Macon, IL (February 6, 2001) -- Tradition, History, Celebrity, Competition-words used to describe the automobile races held every year during the State of Illinois two annual fairs, the Illinois State fair and the DuQuoin State Fair. The 2002 year...
Macon, IL (February 6, 2001) -- Tradition, History, Celebrity, Competition-words used to describe the automobile races held every year during the State of Illinois two annual fairs, the Illinois State fair and the DuQuoin State Fair. The 2002 year promises to be no exception, as the schedules for the major sanctioning bodies, the United States Auto Club and the Automobile Racing Club of America include both venues on their upcoming slates.
The 150th annual Illinois State Fair should be an unprecendented extravaganza, celebrating the susquentennial of one of the oldest state fairs in the nation. The last weekend of the fair ends with the traditional auto racing weekend, when the stars and cars of USAC and ARCA roll into town.
On Saturday, August 17 the ninety-six inch wheelbase, long-tailed fire breathing championship dirt track machines of the USAC Silver Crown Series take to the one-mile gumbo oval at Springfield for the 42nd annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100. The 100-mile classic is a continuing tribute to the late Tinley Park, Illnois great, a two-time National Champion who became the first three-time championship race winner in State Fair history, and lost his life in a 1961 practice accident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Last year's Bettenhausen Memorial drew increased interest last year, in the entry list (48), from the media and at the turnstyle, as it marked the debut of Anthony Joseph Foyt IV, grandson of four-time Indy and Bettenhausen winner A.J. Foyt. "SuperTex" himself was on the grounds as Grand Marshal of the event, and crew chief for young Anthony, but the day as crew chief ended on a sour note as the throttle stuck on Anthony's car, sending it into the third turn wall on his second qualifying lap. Ironically, young A.J.'s first lap would have been ninth at the time, and sixteenth overall, the exact same starting position held by his famous grandfather in his championship racing debut in the same race, forty-four years earlier. In another twist of fate, Texan Paul White became the first Lone Star resident to take the Bettenhausen 100 trophy in thirty years, the lst being none other than A.J. Foyt himself. White, young Foyt, former winner Jack Hewitt, Johnny Parsons, Tracy Hines, Bud Kaeding and a host of USAC stars are expected to return for the 2002 event.
On August 18, the full fendered stock cars of the ARCA RE/MAX Series take over the track for the 40th annual PAR-A-DICE Allen Crowe Memorial 100, accompanied by the Wynn's Sportsman Nationals. The 100-mile dirt track grind is also a tribute event, named in honor of Springfield's own Allen Crowe, a midget, sprint, and championship racer who was climbing the ladder to stardom when his life was cut short in a New Bremen, Ohio sprint car crash in 1963.
The 2001 Crowe Memorial helped propel ARCA National Champion Frank Kimmel to his second consecutive ARCA crown behind the wheel of the Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet. Kimmel dominated the event, capturing the pole position and leading 92 of the 100 circuits on the way to his second consecutive Crowe triumph. Mokena, Illinois' Bob Strait finished second, the best finish ever in the event by an Illinois resident. The event also marked the dirt track debut of Jason Jarrett, son of Winston Cup champ Dale Jarrett, and grandson of NASCAR champ Ned Jarrett. Jason had a fine day, starting second and finishing 3rd.
Unfortunately, the day was marred by the passing of Springfield's Grand Champion, Dean Roper. Roper, age 62 of Fair Grove, Missouri, was the all-time leader in stock car victories on the Illinois State Fair mile with seven, four of them in the Allen Crowe Memorial alone. He was also a three-time USAC Stock Car Champion, and the oldest race winner in DuQuoin State Fair history when he won the Southern Illinois 100 in 1994 at age 55.
Roper was attempting to become the oldest race winner in ARCA history, qualifying tenth for his long-time car owners the Mueller Brothers of Random Lake, Wisconsin. Roper was running tenth on lap 17 when his car veered suddenly left into the frontstretch wall, and then impacted the end of the pit wall at the pit exit. Roper was pulled unconscious from the car, and it was later determined that he had suffered a fatal heart attack prior to impacting the wall.
Kimmel, Jarrett, Strait, many ARCA stars and a whole host of Illinois and local drivers are expected to enter the 2002 Crowe Memorial event.
The Wynn's Sportsman Nationals traditionally accompany the ARCA cars on the last day of the Illinois State Fair, and in 2001 Jeff Leka scored an emotional win in the 20 lap event for car owner "Jungle" Jim Davidson, himself a former racer and owner of a local restaurant.
