Notes from Labor Day at DuQuoin

What a day everyone had at DuQuoin on Labor Day! Beautiful weather, sunny and not to hot with a light breeze, Tony Stewart, Ken Schrader and Andy Petree in the pit area, along with the ARCA regulars, and a whole bunch of modifieds to boot. Add in...

What a day everyone had at DuQuoin on Labor Day! Beautiful weather, sunny and not to hot with a light breeze, Tony Stewart, Ken Schrader and Andy Petree in the pit area, along with the ARCA regulars, and a whole bunch of modifieds to boot. Add in a humongous crowd, and the carnival atmosphere of the fair and there wasn’t a better racing venue this weekend.

Stewart may catch flack from some of the "sensitive" media members he deals with, but most of the race fans at DuQuoin had a different opinion of the "Rushville Rocket". Stewart got as more cheers than any other driver prior to the event, and probably got as many as race winner Frank Kimmel. Give the guy his due, he is a true racer. If Stewart isn’t the second coming of A.J. Foyt, then no one is. Here is a guy that in 2001, has raced at Indy and Charlotte in the same day, played in a late model, won the Knoxville Nationals as a car owner, and a day after posting a top 5 at Darlington, rolls into DuQuoin to try his hand at racing a full bodied stock car on a dirt mile. All Stewart did Monday was proceed to set a track record in qualifying in the Larry Clement number 40! In the 100-miler, Stewart got jumped by Doug Keller on the start, then took the Chevy to the high side (reminiscent of Foyt’s rim ride in a stock car at Springfield in 1979) and by lap 2 had the lead. A miscue on the pit stop cost him some track position, and then later contact with Bob Strait caused the right front to go flat, necessitating another stop. Stewart charged back to the front and caught Kimmel with about 5 laps to go, and got a run coming to the finish line, but could only get a nose up to Kimmel’s left rear. It was one of the best performances ever seen at DuQuoin.

After the race, Stewart was gracious in the victory lane interview for the opportunity to race with the Clement team, and retired to the trailer where he signed autographs for a long long line of fans.

In an interview prior to race time, Stewart indicated he’d like to come back, and from the cheers of the crowd before and after the race, he would be most welcome in Southern Illinois.

It seemed as if Stewart had a lot of fun Monday, he was quoted in the media as stating, "When is the next dirt track race?" "I want to be there, because I had a lot of fun and this was a blast." "I also appreciate these guys (the Clement team) letting us come down and run with them, they are a good bunch and we had a great time." It seems that Stewart would really like to add his name to the Hall of Fame of drivers that have won on the dirt miles, and it is expected he will be back to try again when his schedule permits.

Local favorite and NASCAR Cup star Kenny Schrader had a decent day, though he still was unable to break the "DuQuoin jinx". Schrader has wins on the other two dirt miles in the Midwest (Springfield and Indy) but hasn’t won at DuQuoin. Kenny made a couple of extra pit stops that cost him track position during the Southern Illinois 100, but by the end posted his best ever DuQuoin finish, a fourth. After the race, Schrader spent quite a bit of time signing autographs for the legion of fans that Kenny’s car sponsor, Federated Auto Parts, also sponsored the Southern Illinois 100.

It’s doubtful that Schrader or Stewart had as much fun as Winston Cup owner Andy Petree, though. Petree had a smile from ear to ear after the race, and he should have. Andy has some racing experience, but is better known as a championship winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt, and as a Winston cup owner for Kenny Schrader, Kenny Wallace, and now Joe Nemecheck and Bobby Hamilton. Petree had never driven on dirt but looked like an old pro in the practice session, letting the tail hang out with the wheels cranked to the right. Andy set fourth quick time in qualifying, and finished ninth in the 100mile event, on the lead lap and one spot behind fellow rookie Jason Jarrett.

Petree spun twice in the race, and didn’t hit anything, a feat which brought a lot of positive response from the fans and the officials. Petree’s crew said after the race that "Andy had some runs in Busch, but never on dirt." "Man, we had a blast and we’d like to come back, we think you’ll see him come back again."

And, surprisingly, they said that Petree ORDERED THEM NOT TO CLEAN THE CAR! "Andy told us not to scrape any of the dirt off of the car, just leave it like it is and he’s going to put it in the showroom back at the shop for everybody to see!" It appears then that fellow NASCAR people and fans get the pleasure of seeing a stock car after an afternoon in the dirt, which truly is a great sight to behold.

