Schrader Still Seeking Elusive DuQuoin Win as Kimmel Drives for Title The twenty-seven year quest of a NASCAR invader to win at DuQuoin, one of the closest point battles in ARCA RE/MAX history and the good chance that the first Duquoin stock car...
Schrader Still Seeking Elusive DuQuoin Win as Kimmel Drives for Title
The twenty-seven year quest of a NASCAR invader to win at DuQuoin, one of the closest point battles in ARCA RE/MAX history and the good chance that the first Duquoin stock car victory for a downstate Illinois driver in twenty four years could happen on Labor Day are just a few of the reasons that Southern Illinois race fans are eagerly anticipating the 54th running of the Federated Car Care-Illinois 100 for the ARCA RE/MAX Stock Car Series at the DuQuoin State Fair on Monday, September 4. DuQuoin State Fair promoter Bob Sargent of Track Enterprises has posted a purse of well over $100,000 in cash and prizes as the 'Magic Mile' celebrates sixty years of existence as one of the premier dirt tracks in the country.
At least one NASCAR star made his intentions known when he filed an entry for the Federated-Southern Illinois 100 over the winter. A number of ARCA drivers have advanced to the three top NASCAR series competing today but the return trip of ARCA "agitators" as they have been humorously dubbed by writers began in earnest in 2001 when no less than Tony Stewart, Ken Schrader and Andy Petree entered the Southern Illinois 100. So great was Stewart's desire to win one of the coveted 100-mile dirt track events that he purchased his own car in 2003 and won the 100-mile classic after capturing the pole position. Schrader, the driver of the Wood Brothers Ford on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit was one of the first entries for the Southern Illinois 100 bringing his Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet back to DuQuoin in his quest to win on the dirt mile closest to his Fenton, Missouri home. Schrader made his USAC Stock Car debut at DuQuoin in 1979 but in the last 26 years has yet to post a victory at DuQuoin. The "Magic Mile" is the lone one-mile dirt track in the Midwest on which Schrader has yet to win a main event race in any type of machine. Like Schrader, any appearance by any of the NASCAR Nextel Cup cars who are interested in racing full bodied stock cars on the dirt is contingent upon the weather and flight from the NASCAR event at the California Speedway the night before the Southern Illinois 100.
Lady Luck and a field of around forty drivers are the obstacles that Ken Schrader and any fellow "ARCA agitators" will encounter at the Southern Illinois 100 on Labor Day. Certainly not the least of those obstacles is four-time Southern Illinois 100 winner and seven-time ARCA national driving champion Frank Kimmel of Clarksville, Indiana. The forty-four year old Kimmel has become quite accustomed to the dirt surfaces and is the all-time career win leader of ARCA dirt races. Kimmel's success in the ARCA series led to an invitation to participate in the International Race of Champions in 2006 and the Indiana native needs just one more Southern Illinois 100 to tie the record for wins held by the late Dean Roper. As the driver of the Advance Auto Parts-Pork Ford Taurus, Kimmel currently leads the ARCA RE/MAX points by a slim margin over veteran Bobby Gerhart.
A former dirt track modified driver from Pennsylvania Gerhart is no stranger to ARCA or the dirt miles of the Midwest. He originally had planned only a limited schedule but a win at Daytona in February and leading the point standings for a good portion of the first half of the season have him trying to secure his first ARCA crown. Currently fourth in the ARCA point standings is Washington's Damon Lusk, returning full time to the ARCA series after a short lived NASCAR stint. Third is young Ryan Foster of Arkansas, Kimmel's teammate. Fifth is veteran Ken Weaver of Texas, followed by former ARCA truck competitor and RE/MAX rookie Brett Rowe of West Virginia. Tied for seventh are young Ryan Howard of Indiana and Texas veteran Chuck Weber, while two second generation drivers round out the top ten. Former Chicagoan Billy Venturini won his first ever ARCA race this season at Salem driving for his father while Todd Bowsher has rebounded from the loss of his father over the winter, team owner Jack Bowsher was a former winner of the Southern Illinois 100 and ARCA champion.
ARCA brings a diverse field of experienced drivers and eager youngsters representing at least sixteen states in the entry list. ARCA regulars expected at DuQuoin include Andy Belmont of Pennsylvania, Tim Mitchell of Tennessee, Mark Gibson of Georgia, Jason Hedlesky of Michigan, David Boggs of South Carolina and Mike Harmon of Alabama. Promising rookie Blake Bjorkland of Minnesota has indicated he will run the full series, and it is possible that veteran Brent Sherman of northern Illinois could return to DuQuoin since he has come back to ARCA after vacating his ride in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series.
