DUQUOIN, ILLINOIS AUGUST 23, 2000- A safer and perhaps faster racing facility at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds awaits the teams of the United States Auto Club Silver Bullet Championship Series as they make their annual Labor Day visit to the...
DUQUOIN, ILLINOIS AUGUST 23, 2000- A safer and perhaps faster racing facility at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds awaits the teams of the United States Auto Club Silver Bullet Championship Series as they make their annual Labor Day visit to the "Magic Mile" for the 50th running of the Ted Horn Memorial 100, Monday Septmeber 4. The Southern Illinoisan newspaper out of Carbondale comes on board in their second year as title sponsor of the event.
A massive renovation project of the fifty-three year-old race track is almost complete, with the most important piece of the puzzle, a concrete retaining wall now in place. Aluminum stands have replaced old wooden bleachers, the narrow backstretch has been widened significantly, new clay has been added to the racing surface, and a portion of the lighting system is in place. In addition, landscaping and flowers placed around the race track have increased the park-like atmosphere of perhaps the most beautiful state fairgrounds in the country.
Thus, when the cars and stars of the United States Auto Club Silver Bullet Series for the open wheel championship dirt cars roll into the "Magic Mile" on Labor Day they will be see a totally different race track. Fans will also appreciate the change, as the new safety improvements should lessen the chance of red flag delays brought on by cars penetrating the old guardrail.
Drivers, fans and officials of the USAC Silver Bullet series always look forward to the Labor Day jaunt to DuQuoin, and the improvements have heightened the excitement. "These improvments really look good," said USAC Technical Director Mike Devin when shown photos of the project. "The State of Illinois has done a lot of work, and the new wall should keep us from having delays like we had in the past.
"We might have a faster track," said 1997 Silver Bullet champ and current one-lap record holder Dave Darland. "With the widening of the backstretch, we ought to get a better exit off of turn two." "It would get kind of narrow coming out of turn two, and the fence would literally jump out at you."
Darland is just one nearly fifty drivers expected to test the new facility during the 50th edition of the "Ted Horn Memorial 100", the 9th event on the 14-race 2000 Coors Light Silver Bullet Series schedule. The Horn will be the second of three straight events on dirt miles for the championship dirt cars, the Tony Bettenhausen 100 was contested at Springfield on August 19, and because of rain the Hoosier Hundred was postponed from it's May slot to a familiar September date, September 22.
At least four former winners of the Ted Horn 100 are expected to try for another victory, headed by three-time (86,87,93) winner Jack Hewitt of Troy, Ohio in the Print Express-Beast. Hewitt is a two-time Silver Bullet national champion who leads the series in all-time wins with 23, 12 of those coming on one-mile dirt tracks, and seven of those coming on Illinois clay. Jack may be the odds-on favorite to win number four at DuQuoin, he took his fourth win at Springfield in the 40th Tony Bettenhausen 100 on the 19th and every time Hewitt has won at Springfield, he has taken the Horn 100 at DuQuoin on Labor Day.
Also expected is two-time (92,95) winner Johnny Parsons of Speedway, Indiana. Parsons is the oldest championship race winner, his 1995 win came at the age of 51, and the current 100-mile track record holder. Johnny's car has local ties, as it is owned by Benton, Illinois businessman Ricky Nix.
Other winners include defending champion Tony Elliot of Kokomo, Indiana in Gene Nolen's entry, 1997 winner Russ Gamester of Peru, Indiana in the family owned Terre Haute First National Bank car, and 1998 winner Jimmy Sills of Placerville, California. Sills, the only three-time Silver Bullet national champ, went back to familiar surroundings at Springfield when he left the George Snider-A.J. Foyt team, and reunited with car owner Gary Stanton in a Beast car powered by one of Stanton's Chrysler engines. East Coast Modified star Brett Hearn had been in the machine in May, but other committments this fall left the ride open.
Leading a contingent of drivers attempting to add a Horn trophy to their collection will be current series point leader Brian Tyler of Parma, Michigan in the Hoffman owned Kroger sponsored machine. Darland made up a lot of ground in the points chase and now stands second, followed by up and coming Tracy Hines in the Indiana Underground Beast, and former NASCAR Winston Cup driver is now fourth with John Heydenreich fifth. J..J. Yeley of Arizona has moved to the Snider-Foyt operation, while defending Silver Bullet series champ Ryan Newman pilots a Beast chassis painted to resemble Johnnie Parsons 1950 Indianapolis 500 winner. Red hot Jay Drake sits tenth in the title chase driving a Stealth for Ralph Potter. All of the top ten in the ponts chase are expected to be at DuQuoin.