Petree’s car was a former Schrader machine, that is no longer used in NASCAR. It was painted a nice shade of blue and white, and was one of the prettiest cars in the field. Petree also signed quite a number of autographs, and won quite a few fans for being so congenial and cooperative. Petree also took a number of pictures with fans after the race was over. (Hmmm, maybe that’s what racing on these old fairgrounds miles is all about, fans and drivers having fun and fans actually getting close to the drivers. Just food for thought.)

Kimmel was strong on Monday, but certainly not as dominating as he was at Springfield. The Larry Clement team continues to amaze, as preparing a second car for Stewart did not diminish the effort they put into the Kimmel machine. Kimmel has adapted to the dirt quite well, Monday’s triumph was his third in the last four ARCA dirt races, and his first at the "Magic Mile in DuQuoin.

Kimmel’s win almost certainly cements his third ARCA RE/MAX Series crown, and his second consecutive title in the series. Kimmel entered the Southern Illinois 100 with a 1000 point advantage on Jason Jarrett, and extended the point lead even further on Monday.

Jarrett’s outing was his second on the dirt, but this one did not go as well as his run at Springfield. Jason spun before taking the green flag on his qualifying lap, and slight contact with the wall flattened a left front tire. Jarrett wound up 22nd on the grid, and during the race had contact with the wall on the backstretch and it appears possibly Randy Van Zant’s spinning car. Jason, after several pit stops, ended up eighth on the day.

Illinois drivers did alright Monday, Centralia’s Joe Cooksey qualified 11th and was clearly one of the crowd favorites. Cooksey ended the day in 5th. Carlyle’s Charlie Schafer had a great qualifiying run in his Chevy, putting it in third on the grid, but lost an engine at halfway. Eric Smith of Bloomington started 9th, and ended the day in 16th, nine laps in arrears.

Mokena’s Bob Strait had a very good and a very bad day. The Dauphin Technologies team owned by Bill Hendren had focused on both ARCA dirt events, and the race in Chicago. The team fielded cars for 25 years for El Paso’s Ken Rowley, a crowd favorite at Springfield and DuQuoin. Kenny is a former track record holder at DuQuoin, and came very close to winning the 1993 Allen Crowe Memorial at Springfield. Strait qualified the Dauphin Chevy in 9th and was running with the leaders when he and Stewart got together and Strait went into the fourth turn wall hard. Strait emerged unhurt, but the car suffered extensive damage. The team car driven by Chris Geier (an executive in the sponsor’s company) also made the show, and backed into the 4th turn wall on lap 42.

Other local drivers who had good days included former ARCA champ Bill Baird, who came out of retirement to post a third (after starting 19th) and St. Joseph, Missouri’s Doug Keller who started on the front row and finished 33rd.

Mississippi late model pilot Robert Burroughs, the "Little Giant" was very impressive until the engine in his Pontiac let go four laps from the end.

Stewart’s track record shaved two tenths off of Ben Hess’ 1992 standard, Stewarts lap of 34.516 seconds computes to a speed of 104.299, and showed just how fast the track was over the weekend. The day before, J.J. Yeley and Dave Darland flirted with the magical 30 second mark in laps during the race, and the modifieds today turned laps that would have put them solidly in the dirt car show the day before! The modifieds set 6 and 8 lap track records over the weekend.

The appearance of Stewart and Schrader mark the first appearance of past NASCAR race winners in the Southern Illinois 100 since A.J. Foyt came to town in 1979.

Stewart’s appearance in a stock car marked the first appearance of an open wheel driver in one of the stock cars since Tom Bigelow ran a few years ago, and the first appearance of an Indy car race winner since A.J. Foyt’s appearance in 1979.

Stewart’s pole was the 31st for a General Motors product since 1950, and a record 7th for the Monte Carlo model at DuQuoin. Kimmel’s win was the 25th in a row for a GM product, and the 27th overall. Kimmel’s victory also gave the Monte Carlo it’s 7th DuQuoin victory.

Four-time winner Billy Thomas looked like a good bet for number 5, but he was given an stop and go penalty (for an unknown reason) early on and got a lap down, which he never got back. Thomas is one of the more popular driver at DuQuoin, he too had a large autograph line after the race.

