Springfield celebrates fiftieth year

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS AUGUST 9, 2000 - The "World's Fastest One Mile Dirt Oval" celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of stock car racing on it's rich gumbo surface when the stock cars of the Automobile Racing Club of America Bondo Mar-Hyde Series...

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS AUGUST 9, 2000 - The "World's Fastest One Mile Dirt Oval" celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of stock car racing on it's rich gumbo surface when the stock cars of the Automobile Racing Club of America Bondo Mar-Hyde Series invade the capitol city for the last day of the Illinois State Fair on Sunday, August 20.

The thirty-eighth running of the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 highlights the last day of the fair, as nearly forty cars are expected to vie for one of the coveted starting positions and a purse of over $113,000 in prizes and accessory awards as posted by promoter Bob Sargent of Track Enterprises. Par-A-Dice Casino and Hotel comes on board again in their second year as title sponsor of the Crowe Memorial.

Three former winners are on the tentative pre-race entry list, capped by defending race winner and 1999 ARCA champ Bill Baird of Sturgis, Kentucky in his Saturn Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo, two-time (1996-97) and former ARCA champ Tim Steele in the H-S Die Ford Taurus. 1995 winner Billy Thomas is also expected in his Joe Miller Pontiac Grand Prix. Another former winner that could find himself in a ride before the fair date is 1994 Crowe Memorial winner Bob Hill.

Perhaps the most familiar entry to Springfield fans the grand Springfield champion Dean Roper of Fair Grove, Missouri in the Mueller Brothers Pontiac Grand Prix. Roper, a three time champion of the now defunct USAC Stock Car Series, is the all time leading winner of ARCA races conducted on dirt tracks with 9 victories. It shouldn't surprise anyone then that Dean leads in stock car wins at Springfield with seven overall wins, and ties with Bob Keselowski for the lead in Crowe Memorial victories at four. Dean also leads in several other statistical categories at the fairgrounds: consecutive wins (3, tied with Keselowski), laps led (333), consecutive races led (8), and as the winner who started furthest back in the field (18th). Dean won seven of nine races at Springfield between 1981 and 1986.

As reported by Don Radebaugh of ARCA, this will be the fortieth and last year of competition for the Mueller Brothers who may retire after this event, or after the Southern Illinois 100 at DuQuoin over Labor Day weekend. That doesn't necessarily mean the end for Dean Roper, who "feels good" and may continue in his quest to become the oldest race winner in ARCA history, a record currently held by the late Iggy Katona who won the 1974 Daytona race at age 56.

However, the entries that spark most interest from Springfield fans are the local drivers who bring out their machines to compete with the traveling series. No local driver has ever won the Crowe Memorial, but that doesn't keep them from trying.

Seven homestate drivers dot the pre-race entry list, and more could find their way to the track by August 20. Leading the Illinois contingent is Springfield's own Rich Hayes in the Duffy's Pontiac Grand Prix Also expected are Peoria's Todd Coon in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Normal's Curt Piercy in a Chevrolet and Joe Cooksey of Centralia in a Pontiac. Eric Smith of Bloomington always runs strong in his father's Ford, and Charles Schafer of Carlyle has a Chevrolet at his disposal. In addition, James Tuggle of Decatur, Mark Voight of Marine Mike Lorz of Midlothian competed in last year's event and could possibly be late entries.

One Illinois entry that fans can indentify with is Bob Strait of Mokena, who will be driving for a crew that fielded cars for El Paso driver and crowd favorite Ken Rowley. Kenny retired at the end of the 1998 season but the Bill Hendren team pooled their resources with the Mark Thompson crew. The combination has been very effective, Strait held the point lead before the July Pocono event and sits second in the standings prior to the August 12 race at Winchester, Indiana.

Leading the ARCA standings prior to the Winchester event is former titlist Frank Kimmel in Larry Clement's potent Chevrolet. Clement is a former winning car owner of the Crowe, with Bob Hill wheeling the car into victory lane. Kimmel has come close to a win at Springfield, posting runner-up finishes the last two years, each time by less than a car length! Steele is third in the points, followed by "Flyin" Brian Ross of Plymouth, Indiana and Andy Belmont. In fact, sixteen of the top twenty in the ARCA points chase are on the tentative pre-race entry list.

Two entries that will spark a lot of interest are the cars assigned to Shawna Robinson and Ed Dixon. Robinson, a mother of two, is in the chase for "Rookie of the Year" in the ARCA series and will attempt to become the first woman ever to qualify for a major auto race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Dixon, from Washington, Missouri is a dirt late model pilot who drives for 1998 Crowe winner and NASCAR star Ken Schrader. Dixon has a large contingent of fans in the area that will be out in force on August 20.