One driver making a return will be Jason Leffler in the Team ASE Beast. Leffler has been absent much of the year due to his committment to the Joe Gibbs NASCAR Busch team, but has found time to win two races and has committed to this event. 1989 Silver Bullet champ Chuck Gurney subbed for Leffler at Springfield, and may get the chance again at the Hoosier Hundred. Leffler will be in a car co-owned by builder Bob East and NASCAR star Tony Stewart! East, a former driver, is very familar with the DuQuoin mile, and Stewart used the series to propel himself to an Indy Racing League title and Rookie of the Year status on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
The State of Illinois will be well represented in the field of entrants, led by local residents Randy Bateman and Bill Schemonia of nearby Murphysboro. Bateman has competed several times at DuQuoin and will have the GRP Magnum at his disposal(pending repairs from a Springfield crash), while Schemonia is in his second season on the trail and has a Bob Galas chassis with sponsorship from the 17th Street Bar. Springfield's Donnie Beechler should be in St. Louis resident Jim Logan's Stanton, Sherman's Donnie Lehman has an older Watson car to work with, and New Berlin's Steve Shappard gave Lou Burmeister's car quite a ride at Springfield. Others with area ties are car owners Bob Galas of O'Fallon, Illinois and Gus Sohm of St. Louis.
Additional entrants that could make Labor Day interesting are former Hoosier Hundred winners Chuck Leary and Gary Hieber, Eric Gordon (who led part of last year's event) and rookie contender Kasey Kahne in the Zaruonian entry. Another rookie who gained a legion of fans at Springfield is 20 year-old Bud Kaeding of Campbell, California. Kaeding is a third generation driver, his father Brent is a sprint and Silver Bullet driver who has run at DuQuoin, and grandfather Howard was a West Coast sprint car legend. Kaeding reminded Springfield veteran fans of Al Unser with his smooth style and the young pilot led 79 of the 100 miles at the Illinois State Fair before Hewitt took the lead on lap 86. Kaeding has a very good car and crew, his CarQuest Parts Beast is owned and wrenched by Indiana businessman Rollie Helmling, whose midgets were driven by John Andretti, Tony Stewart and NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon.
Throw in the possibility of former (89,94,96) winner Gurney picking up a ride and this could be the most competitive field in Horn history!
Last year's Horn Memorial certainly didn't disappoint the large crowd in attendance. First, the Horn obtained it's first corporate sponsor as the Southern Illinosan newspaper presented the event. A fast track greeted the 39 cars on the grounds, a track so fast it blew four engines in the practice session. As hard as it is to believe, the "Magic Mile" tends to get faster as the day wears on and rubber takes to the clay surface. So it wasn't much of a surprise that the thirty-eight driver in line took the pole, and the thirty-ninth the outside of the front row. Darland's time of 30.728 (117.157 mph) took the top slot, while Eric Gordon's second circuit was just a tenth of a second slower.
Yorba Linda, California pilot Cary Fass in O'Fallon, Illinois resident Bob Galas' familiar number 12 led wire to wire to take the 15 lap last chance race, with Schemonia taking the last of the thirty starting spots in his own car.
At the start of the 1999 Ted Horn Memorial, Gordon took the Merchants Bank Special into the lead over Darland, and began a pace in excess of 115 miles per hour. The record pace continued until the first of two red flags on the day when Chuck Leary flipped on the backstretch, negating any possibilty of a new 100-mile record. Elliot, from fourth, quietly moved up until he took the lead from Gordon on lap 40 and began stretching his advantage. Not a red flag for a fire in Billy Puterbaugh's car nor the yellow for Hewitt's spin in turn one could slow the Kokomo, Indiana shoe as he raced to his first Horn crown. Polesitter Darland finished second, Gordon took third with Sills fourth and Tyler fifth. Elliot took home over $9000 for the afternoon's work and his second series triumph.
Ted Horn was one of the best and most popular racers ever to sit behind the cockpit of an open wheel car. Horn was a three time national champion of the American Autombile Association, the governing body of American championship racing through the end of the 1955 season. Ted had one of the most incredible finishing records in his beloved Indianapolis 500, finishing in the top five every year from 1936 until 1948! But the "500" victory he wanted most continued to elude him.
As told by Tom Nasti in his book "That Magic Mile", Horn finished third in the first ever championship race at DuQuoin in September of 1948. The sellout crowd of over 20,000 convinced the Hayes family that a second date was viable, so the big cars returned in October. By the time they arrived, Horn had clinched his third National Championship, carried by a car of his own construction and design, aptly named "Beauty".
