Illinois: Frank Kimmel seeks fourth win

Springfield, IL August 13, 2003-Frank Kimmel may not be known for his prowess on the dirt tracks across America, but he is a strong favorite to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive Allen Crowe Memorial 100 when the RE/MAX Stock Car Series of...

Springfield, IL August 13, 2003-Frank Kimmel may not be known for his prowess on the dirt tracks across America, but he is a strong favorite to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive Allen Crowe Memorial 100 when the RE/MAX Stock Car Series of the Automobile Racing Club of America comes to the Illinois State Fairgrounds Sunday, August 17th. The 41st running of the Crowe Memorial is a unique contest that is only one of two in the United States featuring full bodied stock cars, decked out in dirt track livery racing on the mile fairground dirt tracks. A large crowd is expected to see a full field of nearly forty cars and drivers, featuring the traveling stars of the ARCA RE/MAX Series doing battle against a large contingent of Illinois drivers. Also on tap is the popular Wynn's Sportsman Nationals 20-mile main event for local short track drivers. This year marks the tenth year of promotion of the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 and the Wynn's Sportsman event by Bob Sargent of Track Enterprises.

Kimmel dominated last year's 100-mile event, delayed slightly by rain. Kimmel captured the Old Milwaukee/Dean Roper Memorial Pole Award by default as qualifications were washed out due to the rain. Kimmel then led 84 of the 100 miles, taking record first place money of $18,575 from a record $125,614 purse. Should Kimmel be able to win the 41st running of the Crowe Memorial, he would join Bob Keselowski and the late Dean Roper as the only four-time winners of the event. A win in the 41st Crowe Memorial would mean a large leap toward a fifth ARCA RE/MAX crown for the current ARCA point leader and the driver of the Advance Auto Parts/Pork Ford.

Kimmel began racing in the ARCA RE/Max Series over a decade ago under the tutelage of former ARCA driver Jack Wallace, who has wheeled the pace car for many ARCA events. At the time, Kimmel didn't display a great affection for the dirt. "I never used to look forward to the dirt tracks", Kimmel said in a recent interview with ARCA public relations director Don Radebaugh. "I wasn't very good at them, I still don't think that I am, but I guess winning makes all the difference." "We started preparing our dirt car early this year, and I'm really looking forward to getting back to Springfield and DuQuoin this year." "Those two tracks are some of my favorite places, the fans are great, the crowds are huge, and with the state fair atmosphere it's a great place to take the family".

Winning apparently opened Kimmel's eyes to a new way to earn recognition, as well as points toward the ARCA national championship. Kimmel has won the last three ARCA RE/MAX crowns, and the points earned on the dirt tracks have gone a long way toward those championships, not to mention giving Kimmel a lot of notoriety as well as some personal satisfaction.

"The win over Tony Stewart, who was driving for Andy Petree, last year at DuQuoin has to be one of the highlights of my career", said Kimmel. A strong statement considering the Jeffersonville, Indiana driver has won four ARCA titles, races at Charlotte, Pocono, Michigan, Kansas and Nashville, as well as a couple of stints as a substitute driver in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

Kimmel's exploits on dirt have earned him a page in the auto racing history books as well. By winning his first Allen Crowe Memorial in 2000, Kimmel became one of the few drivers to post a win on one of the historic one mile fairground dirt tracks, only four of which are still in operation today. When Kimmel swept the races at Springfield and DuQuoin in 2001, he became just the ninth driver since 1950 to take both Illinois fair races. That list includes such stock car legends as Norm Nelson, Don White and former ARCA champ Bob Brevak. If Kimmel can sweep both events this year, he would become only the second driver in racing history to sweep both events three times, joining the late Dean Roper, and the first driver to sweep both events three consecutive years.

Gaining his fourth Allen Crowe Memorial 100 may not be an easy task, even though Kimmel has won nearly half the races on the ARCA schedule this year and holds a commanding lead in the points. Most of the top ten in the ARCA points are entered at Springfield, including second place point man Jason Jarrett. Jarrett, son of 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup champ Dale Jarrett, and grandson of two-time NASCAR champ Ned Jarrett, is in search of his first ARCA dirt track win. Never having seen one of the facilities before, Jarrett qualified on the front row for the 2001 Allen Crowe Memorial 100 and led a portion of the event. The driver of the Gladiator-Damon RV Pontiac is expected to give some strong competition to Kimmel.

Third in the ARCA points, 750 markers out of first, is a second generation driver with a familiar name to fans at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Billy Venturini drives Chevrolet products fielded by his father, Chicago native Bill Venturini, a frequent Springfield competitor with ARCA and the now defunct USAC Stock Car series.

