DuQuoin Labor Day preview

Marion, IL -The 79th annual DuQuoin State Fair continues to provide top notch auto racing as part of it’s grandstand entertainment package in the year 2001, and this year’s races promise to be as exciting as ever. The presentation of...

Marion, IL -The 79th annual DuQuoin State Fair continues to provide top notch auto racing as part of it’s grandstand entertainment package in the year 2001, and this year’s races promise to be as exciting as ever. The presentation of auto racing on the "Magic Mile" continues a tradition that dates back to 1947, and further solidifies DuQuoin’s place in American racing history.

Promoter Bob Sargent, head of Track Enterprises, Inc. has changed the traditional lineup, which will allow several stars the opportunity to compete at the DuQuoin track. Ticket sales for the race weekend have increased and seats are going at a fast clip.

Part of the reason that sales are up is the racing appearance of members of the NASCAR community. Ken Schrader, driver of the MB2 M&M Pontiac in the Winston Cup Series was the first to announce his intent to compete in the Federated Auto Parts-Southern Illinois 100. the latest entries for the Automobile Club of America RE/MAX stock car event are Winston Cup star Tony Stewart driver of the Home Depot Pontiac, and owner Andy Petree, chief of the Oakwood Homes Chevy of Joe Nemecheck and the Square D Chevy of Bobby Hamilton. The addition of these stars adds to an already stellar lineup.

Leading off the weekend will be the 51st Ted Horn Memorial presented by the Southern Illinoisan for the USAC Silver Bullet championship dirt cars, with veterans such as Jack Hewitt, Johnny Parsons, and Tony Elliot battling young guns such as J.J. Yeley, Tracy Hines, and Ed Carpenter. Also slated to make his second dirt car start is A.J. Foyt IV, grandson of six-time DuQuoin winner and racing legend A.J. Foyt.

Both events continue a racing tradition at DuQuoin that has made the "Magic Mile" a part of U.S. racing history and a favorite stop of fans and competitors. The park-like setting combined with the fair atmosphere and the unique flavor of auto racing on a one-mile dirt track is unlike any other racing venue in the world. DuQuoin is currently one of four mile dirt tracks in the nation still in operation, three of which are in the Midwest, and only one of two that still present full-bodied stock car racing on it’s surface.

DuQuoin’s foray into big-time auto racing began shortly after World War II. The DuQuoin State Fair had been in operation over 20 years, with a half-mile dirt track and small grandstand hosting harness racing and a few auto racing events prior to the War. It was Bill Hayes’ vision that started the DuQuoin State Fair, and after the war it was his dream to construct a new race track and grandstand. Hayes’ was certain that a new facility would attract not only the finest horses and drivers in the world, but the best cars and drivers as well.

Construction on the new track began on the southeast side of the grounds, a one-mile dirt track was laid out and the original grandstand had seating for 7,500 people. The new facility opened in late 1947, and Jimmy Wilburn won the first auto race on the "Magic Mile", a 25-mile event for sprint cars and sanctioned by the Central States Racing Association.

The American Automobile Association was the major auto racing sanctioning body in the United States from 1900 until 1955. AAA sanctioned major open wheel events in the U.S., including championship cars and the Indianapolis 500, plus midgets and sprint cars. Board tracks sprung up during the 1920’s for the championship machines, but quickly faded due to deterioration of the surfaces. When AAA looked for other venues for the Indy-style machines, their attention turned to the mile dirt tracks that were placed on many fairgrounds throughout the country. By 1947, 100-mile events were being conducted at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Syracuse, New York, and the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. It was Hayes desire to join the other fair sites presenting national championship racing.

In 1948 DuQuoin had beautiful and state of the art facility. An infield lake, trees, boiler plate retaining wall and hub rail, and concrete and steel grandstand greeted AAA officials when they came to inspect the grounds. DuQuoin presented such potential that the sanctioning body awarded not one, but two national championship races, the first to be held during the fair in September, the latter in October of 1948.

The great Rex Mays won the pole for that first event before a crowd of nearly 20,000 fans, but it was future Indy 500 winner Lee Wallard who took the 100-mile event in the Iddings Special. When the cars returned for the October race, a national champion had been crowned, but would lose his life before days end.

Ted Horn was one of the best racers ever to sit behind the wheel of an open cockpit machine, and a fine engineer and car constructor. His sprint car "Baby" was a legend on the half-mile tracks across the country, and his championship machine known as "Beauty" had propelled him to his third consecutive AAA National Championship. Horn was perhaps the best driver who never won the Indy 500, between 1936 and 1948 he never finished lower than 4th in the great race! With the title in hand, there was little left for Ted to prove when he rolled into DuQuoin that morning.

