Kimmel Looks For "Lucky 7" at Springfield! One of the largest sporting events in Central Illinois takes center stage on the last day of the Illinois State Fair as one very popular local driver battles a rising young star and a nine time national...
Kimmel Looks For "Lucky 7" at Springfield!
One of the largest sporting events in Central Illinois takes center stage on the last day of the Illinois State Fair as one very popular local driver battles a rising young star and a nine time national champion for the trophy to the 46th Best Western-Allen Crowe 100 ARCA RE/MAX Series national championship stock car race Sunday, August 17. Over $100,000 in cash and contingency prizes posted by promoter Bob Sargent of Track Enterprises and boosted by sponsor Best Western Hotels await the forty plus drivers trying to fill the field for the 46th running of the Crowe Memorial, however only one will be able to capture a win in a tradition of dirt track racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds that dates back to 1910!
Springfield's own Allen Crowe was a popular local star in the 1950's and early 60's who began his rise through the national championship ranks, finally realizing his dream of starting in an Indianapolis 500 but not before making another dream come true, that of a start on the big mile in front of his home town fans in August of 1961. Several Springfield and central Illinois drivers have continued in Allen's footsteps since 1961 paying their dues on bullrings throughout central Illinois, a number thrilling local fans with an appearance on the Springfield Mile. National and local stars like Don Branson, Dean Shirley, Jim Moughan, Ron Milton, Rich Hayes, Dick Taylor, Joe Ross, Jr., Ken Rowley, Steve Drake, Rick O'Brien, Glen Bradley and Donnie Beechler all made appearances at Springfield in various forms of machinery but since stock car racing came to the Illinois State Fairgrounds in 1950 no central Illinois driver had visited victory lane in a 100-mile national championship stock car race.
All that changed in 2006 when twenty year old Justin Allgaier of Springfield made a last lap pass that literally stood the Illinois State Fair crowd on its collective ear, the roar could be heard clear to the Old State Capitol building and when the youngster drove into victory lane he fulfilled a life long ambition. Allgaier returns to Springfield in 2008 with a chance at becoming a two-time Crowe 100 victor and a real chance at the ARCA RE/MAX Series title. Justin has three wins in 2008, two in the family Chevrolet and another driving for the Venturini family. He vaulted to fourth after taking the race at Pocono and looks to improve on his point position in the event prior to Springfield at the Nashville Superspeedway.
Leading the ARCA RE/MAX Series chase is Scott Speed of Manteca, California. Speed is the pilot of the Eddie Sharp Racing Toyota, a team that fielded cars last year for USAC star Josh Wise and former CART Champ Car driver Michael McDowell. The twenty five year old Speed may be adding a page to the extensive Springfield history book, it is believed he is the first driver to have driven full time in the Formula I series and then participate on the dirt at Springfield. Speed drove for Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2006 and 2007 with a best finish of 9th coming at Monaco in 2007 and Australia in 2006.
Third in the point standings is a Mississippi driver who beat Allgaier's record as the youngest national championship race winner in the history of the Illinois State Fairgrounds when he took the rain shortened Tony Bettenhausen 100 USAC dirt car race last year. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. of Olive Branch, Mississippi drove one of Tony Stewart's championship dirt cars last year and his exploits in USAC led to a golden opportunity with the Jack Roush driver development team. Stenhouse has made the most of that opportunity with two wins and six top 5 finishes in 2008. The rookie can add to the history books in 2008 at Springfield, if he can win the Allen Crowe 100 he would become just the fifth driver in Springfield history to post wins on the dirt mile in championship and stock car machinery. If he repeats his 2007 Bettenhausen win on August 16 (driving a dirt car for NASCAR's Carl Edwards) and captures the 2008 Allen Crowe 100 he can join Al Unser as the only two drivers ever to sweep the two big events on the last weekend of the Illinois State Fair!
Speed, Stenhouse and Allgaier are going to face some of the best competition ARCA has to offer starting with six time and defending Crowe 100 winner Frank Kimmel of Clarksville, Indiana. The forty-six year old Kimmel is a nine-time ARCA RE/MAX Series titlist who has given up the seat in the Larry Clement Ford to pursue owning his own race team. Kimmel is the all-time stock car lap leader at the Illinois State Fair with 487 laps in front and is currently fifth in the ARCA standings following a violent crash at Pocono. Frank suffered some minor injuries and has a substitute driver lined up for Nashville. In true racer's fashion he stated to ARCA that "I want to be 100% at Springfield, it's Springfield and I'm not gonna miss that."
