Illinois State Fair anniversary

Racing Through the Years at the Illinois State Fair Illinois State Fair Celebrates 94th Anniversary of Auto Racing! In 2004 the Illinois State Fair celebrates the 94th anniversary of competitive auto racing as part of the fair's ...

Racing Through the Years at the Illinois State Fair
Illinois State Fair Celebrates 94th Anniversary of Auto Racing!

In 2004 the Illinois State Fair celebrates the 94th anniversary of competitive auto racing as part of the fair's entertainment lineup, and Track Enterprises celebrates the beginning of a second decade as auto racing promoter at the fair. Track Enterprises presents a look back at racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty and ninety years past.

1994: Ten Years Ago-Bob Sargent's first year as the new promoter at the Illinois State Fairgrounds began auspiciously, with rain falling over the grounds into the early morning hours before Saturday's 34th Tony Bettenhausen 100 USAC Silver Crown event. A massive effort got the facility ready, and a complicated procedure determined the starting slots. Fifty year old Johnny Parsons started on the pole, but it was Livermore, California's Chuck Gurney who took his record sixth Bettenhausen trophy.

The weather was better for Sunday's Allen Crowe Memorial ARCA stock car race, Iowa dirt track ace Bob Hill won the pole, but led only seventeen laps enroute to his first 100-mile dirt track win. Springfield's Wes O'Dell won the companion event, the first Wynn's Sportsman Nationals.

1984: Twenty Years Ago-Rain again plagued the Illinois State Fair on the final weekend, putting the 24th running of the Bettenhausen Memorial in doubt. Several vehicles were recruited on the grounds, and by early afternoon the track ready to go. Qualifications were waived in exchange for 2 heat races, won by Chuck Gurney and Ken Schrader. Gurney rim rode the cushion for 93 laps on the was to his first Springfield win, as car after car fell out on the rough racetrack. Jack Hewitt was uninjured in a spectacular flip in turn three.

On Sunday, ARCA would help sanction what was USAC's next to last stock car race in the 22nd running of the Allen Crowe Memorial. ARCA veteran Lee Raymond won the pole position, but fellow ARCA veteran Bobby Jacks led 61 of the 100 miles to capture the top slot as top USAC threat Dean Roper dropped by the wayside. Fan favorite Kenny Schrader won the companion 25 mile Rex Easton Memorial for the USAC Midgets.

1974: Thirty Years Ago-While there was an energy crisis going on in the country, and a President resigning just a few days earlier, auto racing was slated once again for the Illinois State Fair. Race dates had been switched a couple of years ago, so the Allen Crowe Memorial for the USAC Stock Cars led off the weekend. Butch Hartman tied the track record with a 37.21 lap in qualifications, but veteran Roger McCluskey led 56 laps in his Dodge to take the win. Bloomington, Illinois driver and USAC rookie Ken Rowley made the first of what would be a record 28 starts on the Springfield Mile.

Weather again was a factor for the dirt champ cars, as Sunday was cloudy and overcast. The Viceroy "Super Team" was on hand, but only with Mario Andretti. Al Unser had wrecked the day before at Sedalia, and the car was unable to be repaired. Greg Weld won his third Springfield pole position, this time driving George Middleton's Pizza Hut of St. Louis entry. However, Andretti and the Viceroy Ford dominated the 14th Bettenhausen Memorial, leading all 100 laps in Mario's last Springfield appearance. No one knew it at the time, but Sunday marked the last Springfield dirt car appearance for A.J. Foyt as well, Foyt making the last of a record 18 consecutive dirt car starts on the Springfield mile.

1964: Forty Years Ago-It was just dirt cars and motorcycles during the fair, as the Allen Crowe Memorial for the USAC Stock Cars was a year away from joining the Illinois State Fair lineup. A.J. Foyt came to town for Saturday's fourth running of the Bettenhausen Memorial as the overwhelming favorite, he had already won his second Indy 500 and was on his way to winning ten of the thirteen championship events in 1964. Springfield, however, was one of the few tracks Foyt had yet to conquer, and it looked like he might fail again as he clocked in only 16th in time trials. Making his last start at Springfield, three-time winner Rodger Ward took the pole slot but never led. Foyt worked his way through the field and a terrific duel developed between he and 1964 arch rival Bobby Marshman. Foyt took his first Bettenhausen win with some high side maneuvering in the latter stages of the race. Making his return to Springfield was veteran Jud Larson, who had suffered a heart attack in the pit area a few years before.