Horn was a meticulous preparer of cars, however, he decided that "Beauty’s" worn front spindles had at least one more race in them. A superstitious man, he never shaved on race mornings, abhorred the color green, and raced with two pennies in one shoe, and a dime in the other. Things were different this October day, his new bride had on a green dress race morning, and Ted shaved shortly after he arose

The weather was somewhat questionable this day, a threat of rain lingered in the air and the track was heavy, but the moisture in the coulds held off and the action began. Horn started fourth, behind Mays who won his second consecutive DuQuoin pole. As the cars entered turn four on the 4th circuit, a gasp went up from the large crowd as the car with the number 1 painted on the tail began a series of flips, striking another car. Ted Horn was removed from the track, and passed away a short time later at Marshall Browning Hopsital in DuQuoin. When his shoes were removed, all they found was one thin dime.

The Hayes family decided to honor the great veteran by christening the championship race the "Ted Horn Memorial", with Tony Bettenhausen taking the first event. Midgets were added to the fair card in 1949, and future "500" winner Johnnie Parsons took the 100-mile event.

Midgets continued to be part of the action on and off until the late 1970’s. Some of the best drivers in the country participated in and won events, including Tony Bettenhausen, Bob Tattersall, Mel Kenyon, Parsons son Johnny, Jimmy Caruthers and Jack Turner. Races varied in length, from 100-mile events to twin 50’s held during the‘ 70’s.

Sprint cars also became part of the fair’s racing program, with the second event held in 1954, and sporadically continuing until 1963. Races were won by such names as Indy winner Bob Sweikert, A.J. Foyt, and Pat O’Connor. Sprint car racing was revived in the July of 1971, but discontinued a year later when Don Jackson was fatally injured on the mile.

While the championship cars were the main draw at the fair, stock cars were added in 1950. NASCAR was in it’s infancy, but stock cars had replaced midgets in popularity in the post war racing boom. AAA was eager to cash in on the craze, and started it’s own stock car division in 1950, DuQuoin being one of 5 events held. Jay Frank of Los Angeles dominated the event in an Oldsmobile "Rocket 88", leading all 100 miles on Labor Day of 1950. The stock cars would not return until 1954.

The 1950 Ted Horn Memorial was cancelled due to rain, but Bettenhausen came back to claim both races scheduled in 1951, one a 200-mile event called at halfway due to rain. During the remainder of the decade, drivers such as Jimmy Bryan, Chuck Stevenson, Sam Hanks and Rodger Ward all posted champ car wins. Don O’Dell’s Packard rolled into victory lane when the stock cars returned in 1954, and the next year one of Karl Kiekhaffer’s Chrysler 300’s claimed the top spot with legendary Frank Mundy at the wheel. Jerry Unser, Marshall Teague and Chicago’s "Golden Boy" Fred Lorenzen also posted wins in hardtops during the decade, while Jimmy Bryan became the first driver to win a champ car and stock car race at DuQuoin with his 1957 stock car win.

While 1954 saw sprint cars, stock cars, and champ cars as part of the entertainment, it was perhaps the darkest year in DuQuoin State Fair racing history. On lap 83 of the Ted Horn Memorial, Rodger Ward lost control of his machine on the front stretch, slamming into the pit area and injuring several people. Killed in the melee was popular chief mechanic Clay Smith of the J.C. Agajanian operation.

AAA Faded out of auto racing after the 1955 season, leaving a void that was shortly filled by the fledgling United States Auto Club. USAC picked up sanctions of the championship, sprint, midget and stock car machinery and led growth in those divisions heading into the 1960’s.

The 1960’s may have been the greatest decade in American racing history, and part of that history included the races at the DuQuoin State Fair. A.J. Foyt posted four consecutive championship car wins from 1960 to 1964, including his first ever champ car win in 1960. The 1962 Horn was lost to rain, and Champaign’s Don Branson finally broke the Foyt hold in 1965. Bud Tinglestad was a surprise victor on dirt in 1966, while Foyt reclaimed the top spot in 1967. Mario Andretti won his first DuQuoin while chasing Bobby Unser for the national title in 1968, and Al Unser took the 1969 event.

The stock car races of the 1960’s were exciting and a great prelude to the next day champ car events, with many champ car drivers pulling double duty. Norm Nelson began the decade with the first of his four Southern Illinois 100 victories in 1960, follwed by two consecutive wins for Paul Goldsmith, who repeated again in 1965. "Pelican" Joe Leonard, a former motorcycle champion, was a surprise winner in 1964, with USAC’s Don White winning twice in’ 66 and’ 68. Foyt joined Jimmy Bryan as a winner of the Horn Memorial and the Southern Illinois 100 with his win in Jack Bowsher’s Don Wagner Torino in 1969.