The Crowe Memorial is known for it's crowd pleasing action and close finishes, and last years edition was certainly one of the best. A warm and sunny day greeted thirty-seven ARCA competitors Sunday morning, as did a fast track that would dry out very quickly under the midwestern sun. Bob Strait rolled off the line fourth, and sent the crew of the Bill Hendren owned Budweiser Chevrolet into orbit with a 35.044 (102.720 mph) that was good enough for the pole.

When the green flew, 10,000 fans watched as Strait shot into the lead ahead of outside front row starter Baird and led the first lap. Baird surged ahead on lap 2, and the fireworks began on lap 3 when Tuggle hit the inside guardrail in turn three, the first of 8 caution periods taking over 1/3 of the race.

Baird led through lap 68 when Frank Kimmel took the top slot in Larry Clement's Advance Auto Parts Chevy. Kimmel led for 11 circuits, before Baird took the lead on the 79th go around. The final laps had the fans on their feet, with Kimmel taking the lead briefly off of turn two. Baird powered underneath Kimmel on the final turn for an emotional victory worth a Crowe record $16,770. Baird averaged just under 75 miles per hour for the distance. Baird's first Crowe Memorial win sent him on to his first ARCA national driving title.

Kimmel took second, followed by the Ford of Mark Gibson, the Chevy of Washington, Missouri's Ed Dixon, and Joe Cooksey. Bloomington, Illinois' Eric Smith brought the Southtown Ford home seventh.

The Illinois State Fair Mile held it's first national championship stock car race in the fall of 1950, with Californian Jay Frank aboard an Oldsmobile "Rocket 88" taking the American Automobile Assocation's 100-miler. It would be another eleven years before the hardtops would return, with Len Sutton taking a United States Auto Club 100 mile contest in the fall of 1961.

The Allen Crowe Memorial came into being in 1963, as a way for the citizens of Springfield to honor a fallen hometown racing hero. Allen Crowe, a budding sprint, midget, and championship car driver was just beginning to break into the big time of open wheel racing when his life was cut short in a sprint car in New Bremen, Ohio in June. The first stock car race and Crowe Memorial to be run as part of the Illinois State Fair was August 20, 1965. This year's edition will be the 47th national championship stock car race run on the mile.

The Springfield mile has a long and cherished history in American stock car racing, from the first AAA race in 1950, through the USAC Stock Car years, and now with the ARCA series, the Crowe Memorial is known for close finishes, great racing, and great drivers.

USAC Stock Car legends Norm Nelson, Butch Hartman, Roger McCluskey, Don White and Bay Darnell are just a few of the names on the honor list of Springfield winners. Springfield has hosted ARCA greats such as Ramo Stott, Bob Keselowski, and the only father-son combo to win the Crowe Memorial, Jack Bowsher and son Bobby. 1990 ARCA champ Bob Brevak's victory helped him to the title. Other ARCA stars such as Benny Parsons, Ralph Latham, Les Snow, Scott Stovall and Marv Smith also appeared on a Crowe entry list.

Stock car races at the Springfield Mile have included such NASCAR greats as Curtis Turner, winner of the inaugural Crowe Memorial in 1963, 1998 winner and midwest favorite Ken Schrader, 1962 winner Paul Goldsmith, 1965 winner Bobby Isaac. Rusty Wallace, Davey Allison, Joe Ruttman and Alan Kulwicki. Add on Indy drivers Joe Leonard and 1972 winner Al Unser and one can see why Springfield has such a great tradition.

Practice for the 38th Para-Dice Allen Crowe Memorial 100 begins at around 9 a.m., with qualifications at approximately 11. The 100 mile event will take the green flag at about 2:30. Drivers will be shooting for the one-lap qualification record set by Story City, Iowa's Bob Hill of 33.546 (107.315 mph) in 1995. The 100-mile ARCA race record was set by Bobby Bowsher in 1990 of 1:08:00.00 (90.000 mph), while the all-time Crowe record for 100 miles still stands, the standard set by Don White in 1966 of 1:06:30.14 (90.222 mph).

Also on the card is the 7th annual Wynn's Sportsman Nationals, with defending and four-time champ Wes O'Dell heading the entry list. Twelve drivers had pre-qualified for the twenty-mile event at press time.

Tickets can be obtained by calling Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200, Ticketmaster, or the State Fair box office. More information can be found on the worldwide web at www.trackenterprises.com or at www.arcaracing.com.

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About this article
Series ARCA , Stock car
Drivers Rusty Wallace , Ken Schrader , Shawna Robinson , Frank Kimmel , Andy Belmont , Joe Ruttman , Joe Leonard , Tim Steele , Mark Gibson , Benny Parsons , Bill Baird , Mark Thompson , Al Unser , Alan Kulwicki , Davey Allison