Horn started fourth that day in the car with the number 1 signifying his champion status boldy emblazioned on the tail. However, he never saw the finish. As his bride of seventeen days and a capacity crowd looked on in horror, the right front spindle broke in turn four on lap two, causing the car to flip violently and strike a car driven by future NASCAR Southern 500 winner Johnny Mantz. Horn was thrown to the ground, and later passed away at Marshall Browning Hospital in DuQuoin, the only driver fatality in the history of the championship race to date. A superstitious man, Horn changed his own routine this day. His wife wore a green dress, and he shaved race morning. And when his shoes were removed at the hospital, the two pennies he normally carried were missing.
In honor of the great champion, W.R. Hayes and family christened the 100-mile championship race held during the fair as the "Ted Horn Memorial". The second event in 1950 was claimed by rain, as was the 1962 event. The 2000 version will be the 56th scheduled national championship race at DuQuoin, and the 52nd scheduled Ted Horn Memorial event. The 2000 race will be the 32nd Silver Bullet series event presented at DuQuoin since the dirt cars separated from the championship trail in 1971.
A list of drivers that would fill a hall of fame have rolled into DuQuoin to take the coveted Horn trophy, including Tony Bettenhausen, two time winners Sam Hanks and Jimmy Bryan, Rodger Ward, Mario Andretti and Al Unser. And when the Silver Bullet series became a separate entity in 1971, popular drivers like George Snider, Tom Bigelow, Hewitt, Pancho Carter and Jeff Swindell joined the honor roll. Bubby Jones won the 1976 race on CBS TV, while Billy Vukovich won the 1979 event before an NBC audience. Gary Bettenhausen outdid father Tony, adding five Horn trophies to his mantle.
But it is Houston, Texas driver Anthony Joseph Foyt Junior who is the grand DuQuoin champion. A four time Indy 500 winner and seven time national champion, Foyt is only one of two drivers (Bryan the other) to win both the Horn and the Southern Illinois 100 stock car race. Foyt took his first ever National Championship win at DuQuoin in 1960 at the wheel of George Bignotti's Bowes Seal Fast Special, and added wins in 1961, 1963, 1964, 1967 and 1972. In the process, Foyt became probably the most popular driver ever at the Southern Illinois mile. DuQuoin became the place where A.J. wrestled a lion on the infield, got upside down in a champ car (1970), and received bad burns and a broken ankle one day after the Indianapolis 500 in 1972.
Twenty National Champions used a win at the Ted Horn Memorial 100 to launch themselves to a crown, the last coming with Chuck Gurney in 1989. Eleven different drivers have posted more than one win on the "Magic Mile", while eleven more have posted their first National Championship or Silver Bullet win at DuQuoin. Eight drivers have posted back to back wins, led by Foyt who won four consecutive races in the early '60's. Four times the man who won the Indy 500 in May also took the Ted Horn 100 in September.
Thanks to the vision of W.R. Hayes and his family, plus a host of drivers, crewmen, fans and officials, the racing world thinks of the Southern Illinois clay oval carved out of a strip mine each year Labor Day rolls around.
The UMP Modified series semi-feature and feature events join the Silver Bullet cars for the last day of the fair. Defending winner Kevin Gundaker of St. Louis set a 20-mile track record last year and is expected back.
Practice for the 50th Anniversary Horn Memorial begins at around 9 a.m. Labor Day, with drivers shooting for Dave Darland's 1997 track record of 30.308 (118.871 mph) around mid morning. The 100-mile Ted Horn Memorial begins at around 2:30 p.m., with drivers striving to break Johnny Parsons' 1992 world record for the fastest 100 miles on dirt of 56:03.00 (107.047 mph). Drivers will be competing for over $40,000 in prize and contingency money, with the winner taking home in excess of $9000. A crowd of over 10,000 is expected to pass through the gates to witness the 2000 Ted Horn Memorial.
Tickets can be obtained by calling promoter Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200, Ticketmaster, or at the DuQuoin State Fair box office. More information regarding the modifieds and Silver Bullet cars can be found on the world wide web at www.trackenterprises.com or at www.usacracing.com
Coors Light Silver Bullet Point Standings: 1-Tyler-344; 2-Darland-305; 3-Hines-294; 4-Noffsinger-280; 5-Heydenreich-260; 6-Newman-251; 7-Yeley-250; 8-Jason Leffler-237; 9-Hewitt-235; 10-Jay Drake-223.