Auto Racing was billed as the "Sport of the Seventies", but racing at DuQuoin in the‘ 70’s began with considerable anxiety. The new Ontario Motor Speedway’s Labor Day weekend date threatened the existence of championship car racing during the DuQuoin State Fair, and there was word that dirt tracks wouldn’t be on the championship schedule in the future. USAC addressed those concerns in 1970, stating that racing would continue at DuQuoin, but that the schedule might have to be shifted in the future. And while dirt tracks would be eliminated from the national championship scene in 1971, DuQuoin was assured it would be part of a new series for the dirt track machines.

Al Unser and his Johnny Lightning car continued their dominance of the 1970 USAC season with a win in the Horn Memorial, while Foyt got upside down in a dirt car for the first and only time of his storied career. The next year, racing moved to the first weekend of the fair, and George Snider took home his first USAC Dirt Track win on his way to the new series title.

1972 saw the fair try two championship dirt car dates, the first on Memorial Day immediately after the Indianapolis 500. The crowd watched in horror as A.J. Foyt, leading the event, made a fuel stop around halfway and had something go terribly wrong. The car caught fire, and as A.J. exited the machine it rolled forward snapping his ankle. Tom Bigelow went on to a popular win, while Foyt was out of action until the Springfield dirt car race in August.

When A.J. returned in late August to DuQuoin, he was in much better shape and proved it, taking a rain shortened sixth DuQuoin victory, his last championship dirt car win. Mario Andretti won the next two seasons for the Viceroy team, while Bigelow attained status as one of DuQuoin’s favorite drivers with a 1975 victory. Bigelow repeated again in 1977, while Pancho Carter won the 1978 race.

National television came to DuQuoin during the 1970’s, as Danville’s Bubby Jones survived a mid-race red flag to win the 1976 100-miler on CBS’ Sports Spectacular. NBC came to the "Magic Mile" in 1979, and Billy Vukovich took Ben Leyba’s machine into victory lane.

The USAC Stock Car Division hit stride in the early 70’s and provided some great DuQuoin action. Nelson started off the decade just like the‘ 60’s, with a win. Verlin Eaker was the victor in 1971, while Jack Bowsher set a 100-mile record in 1972 that still stands. Butch Hartman won three consecutive years, before Deerfield’s Bay Darnell won in 1976. Paul Feldner’s Dodge came home first in 1977, while Don White won a controversial race in 1978 that was marred by a wreck involving Dave Decker.

A curly haired rookie that would later go on to NASCAR fame and the most popular driver in DuQuoin history provided the excitement in 1979. A youthful Rusty Wallace of nearby St. Louis battled A.J. Foyt in the stock car race all day, with Wallace getting the better of Foyt in the end. 1979 also marked the USAC Stock Car debut of another local favorite, Ken Schrader.

The 1980’s saw a reversal of fortunes for the sanctioning body, the divisions hosted by the DuQuoin State Fair, a return to more traditional racing dates and a new outlook for the fair itself.. Fans also saw additional racing, longer stock car races, and a new sanctioning body enter the fold.

A spring dirt car race was again on the DuQuoin calendar in 1980, on the last weekend in May. A smallish crowd witnessed one of the best races in history, as Larry Dickson captured the pole, and fought with arch rival Gary Bettenhausen all day, with Gary winning by just a few feet! Bettenhausen repeated the scene in the Horn Memorial as well, now returned to it’s traditional Labor Day date. Rich Vogler won the next season, but "G.B" came back to post wins the next two years. Joe Saldana won an emotional 1984 race, with Rick Hood taking the 1985 event.

1986 saw Jack Hewitt win on a very heavy race track as the fairgrounds came back to life after being purchased from the Jabr family by the State of Illinois. Jeff Swindell won the pole in 1987, but Hewitt motored past after a rain delay, while Bettenhausen posted win number 5 in 1988. Chuck Gurney won the first of three Horn races on his way to the 1989 Silver Crown title.

The USAC Stock car division was on a slight decline in 1980 when Addison’s Sal Tovella won the Southern Illinois 100. Fewer cars showed up for the 1981 event, as Dean Roper won his first race. Peoria’s Rick O’Brien slipped past everyone to win in 1982, then a spring race was won by Roper in 1983. This was the first DuQuoin event that involved the Automobile Racing Club of America, or ARCA series as they co-sanctioned the race with USAC. Roper swept 1983 with a September win as well.

The Southern Illinois 100 became the longest dirt track race in the nation in 1984, as the distance was doubled! However, it was only one of three events on the USAC schedule, and titlist Dave Goldsberry of Missouri took the win after three hours of action! ARCA came on board full-time for 1985 after USAC disbanded it’s series, and Lee Raymond won the 200-miler.