A touching tribute was held for Dean Roper before the event, conducted by ARCA PR man Don Radebaugh. With Dean’s brother Dale and wife Marilyn on the track in front of the grandstand, Radebaugh and Frank Kimmel presented them with a UnoCal 76 checkered flag in Dean’s memory. Tears were flowing, and the large throng gave them all a standing ovation. Roper was a true champion and will be sorely missed.

As a side note, Dale Roper at nearly 65 won the 100-lap modified event at I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Missouri last week.

The Dauphin tech team brought about 150 people to the fairgrounds on Monday, about the same number they brought to the Illinois State Fair two weeks ago. Federated Auto Parts, the race sponsor had at least 200 people on hand for Monday’s event.

Estimates have appeared in the media that the crowd was around 10,000. Forget those, because the crowd was far in excess of 10,000, and perhaps the largest seen in a long time. The main grandstand seats 7,500 and was nearly full, with people actually sitting in the stagefront seats. The south bleachers were nearly full, as were the north end beleachers. Total seating for the "Magic Mile" is estimated by the fair at 18,000, and it appeared about 15,000 of those seats were occupied at race time.

A tip of the hat once again to promoter Bob Sargent and the fair. Enticing Stewart, Schrader and Petree certainly drew a crowd, and that crowd got to see a great show. The race track was good on Sunday, and even better on Monday. Sargent arranged for the legendary Pete Morrison, the man responsible for massaging the clay of the "World’s Fastest Mile" in Springfield, and he did a great job with the clay of the Southern Illinois facility. The UMP modifieds were able to widen the groove, and there was enough moisture and a cushion to allow the ARCA cars to run two and three wide in the turns. The show went off very well with no delays, and the crowd was part of a record crowd on the DuQuoin grounds on Labor Day.

Expect the ARCA event to be held on Monday again next year, with Schrader, Stewart and Petree likely to return. It would not be surprising to see some of the other Winston Cup or Busch drivers roll in to DuQuoin to try their hand at the "Magic Mile’, especially once they find out how much fun the three NASCAR guys had on Monday, how pretty the fairgrounds are, and how nice the people are of Southern Illinois. Also expect to have some night racing at DuQuoin next year, the State of Illinois did not spend 2.6 million dollars and put in lights to let the facility sit. Both auto race crowds exceeded any one of the grandstand events during the fair’s run, and crowds both days were very impressive.

Mulling over some possible names from NASCAR that might be interested in running at DuQuoin next year, how about "Mr. Excitement" Jimmy Spencer, who ran the Roulo Brothers car at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in 1994? Other drivers that one could envision making the trip would be; Jeff Burton (whose appreciation of racing history is unmatched), John Andretti (who has quite a bit of dirt experience), Michael Waltrip (a good friend of Schrader’s and has quite a following from his nearby hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky), Darrell Waltrip (also from Owensboro), Jeremy Mayfield (a former ARCA polesitter at DuQuoin and from Owensboro), Jason Leffler, Johnny Benson, Ward Burton (his sponsor is based in Peoria), Dave Blaney, Mike and/or Kenny Wallace (both from nearby St. Louis), Ron Hornaday (owner Foyt would love it!), Mike Bliss, Jerry Nadeau (loves the DIRT modifieds), Randy Tolsma and Ryan Newman.

Let’s throw another name out there of a racer, how about Robby Gordon? He would certainly be spectacular, and his off road experience would be a big help on the dirt.

The companion UMP Modified event was a hot warmup for the Southern Illinois 100. A heavy cushion worked in their favor, as the mods pushed it clear to the wall and looked like dirt champ cars at the time. Kevin Gundaker made a move from sixth to first by turn three, but Missouri’s Brian Collins grabbed the lead on lap 4 and never looked back. Collins’ laps were in the low 32 second range, and the mods were completely sideways going into the corners. Gundaker said later that his second place wasn’t a total loss, he built the car Collins won in and in fact built the last four or five winners at DuQuoin! Look for Gundaker to perhaps run a dirt champ car next year on the miles of Springfield and DuQuoin.

-dqr

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About this article
Series ARCA , Stock car
Drivers John Andretti , Ward Burton , Bobby Hamilton , Darrell Waltrip , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Ken Schrader , Jimmy Spencer , Kenny Wallace , Jerry Nadeau , Ryan Newman , Johnny Benson , Robert Burroughs , Jason Jarrett , Randy Tolsma , Andy Petree , Dave Darland , J.J. Yeley , Mike Bliss , Doug Keller , Dave Blaney , A.J. Foyt