Sitting fourth in the points is one of several Illinois drivers in the field, Brent Sherman of North Barrington. The northern Illinois driver is somewhat of a surprise in the ARCA series, making his debut just a couple of seasons ago and never breaking into the top ten until this year. Fifth in the points, back full time after securing a sponsor, is Georgia's Mark Gibson, a frequent visitor to both dirt races.

Sixth in points is one of the youngest drivers to ever appear on the Illinois State Fair mile, seventeen-yearl old Shelby Howard of Indiana is one of the up and coming drivers on the RE/MAX tour, having won on the Kansas Superspeedway in June.

Seventh is Ron Cox of Soddy Daisy, Tennessee. Cox, driving Pontiacs desperately wants to win one of the dirt races and ran as high as second in last year's Crowe Memorial before a late race accident put him out of contention.

Eighth in the RE/MAX standing is another second generation driver, Todd Bowsher of Springfield, Ohio. Young Todd drives Ford products owned by his father, former ARCA champion Jack Bowsher. Jack is a two-time (1971 & 1973) winner of the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 at Springfield, and at one time was the factory Ford effort in the USAC Stock Car series, winning a crown with none other than A.J. Foyt.

Ninth in the points is a driver from Oklahoma that could become the third woman to drive in the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 at Springfield. Christi Passmore has quite a bit of experience on short dirt ovals in the Oklahoma and Texas area, but no experience on one of the large dirt tracks. She is competing for Rookie of the Year and at this time is the leading contender.

Other ARCA veterans on the entry list include Indiana's Darrell Basham, Pennsylvania's Andy Belmont (10th in points), and Texan Chuck Weber, Pennsylvania's Norm Benning and Ohio's Randy VanZant.

The touring stars and the veterans will have to combat a large contingent of Illinois drivers seeking a home state win, no Central Illinois driver has ever won the Crowe Memorial but at least six from the home state will try again this year, including one talented hometown youngster.

Mokena, Illinois native Bob Strait is perhaps the favorite of the Illinois drivers to take home the Crowe Memorial trophy, and his race team has many central Illinois ties. Strait started 28th in last years race, moved to second and a transmission problem late in the event dropped him to third. Strait drives for perhaps the most popular team that comes to Springfield, the Normal based Bill Hendren team brings a large contingent of fans, and for many years fielded cars for the driver with the most stock car starts at Springfield, El Paso's Ken Rowley.

At sixteen years and seventy-three days, Justin Allgaier of nearby Riverton, just 5 miles from Springfield, became the youngest starter ever in the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 (and ARCA history) when he suited up to drive for NASCAR star and local favorite Ken Schrader. Justin finished 17th that day, and continues to gain experience in late models on the local tracks while racing toward his 18th birthday.

Bloomington's Eric Smith is considered a dark horse favorite for a win on the "World's Fastest One Mile Dirt Track", the veteran driver continues a part-time ARCA schedule while driving locally in late models and sportsman cars. Smith, who came from 35th ti 13th in last year's Crowe Memorial, is a second generation driver and past ARCA race winner. Eric pilots the Fords owned by his father, former USAC and ARCA driver Cleve Smith.

East Peoria's Todd Coon came from 37th to third last year before being involved in an accident, and has had several good runs at both dirt tracks, while Centralia's favorite son Joe Cooksey won the pole position three years ago at DuQuoin and came from 31st to 4th in last year's Crowe Memorial. Young Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Illinois ran in the Wynn's Sportsman event last year, and moves up to the bigger cars as a teammate to Bob Strait. Carlyle's Charlie Schaefer, a late model regular, is also a frequent entrant on the dirt miles.

One entry sure to drum up significant interest is that of 2002 UMP National Late Model champion Terry English of Benton, Kentucky. English has run several races with the UMP series in Central Illinois, and looks to make his ARCA RE/MAX debut with owner Keith Murt.

One St. Louis area driver is entered, Doug Keller of St. Charles, Missouri runs very well on the dirt, as evidenced by his second place finish in last year's Crowe Memorial and front row start at the DuQuoin event.

The 41st annual Allen Crowe Memorial continues a celebration of the automobile and automobile racing during the Illinois State Fair that pre-dates World War I. It also remains a moving tribute to a local racer who was on the verge of stardom, when his career was cut tragically short by an accident.

Auto exhibitions were common in the early 1900's, and the first recorded actual competition was held during the 1910 fair. Open wheel, open cockpit cars, many from the International Motor Contest Association, were the fare of the early races. Many of the drivers such as Sig Haugdahl and Fred Horey were as famous as any Indianapolis 500 winner. One and sometimes two days of racing were held through 1929 when a spectator fatality brought a halt to the events. Promoter Ralph Hankinson brought auto racing back to the fair in the form of AAA National Championship racing in 1934, and later sprint car races and motorcycle races were added as well.