Roper won again in 1986 and 1987, while Michigan’s Bob Keselowski won in 1988 and closed out the decade with a win in 1989.

A future NASCAR star made national headlines when he crashed through the fence early in the 1990 Horn Memorial, but while 18 year old Jeff Gordon tore the front end off his dirt champ car, he emerged unhurt. Jeff Swindell won the race after leaders Chuck Gurney and Johnny Parsons droped by the wayside. 1991 saw young Stevie Reeves’ car smoking toward victory, beating Steve Butler by just a few feet, while Parsons captured that elusive first mile dirt track win in Glen Neibel’s V-6 in 1992 and set a world record for 100-miles on dirt in the process. Parsons would win again in 1995, this time for the famed Hoffman team out of Ohio. Jack Hewitt and Chuck Gurney became repeat winners in 1993 and 1994, while Gurney won once more in 1996. The last part of the decade saw four consecutive first time winners, Russ Gamester in 1997, Jimmy Sills in 1998, Tony Elliot in 1999, while Kasey Kahne became the first rookie winner of the Horn in 24 years in 2000!

Stock car racing continued to be a big draw in the‘ 90’s, Wisconsin’s Bob Brevak had been coming to DuQuoin for nearly 20 years when he finally won the last Southern Illinois 200 in 1990. Mokena’s Bob Strait won a close one in 1991, a weekend that saw the race originally scheduled for 250 kilometers, rained out on Sunday and run to a distance of 111 miles on Monday before the Horn Memorial. Chicago’s Bob Schact won in 1992, with Billy Thomas finding victory lane in 1993.

Fifty-five year old Dean Roper stayed near the front in 1994, and as the leaders dropped out laughed all the way to victory lane, becoming the oldest stock car winner in DuQuoin history. Bob Hill won the next two years, while Thomas won three out of the next four races, his string broken by Jeff Finley in 1999.

Many great names have won on the "Magic Mile’, enough to fill a Hall of Fame. Foyt, Bryan, Bettenhausen, Nelson, White, Hartman, Kenyon, Andretti, Unser and Roper are some of the names of winners that are recognized world wide. But other name drivers have raced at DuQuoin and failed in the quest for victory, names such as Gordon, Isaac, Kulwicki, Mayfield and Schrader have all tried for a DuQuoin win.

The "Magic Mile" underwent a dramatic change itself toward the end of the century, a changed designed to ensure DuQuoin’s future as an auto racing facilty, while providing fans and competitors with better amenities and greater safety.

First, the old wooden north and south belachers were razed and replaced with new aluminum stands. The hub rail, made of boiler plate and in place since the track was built, was torn out and a new ARMCO guardrail set in it’s place.

The outer retaining wall had been the subject of concern, scorn, and jokes for many years. Fans used to be sure of a delay during the action, and at times the track crew and welder spent more time on the track repairing the rail than the cars did racing on the "Magic Mile". Gordon’s wreck in 1990, followed by several other well-publicized incidents forced the promoter to place hay bales in front of the rail in 1996. While they saved the rail, they had a launching effect on the cars, causing one stock car to leave the premises, while during another wrekc the hay caught fire.

The solution came in the year 2000, as the State granted funding for a new concrete crashwall, and with the crashwall came a new MUSCO lighting system, just completed. The 2.6 million dollar improvement project made the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds the most modern one-mile dirt auto race track in the world.

A great racing tradtiion, a bright future and a state of the art facility seem to guarantee that when Labor Day weekend rolls around, Southern Illinois race fans will have the opportunity to see the best America has to offer duel on the one-mile oval that seems like it’s in the middle of a scenic park.

That tradition continues entering the new millenium, with the Ted Horn Memorial 100 for the USAC Silver Bullet championship dirt cars on Sunday September 2, and the ARCA RE/MAX Series Stock Cars and the Southern Illinois 100 on September 3rd, Labor Day. Also on the car during the weekend will be the 8th annual Bill Oldani Memorial for the UMP Modifieds, with heat races on the 2nd and the semi feature and 20mile main event on the 3rd.

Tickets are on sale at the DuQuoin State Fair Box Office, Ticketmaster, or by calling Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200. You can get more information on the World Wide Web at www.trackenterprises.com.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ARCA , USAC
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Ken Schrader , A.J. Foyt IV , Mario Andretti , Al Unser Sr. , Bobby Unser , Joe Leonard , Kasey Kahne , J.J. Yeley , Tracy Hines , Jack Hewitt , Johnny Parsons , Russ Gamester , Pancho Carter , Rodger Ward , Jimmy Sills , Stevie Reeves , Tony Bettenhausen , Bill Hayes , A.J. Foyt , Ed Carpenter , Fred Lorenzen , Jeff Swindell