Shortly after the end of the fair, the USAC Stock Cars invaded the grounds for the second annual Allen Crowe Memorial, and many of the championship drivers returned with the hardtops. Foyt took the pole with a 39.97 lap, and led 55 of the 100 miles. Motorcycle ace Joe Leonard made his first stock car start on the dirt and led 37 circuits, Foyt dropped out and in the end it was Bobby Marshman who made up for the dirt car race disappointment by winning the Crowe Memorial. Marshman's average speed of over 94 miles an hour, then a record that was surprisingly never recognized by anyone as the 100-mile standard at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Tragically, Bobby lost his life later in the year in a testing crash at Phoenix.

1954: Fifty Years Ago: Stock cars had run in 1950, and again in 1953, but in 1954 the fair's motorsports lineup included just championship and motorcycle racing. Jimmy Bryan came into the state capitol on a roll. The first year driver of the Dean Van Lines dirt car had a miraculous second place finish at Indy in the dirt car, a race where nearly everything broke on the car and literally beat Bryan in the process, causing him to miss the Milwaukee race. He came back to win at Langhorne, and placed second at Darlington. Usually a terrible qualifier, Bryan timed in 16th behind the surprise pole winner, Jiggs Peters in the Glessner Offy. Bryan struggled to a 12th place run, his worst of the year while Jimmy Davies in Pat Clancy's car led all 100 miles and pulled into victory lane.

1944: Sixty years ago-No racing was held on the Illinois State Fair oval as part of the ban during World War II.

1934: Seventy years ago-Springfield and the Illinois State Fairgrounds stepped into the national sporting spotlight by hosting the first ever national championship race in the capitol city. The American Automobile Association had been looking for venues for the Indianapolis machines since the demise of the board speedways, and had turned to the horse tracks located on the fairgrounds across the country. Langhorne, Syracuse and Detroit had hosted races during the Great Depression, and other mile dirt tracks were being considered. Auto racing had been absent from Springfield for 5 years, the result of a spectator fatality in 1929. Veteran AAA promoter Ralph Hankinson convinced the Illinois State Fair board that auto racing was a moneymaking proposition, even during the depression. The board agreed, posting the AAA required purse of $7500 to attract the two man Indianapolis machines.

Indy winner Bill Cummings took the pole with a sub 40 second lap in the Boyle Special, but Johnny Sawyer motored into the lead at the drop of the green and held it for 93 circuits. Veteran Billy Winn took the top spot on lap 94, and became Springfield's first national championship race winner.

1924: Eighty Years Ago-The 1924 Illinois State Fair saw 2 days of racing, with the cars known then as the "big cars", in what were essentially sprint events. Fred Horey dominated both days, taking a 7 mile event on the first day of competition, and a 10 mile event the second. Minnesota standout Sig Haugdahl ran quick time on the first day of 43.2 on the mile, which was two years from reconfiguration.

1914: Ninety Years Ago-There were several makes of cars in the United States in the early 1900's, some would be around for years to come, and some short lived. Auto racing was no different, names like Dusenberg, Puegot, Marmon and Mercedes being found in the pit areas of race tracks across the country. Two days of racing were presented during the 1914 Illinois State Fair, with Eddie O'Donnell taking the first day's ten mile feature in a Dusenberg. On the second day, dirt track ace Bob Burman dominated the action in his Puegot, setting quick time of just over 49 seconds, taking a heat event then running the 25 mile main event in a little over 21 minutes.

Fans and competitors are invited to join the celebration at this year's 151st Illinois State Fair with the 44th Tony Bettenhausen Memorial on Saturday, August 21 and the 42nd Allen Crowe Memorial 100 Sunday August 22. Fans can save $5 by purchasing tickets in advance of race day at the Illinois State Fair box office, Ticketmaster or by calling 217-764-3200.

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About this article
Series ARCA , History , Sprint , Stock car , USAC
Drivers Ken Schrader , Mario Andretti , Joe Leonard , Jack Hewitt , Johnny Parsons , Tony Bettenhausen , A.J. Foyt , Al Unser