The popularity of "stock car" racing boomed after World War II, and the fledgling NASCAR organization came to be in 1947. AAA, the leading motorsports governing body at the time, saw the benefit of stock car racing and in 1950 organized a small five race schedule for the hard top machines. Three of the races were at Milwaukee, with one each at DuQuoin and Springfield. Jay Frank of Los Angeles, in an Olds Rocket 88 took that first Springfield 100-miler, but the stock cars would not return for another eleven years!.

By 1961, AAA was completely out of racing, replaced by the United States Auto Club who was a formidable rival in the battle for stock car supremacy with NASCAR. Many of USAC's established stars crossed over to the hardtops, meaning that promoters often got the benefit of an Indy 500 winner or two in the field. At the same time, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana were churning local talent into the USAC fields and helping fill grandstands.

In 1961, the Springfield Seratoma Club decided to promote a stock car event at Springfield as a fund raiser, one week after the fair. Indy drivers Rodger Ward and Len Sutton participated, with Sutton taking the 100-mile event. Ward took the next year's race, unfortunately for 1963, the race would receive a somber designation.

Allen Crowe was a Springfield resident and a local racing hero who had cut his teeth on the central Illinois short tracks of Springfield, Lincoln and Macon racing stock cars and midgets. By 1962, he had moved to national championship machines and did Springfield proud by making the field at the Indianapolis 500. Allen survived a nasty flip in the 1962 Hoosier Hundred to come back and make the "500" again in 1963 and he appeared on the verge of becoming a regular star in the USAC ranks. Sadly, it wasn't to be.

On June 21, 1963 Allen crashed during a USAC Sprint Car race in New Bremen, Ohio. Unfortunately, he did not survive the accident. The Springfield racing community, shocked and saddened at the loss of the local star, moved quickly to honor the fallen driver. Working with the Illinois State Fair board and promoter Jim Kidd, the annual stock car event was named in Allen's honor just in time for the 1963 running. NASCAR star Curtis Turner won the first ever Allen Crowe Memorial at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, held August 26, 1963.

In 1965 the Crowe Memorial moved to the last Friday of the Illinois State Fair, and by 1969, had moved to the last Sunday of the fair. Except for a few years during the 1970's. the annual stock car tribute to the late Allen Crowe has been the last motor sport event during the running of the Illinois State Fair.

Over the years the Allen Crowe Memorial has seen racing legends such as Bobby Marshman, Bobby Isaac, and Paul Goldsmith pull into victory lane. Hall of Fame drivers such as Norm Nelson, Don White, Butch Hartman and Ramo Stott all won on the Springfield clay. When ARCA took over as sanctioning body in 1985, the late Dean Roper had already established himself as the king of the Illinois State Fair mile track, taking the last of his seven wins in 1986. ARCA stars such as Bobby Bowsher, Tim Steele and Bill Baird won the Crowe Memorial, while Ken Schrader culminated an eighteen year quest by taking a 100-mile event on the dirt at Springfield in 1998. Even legendary NASCAR figures such as Dick Trickle, Benny Parsons, Alan Kulwicki, Joe Ruttman, Davey Allison and Rusty Wallace all appeared on a Springfield entry list.

The Automobile Racing Club of America celebrates the 20th anniversary of sanctioning stock car racing at Springfield by opening the track for ARCA practice at 9 a.m., with Old Milwakee/Roper Pole qualifying set for 11:00. Drivers will be trying to break Bob Hill's one-lap track record of 33.546, set in 1996. Approximately forty of the finest full bodied dirt track stock car drivers in the nation are slated to be given the command to fire engines at 1:00 p.m., with the flying start of the 41st Allen Crowe Memorial 100 a few minutes later.

The popular Wynn's Sportsman Nationals, an event for area stock cars and drivers, is the support event for the Allen Crowe Memorial 100. Now in it's tenth running, the 20-mile main event features many local and area drivers competing for a large first place prize. Several drivers have pre-qualified for the event by running at local tracks through the year. The remainder of the field will be filled by a semi feature, and the feature race will be run just prior to the 41st Allen Crowe Memorial 100. Jeff Leka is the defending champion.

Tickets are available at the Illinois State Fair Box Office or by calling Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200. More information on the ARCA RE/MAX series is available at www.arcaracing.com.

-midamer-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ARCA
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Ken Schrader , Frank Kimmel , Andy Belmont , Joe Ruttman , Ned Jarrett , Darrell Basham , Jason Jarrett , Shelby Howard , Billy Venturini , Ron Cox , Brent Sherman , Mark Gibson , Andy Petree , Keith Murt , Norm Benning , Doug Keller , Benny Parsons , Rodger Ward , Ryan Unzicker , Justin Allgaier , Bill Baird , A.J. Foyt , Alan Kulwicki , Davey Allison