler has four Indianapolis 500 starts and finished third twice in his 36 Indy Racing League starts. Beechler has five career Silver Crown wins including the Golden State 100 at Sacramento and the prestigious Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Promoter Bob Sargent of Track Enterprises expects a very strong field of cars and drivers for the 73rd national championship 100-mile dirt track race on the Illinois State Fairgrounds dirt track, and the 38th race presented under the USAC Silver Crown Series banner. The 2007 running of the Tony Bettenhausen 100 marks the 47th annual tribute to one of the greatest racing drivers and biggest stars that American auto racing ever produced, and perhaps one of the most famous athletes ever to come from the state of Illinois. The late Melvin Eugene "Tony" Bettenhausen was born September 12, 1916 in Tinley Park, Illinois the son of a farmer and a young man who often settled disputes with his fists earning the nickname "Tony" after heavyweight boxing champ Gene Tunney. Bettenhausen began racing midget cars in the late 1930's and continued that portion of his career after the end of World War II. He entered Indianapolis for the first time after the war and in 1947 won twice on championship circuit, including a September event at Springfield.

Dubbed "Der Panzer" because of his German ancestry and hard charging, tough style Bettenhausen picked up a top ride when he landed the seat in Merle Belanger's famous "Little Blue Jewel" and proceeded to dominate the national championship trail, winning again at Springfield in 1950. Because of a commitment to Lou Moore, the owner of Indy 500 winning cars in 1947, 1948 and 1949 Bettenhausen had to vacate the seat of Belanger's 99 for the 1951 "500". Lee Wallard drove the car to victory at Indianapolis and when Bettenhausen returned to the seat he took out his frustrations on the rest of the competitors, winning half of the 16 races on the 1951 Championship trail including becoming Springfield's first three-time winner and the 1951 National Champion. Its doubtful there was a more popular champion in Springfield's long history.

Bettenhausen scaled back his racing activities over the next few seasons to devote time to his family and his farm in Tinley Park but never lost the dream of winning his beloved Indianapolis 500. Tony returned full time to championship racing in 1958 and became the first man to win a national championship without the aid of a victory. By 1961 he was one of the real veterans in championship racing, but even at age 44 considered a favorite to win any event. Driving for Lindsey Hopkins at Indianapolis he flirted with the magical 150 mile an hour lap, however, unable to say no to a friend he agreed to test drive Chicagoan Paul Russo's roadster as it's handling problems had become a mystery to Russo and his crew. The decision proved tragic as a steering bolt broke at speed sending the car into a series of flips along Indy's main chute killing the popular champion.

Acting quickly the Illinois State Fair board and promoter Jim Kidd put a name to Springfield's 100-mile national championship event and on August 17, 1961 the program bore the solemn black words "Tony Bettenhausen Memorial" The legacy of Tony Bettenhausen's life and racing career became part of the (now) 97 year history of auto racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. While drivers such as Wilbur Shaw, Ted Horn, Jimmy Bryan and Johnny Thomson all won 100-mile championship races at Springfield prior to 1961, names like Hurtubise, Ward, Foyt, Andretti and Unser won Tony Bettenhausen 100 national championship dirt track events. When the USAC Silver Crown series was formed in 1971, names like George Snider, Pancho Carter, Jack Hewitt and seven-time winner Chuck Gurney became part of Bettenhausen lore. The Bettenhausen family continued in motor sports as well, with son's Merle and Tony Jr. competing in various forms of USAC competition while eldest son Gary scored four USAC titles and emotional victories at Springfield in 1978 and 1983 in his father's memorial event.

It is a 73-year tradition and history of upright, open cockpit dirt track racing that returns to Springfield, Illinois on August 18 to carry on the memory of the late Tony Bettenhausen in the 47th installment of his memorial event. Practice for the USAC Silver Crown contingent is slated for 9 am. with qualifications at 10:25 and a last chance event scheduled for around noon. The 47th Tony Bettenhausen 100 is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. The ARCA Lincoln Welders Truck Series returns in 2007 to share the last Saturday of the Illinois State Fair with the Silver Crown cars.

Tickets can be obtained by calling Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200, the Illinois State Fair Box Office at 217-782-1979 or at any Ticketmaster outlet. Additional information can be found at www.trackenterprises.com, www.usacracing.com or www.agr.state.il.us/isf.

-credit: isf

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Series USAC
Drivers Tony Stewart , Dave Darland , Tracy Hines , Jack Hewitt , Brian Tyler , Carl Edwards , A.J. Fike , Johnny Parsons , Levi Jones , Paul White , Tim Barber , Aaron Pierce , Pancho Carter , Jerry Coons , Josh Wise , Jon Stanbrough , Pablo Donoso , Wayne Reutimann , Billy Wease , Tim Siner , Shane Cottle , Justin Allgaier , Tony Bettenhausen , Randy Bateman , A.J. Foyt