Second in the standings is Matt Carter of Denver North Carolina, the son of former NASCAR crew chief Travis Carter, sixth is John Wes Townley of Watkinsville, Georgia, seventh is USAC Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown driver Tom Hessert III of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, eighth is sprint car and midget driver Tayler Malsam of Seattle, Washington, ninth is Indiantown, Florida's Patrick Sheltra and tenth is North Carolina's Ken Butler. Sheltra is a real dark horse on the dirt having extensive World of Outlaw Dirt Late Model experience including a run in the Illinois Fall Nationals at Springfield.
A number of ARCA regulars can be expected to make their annual trek to play in the Illinois clay, among them are New Jersey's Dominick Casola, Indiana's Darrell Basham, Tennessee's Ron Cox and Tim Mitchell and Tim Turner, Michigan's Brad Smith, Pennsylvania's Norm Benning, Florida's Bryan Silas and ageless James Hylton. Several unique entries on the early list also generate interest as USAC shoes Brian Tyler and Galesburg's A.J. Fike join the stock car contingent at Springfield. Tyler has hooked up with the Venturni racing family and along with Stenhouse will pull double duty over the weekend while Fike confines himself to the fendered machine. Both have pole positions and laps led on the ARCA dirt tracks. Brent Glastetter of Oran, Missouri has a Toyota entered that lists Indy Car driver Shigeaki Hattori as the owner, while fellow Show Me State driver Doug Keller of St. Joseph returns to the ARCA dirt. David Pearson's son Eddie is entered in a Ford owned by Southern Illinois car owner Brad Hill.
The 46th Allen Crowe entry list would not be complete without the local drivers who make one or two starts per year, usually on the two fairground dirt tracks that are a tradition on the diverse ARCA schedule. Centralia's Joe Cooksey continues a quest that began over ten years ago as he continues to knock on the door of victory lane at both Springfield and DuQuoin, posting top three finishes on both tracks. Manteno's Bob Strait comes out of semi-retirement to run for the popular Hendren Motorsports Team of Normal, the team that has fielded cars at Springfield since the early 1970's mostly with El Paso's Ken Rowley. Arenzville's Mark Littleton made his first ARCA start last year moving up from short track stock cars and Springfield's own Kelly Kovski finished sixth in last year's Crowe Memorial.
Kimmel clearly had the fastest machine in the 2007 edition of Allen Crowe's tribute race, giving up the lead early for his mandatory pit stop then working his way back to the front to take the lead from Rox Cox on lap 55 and steadily pulling away. Ken Schrader returned to his 'roots' and had a stellar drive from 37th to 8th after rains forced qualifications to be cancelled and the field set according to the ARCA point standings. Kimmel became the 13th driver to win from the pole position at Springfield.
Allen Crowe may have been born in the small, unincorporated York in Southeastern Illinois in November of 1928 but he endeared himself to thousands of race fans in the central part of the state after World War 11, paying his dues in stock cars and in fact finishing fourth in the 1958 track championship at the little Springfield Speedway. Allen was a hero to many after posting wins on the various short tracks in central Illinois and enhanced that status when he moved to USAC's major divisions in 1961, making fifteen national championship starts with six top ten finishes and starts at Indianapolis in 1962 and 1963, Allen passed away from injuries suffered in a sprint car accident at New Bremen, Ohio in June of 1963 and was given a fitting eulogy by the Illinois State Fair as the fledgling stock car race was named in his honor.
Quite a number of stock car drivers coming to Springfield August 17 are undoubtedly trying to follow in the footsteps of Allen Crowe, while others are trying to place their names alongside Springfield stock car victors such as Norm Nelson, A.J. Foyt, Butch Hartman, Buck Baker, Don White, Bob Keselowski and the late Dean Roper. The quest for stock car racing immortality begins at 9 a.m. on Sunday August 17 with practice for the ARCA RE/MAX Series, with Sim Factory pole qualifying scheduled for 11 as drivers take one lap shots at Damon Lusk's 2006 track record of 107.778 (33.402) miles an hour. The 46th Best Western-Allen Crowe 100 is scheduled to take the green flag at approximately 1 p.m. and is tentatively scheduled for re-broadcast on MavTV. Additional information can be found at www.trackenterprises.com, www.arcaracing.com or www.agr.state.il.us/isf/.