Illinois natives may have their best chance in years at taking home a Southern Illinois 100 trophy in 2006, led by the winner of the Allen Crowe 100 at Springfield two weeks ago. Twenty year old Justin Allgaier became the first Springfield driver in the 72 year history of national championship racing on the Illinois State Fair mile to post a win in a national championship event. The roar of a large partisan crowd could be heard over the engines as Allgaier passed veteran Bob Strait on the last lap for an emotional win, his first ever in ARCA competition. Allgaier led 41 laps of last year's Federated-Southern Illinois 100 and could be one of three drivers to pull double duty at DuQuoin on Labor Day weekend, running both the Ted Horn 100 USAC Silver crown event and the Southern Illinois 100. Another driver with an excellent chance to win at DuQuoin is 1991 Southern Illinois 100 winner Bob Strait of Mokena. The veteran looked poised to post a popular win at Springfield for the Normal, Illinois based Hendren team but had to settle for a top five finish when passed on the last circuit. A DuQuoin win by the Hendren team would be just as popular, the team won the pole at DuQuoin twice with Ken Rowley at the wheel and has been running the Illinois dirt since 1974.
A third Illinois native harbors a lifelong dream of winning the Southern Illinois 100 and should he capture that elusive win his hometown of Centralia might explode with pride. Long-time ARCA racer Joe Cooksey became the first Southern Illinois based driver to win the ARCA Pork Pole at DuQuoin when he set fast time in 2000 and Cooksey has always run near the front of the Federated-Southern Illinois 100. Galesburg's A.J. Fike may return for double duty in 2006, while Springfield's Wes O'Dell and Kelly Kovski have plans to make the trek south to DuQuoin. There are two other teams south of Interstate 64 in Illinois with ARCA machines but they have yet to make it known if they will compete at DuQuoin.
Missouri native Doug Keller ran very strong in 2005 and is an entrant once again in 2006 for the ARCA dirt events. Sturgis, Kentucky veteran Bill Baird now lives in Florida with wife Jan but came out of retirement to run the dirt and Springfield and DuQuoin in 2005 and may return again in 2006. Baird is a former ARCA champion and two-time race winner of the Allen Crowe 100 at Springfield.
One other driver of note who could be on the DuQuoin ARCA entry list is Brian Tyler of Parma, Michigan. The thirty eight year old Tyler currently leads the USAC Silver Crown point chase and indicated at Springfield that owner Rich Woodland might bring back his DuQuoin pole winning car from a year ago. When Tyler smashed Tony' Stewart's DuQuoin track record last year it marked the fifth consecutive year that a driver with significant open wheel experience set fast time for the ARCA RE/MAX series at DuQuoin.
Forty drivers and teams continue a stock car racing tradition in DuQuoin that began in 1950 and a Labor Day racing tradition on the "Magic Mile" that started in the late 1940's. After Bill Hayes finished construction of the mile dirt track on the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds after World War II, he sought an American Automobile Association national championship race for the facility and in 1948 received not only one, but two such events. As the popularity of auto racing grew in the Southern Illinois mining community and the popularity of stock car racing grew in the United States, Hayes added a 100-mile AAA stock car race in 1950, and the hard tops returned in 1954 to become an annual staple of the DuQuoin State Fair entertainment lineup.
Famed drivers such as Jimmy Bryan, Fred Lorenzen, Norm Nelson, Don White, AJ. Foyt, Butch Hartman and Rusty Wallace all captured USAC Stock Car races before large crowds at the "Magic Mile". In the 1980's, Dean Roper emerged as the master of the mile dirt track winning events under the USAC banner, and the ARCA banner when they assumed control of the Southern Illinois 100 in 1985. In 1984, the distance of the stock car race was doubled to 200 miles and ARCA stars Roper, Bob Keselowski and Bob Brevak won the 200-mile grind. Alabama's Billy Thomas established himself as a DuQuoin favorite winning at the 250-kilometer distance and three more times after the race was returned to the 100-mile distance in 1996.
The best of the ARCA RE/MAX series, open wheel drivers, NASCAR shoes and local pilots all hope to add their name to the DuQuoin winners list on Labor Day, September 4. Practice for the Federated-Southern Illinois 100 is slated to begin at 9 a.m., with Pork Pole qualifying at approximately 11. The 20-mile Bill Oldani Memorial for UMP Modifieds is slated prior to the Southern Illinois 100, with Marion, Illinois' Jeff Parks the defending Oldani winner. The 100-mile Federated-Southern Illinois 100 is scheduled to be pushed off at approximately 1 p.m.
For the first time in history a third feature race will also take place on Labor Day as the Best Wester Challenge for the C.A.R.S. Late Models, postponed from August 27 will be run as well. Ken Schrader is also expected for that event having set fast time for the C.A.R.S. series on August 27.
Tickets are $20 in advance for adults and $10 in advance for children and can be purchased at the DuQuoin State Fair Box Office at 618-542-1535, Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200 or at any Ticketmaster location.