Two weeks later the one-mile dirt track action moves three hours to the south, where in the coal belt of Illinois a one-mile clay oval was carved by Bill Hayes in 1947, as the DuQuoin State Fair plays host to the USAC and ARCA series. The picturesque fairgrounds was remodeled in the last few years, new seating, a MUSCO lighting system, and most importantly a new concrete retaining wall were added to the 54 year-old racing facility. A switch in dates by promoter Bob Sargent in 2001 moved the Horn Memorial for the USAC Silver Crown cars to Sunday afternoon, and the ARCA Stock Cars to Labor Day. The swap allowed for two huge crowds, and the appearance of three NASCAR celebrities in the Southern Illinois 100.
Last year's 51st running of the Ted Horn Memorial featured a strong entry list of 45 machines and Springfield winner Paul White. Ten drivers prior had swept both the Bettenhausen Memorial and the Horn Memorial in the same year, the last being Chuck Gurney in 1996.
Jerry Coons took his first mile dirt track pole position with a lap just off the track record, but it was J.J. Yeley who took the lead and led for 76 circuits before the magneto let go. During his time on the track, Yeley was turning laps well under the track record and over 120 miles an hour.
Darland inherited the lead late in the event, and appeared headed to victory, but a late race caution allowed the 14th starting Paul White to close on his back bumper and send the event over the 100-mile distance. The extra laps drained the fuel tank dry on Darland's Galen Fox owned Beast, and on the restart his car sputtered, with he and White getting together, and Darland testing the first turn wall. White went onto the win, and in doing so took over $18,000 in prize money between Springfield and DuQuoin.
White and Darland are expected to renew their rivalry in the 52nd Horn Memorial in 2002, with Yeley, Hewitt, and a strong field of rookies on the grounds on Sunday, September 1.
On Labor Day, the stock cars of ARCA roll in for the Southern Illinois 100 as live national television from the Speedchannel returns to the DuQuoin State Fair for the first time in a number of years. Records are sketchy, but it appears the last televised event at DuQuoin was the 1979 Horn Memorial, broadcast by NBC Sports and won by Bill Vukovich.
Last year's Southern Illinois 100 was one of the most talked about events in the quad state area, and drew national attention from ESPN and the Fox Network. The entries of NASCAR and local favorite Ken Schrader, plus Winston Cup owner Andy Petree and NASCAR superstar Tony Stewart drew a near sellout crowd, estimated at between 13,000 and 15,000 patrons, the largest crowd at DuQuoin in some twenty five years.
Stewart did not disappoint the throng, smashing Ben Hess' nine year-old track record and leading the first several laps. An on track incident with Bob Strait, and some overheating problems forced Stewart to make several pit stops, but at the end of the event he was challenging teammate Frank Kimmel for the win. In one of the most thrilling finishes in DuQuoin history, Kimmel beat Stewart to the checker by barely a car length.
Schrader has already announced that the DuQuoin event will be part of his 2002 schedule, and he will likely be joined by defending ARCA champ Frank Kimmel, Centralia native Joe Cooksey, and perhaps Sturgis, Kentucky driver and former ARCA champ Bill Baird, not to mention dirt track specialist Billy Thomas. It is possible that Tony Stewart and Andy Petree could return, as both expressed a desire to return to DuQuoin this year. There are several other Winston Cup drivers whose names are being floated around as being interested in running the Southern Illinois 100, so a large field and a sellout crowd is anticipated.
The UMP Modifieds traditionally join the last weekend at DuQuoin, with the heat races run on Sunday, and the semi and 20-mile Bill Oldani Memorial run on Monday. Last year's race was nothing short of spectacular, a heavy cushion on Monday allowed the modifieds to run like the dirt champ cars of the sixties, and Missouri's Brian Collins bested fellow Show-Me stater Kevin Gundaker in the main event.
Another mile dirt track event in the works is a late model-modified event on the DuQuoin Mile, slated for early May. The event is tentatively slated for May 19th, and is still being finalized. The event may be run in the late afternoon, and may be the first to test the new MUSCO lighting system at the Fairgrounds. Last year, the DuQuoin mile hosted a UMP Summernational event for both classes, and Billy Moyer became one of the few men in auto racing history who has posted wins on the 3 dirt miles of the Midwest, Springfield, DuQuoin, and the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Closing the racing action on the fairgound race tracks of Illinois will be the 11th annual Illinois Fall Nationals for UMP Late Models and Modifieds at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, on Sunday September 15th. The "Decatur Invader" Shannon Babb became the first Central Illinois driver to win the 40-mile, $12,000 to win late model event in it's history. Babb was also the first Central Illinois pilot to win the late model feature event in the history of the Fall Nationals. Sam Burgtorf of Quincy won a hard fought 20-mile modified race, took the $2000 top prize and promptly retired in victory lane!
Babb is expected to return, along with teammate and former winner Billy Moyer, Ed Dixon, Brian Birkhofer and Gary Webb for the 2002 event.
Tickets and information can be obtained by calling Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200, or on the world wide web at www.trackenterprises.com.