Rich Tobias finally shed the bridesmaid label Satruday night in what may have been the finest USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown championship dirt car race of the year, and perhaps the best DuQuoin race in many years. The second generation shoe from...
Rich Tobias finally shed the bridesmaid label Satruday night in what may have been the finest USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown championship dirt car race of the year, and perhaps the best DuQuoin race in many years. The second generation shoe from Annville, Pennsylvania had been second many times, including on the miles at Syracuse and the Indiana State Fairgrounds. It seemed only a matter of time before he found victory lane in one of the big cars, a division his father the late Dick Tobias competed in but never won one of the coveted dirt car races. Tobias' task took on a new meaning after the Springfield event three weeks ago, when he destroyed the car he designed and built in a barrell roll near the end of the Tony Bettenhausen 100. Tobias had to convert the sprint car he intended to take to the MoPar Million at Eldora into a dirt car, and the rain out on Labor Day weekend allowed additional time to prepare the unique looking creation.
However, Saturday night Tobias was not able to take a qualifying time, and started shotgun on the field in the last chance race. Tobias was able to climb to fifth in the fifteen lap affair, meaning he would start 25th in the 100-mile Horn Memorial. It became a treat for the fans to watch the progress of the blue and yellow 17, as he picked off cars lap after lap, finally taking the lead at the three quarter mark from J.J. Yeley, who began to fade. But Tobias couldn't cruise, as a fast closing Dave Darland was on a mission to take his first DuQuoin win. A caution for Tyler Walker's stopped car allowed Darland to close, and he looked inside of the leader, but a drying fuel tank left the Lincoln, Indiana driver fading in the pack. Donnie Beechler stepped up to pressure Tobias, but ran out of time as Tobias captured his first 100-miler in the big cars.
Tobias became the ninth driver to capture his first USAC Silver Crown win on the "Magic Mile" at DuQuoin, the last being young Kasey Kahne in 2000. Tobias became the 32nd different winner of the Ted Horn Memorial, and the 35th different winner in the 58 championship dirt car races held at DuQuoin since 1948. By starting 25th, Tobias became the first driver in DuQuoin history to win the Ted Horn Memorial after making the race through the semi-feature since the semi was instituted by USAC in 1977. The 25th starting slot marks the furthest back any Horn winner has ever started, and the only time the race winner posted no qualification time when qualifications for the race were held.
Tobias victory also broke a stranglehold that the Bob East Beast chassis had on the Horn Memorial, Beast cars had won the last three Horn Memorials and five out of the last seven. It appears from reords available, that Tobias is the first driver who actually designed and built his own winning car in the 55 year history of championship racing at DuQuoin!
The Springfield mile at the Illinois State Fairgrounds has carried the moniker, "World's Fastest One Mile Dirt Track", and still does. It holds speed records for motorcycles, ARCA Stock Cars, winged and non-winged sprint cars, midgets, modifieds and late model stock cars. Until Saturday night, it held the world's fastest dirt track qualifying lap for a championship dirt car as well, the 29.988 (120.048) lap of Robby Flock in September of 1996. However, it appears Springfield may have a fast closing cousin in the southern Illinois oval.
Practice did not produce any record breaking times, yet DuQuoin has always been a track that gets faster as more rubber is laid down. WIth all the recent rains and the cool evening, no one was quite sure what the track would do, but it appeared the track record probably wasn't going to fall unless someone was sandbagging in practice. Dave Darland, heading out 22nd in the order, knocked Tracy Hines off the pole with a 30.720 first circuit, then lowered the pole time to 30.508. Chief rival J.J. Yeley was four slots behind, and he put Darland in the second slot with a 30.332 first lap, bettering that with a 30.297 second lap. Looking at the remaining qualifiers, it wasn't apparent that anyone could knock Yeley off the pole, much less better Ed Carpenter's year old record of 30.093. The shocker came five minutes after Yeley went out.
Nineteen year old Teddy Beach, a midget shoe from Ohio, is in his first season in the big dirt cars and was impressive in qualifying both at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and Springfield. However, DuQuoin can be a tricky place even for a veteran driver, so one might assume that a rookie wouldn't catch on so soon. Beach would soon shatter that theory.
Planting the right rear of the pearl white and neon red 15 on the cushion, Beach barely lifted the gas pedal as he backed the family Beast into turn one, performing the same feat in three and four. Crossing the line, it appeared the clock malfunctioned as the number, 29.947 appeared, a new track record and the first DuQuoin championship car lap in history over the magical 120 mile an hour barrier! Not only did Beach set a new DuQuoin record, but he set a world record one-mile dirt track qualifying lap for the Silver Crown cars in the process, just the second over the magical 120 mile an hour barrier. In doing so, Beach became just the seventh rookie in 55 years to start from the pole at DuQuoin.
Track Enterprises CEO and president Bob Sargent and staff did a wonderful job of preparing the surface Saturday night, with the track record falling fans anticipated a great race and got it. The drivers in the semi obviously learned a great deal, and a cushion ride was the order of the night. By the checkered flag, the cushion was pushed clear out to the outer wall, and tire marks could be seen between turns one an two. The racing was a real throwback to the days of rooster tails and skinny tires, and very very entertaining. A walk of the track afterwards found a still tacky racing surface.
Track improvements continue at DuQuoin, a new judges stand is supposed to be on the way for 2004, and rumors abound that some pavement will be in the pit area next year. In fact, due to a still muddy and soggy infield, the big rigs parked outside turn three, allowing fans to see turn three and four completely for the first time in many years, something that drew a loud round of applause from the paying customers. USAC's Silver Crown cars do this at Indianapolis Raceway Park, and the custom may continue at DuQuoin as well. Reports have the state considering the installation of lights at Springfield as well, and with the Springfield track traditionally being faster than DuQuoin, and Darland and Hines eight tenths of a second under the track record in practice during the day in August, night time racing at Springfield could see a sub 29 second qualifying lap, and a specatcular cushion ride as well.
A pretty good crowd returned Saturday, considering that Southern Illinois University's football team was playing Southeast Missouri in Cape Girardeau before a record crowd, and a number of Saturday night tracks were returning. Unanimous praise was heard from the fans in the pits after the race for the action, the lights, and unanimous votes were heard for a Sunday night Silver Crown race during the fair next year. Fair officials did take note of the great action and the nice sized crowd.
Darland had a rollercoaster night, but his performance was just about as entertaining as Tobias. Starting fourth, he quickly moved to second and was closing on leader Yeley when Wes Miller executed a nasty flip in turn three. Darland spun, with minor damage, but the accident took out point contender Dave Steele and top five pilot John Heydenriech. No one was hurt, except Steele's chances at the title. Darland, however, entertained the throng by coming from the tail to challenge for the lead by lap 90, but the fuel supply dwindled dropping him to seventh.
Springfield, Illinois' Donnie Beechler had a tremendous ride, coming from sixteenth to second at the end and closing very fast. Donnie started the night with a skelton crew, but picked the right set up and waited patiently the first 50 miles. Had there been five more laps, Donnie might have become the first Illinois resident since Don Branson in 1965 to win the Ted Horn 100.
Other drivers with a good night at DuQuoin were Kevin "Pup" Huntley (21st to 4th), rookie Ron Gregory (8th) and veterans Russ Gamester (9th, a former winner) and Johnny Parsons (10th, a former winner). Drivers with hard luck included veteran Roger Rager, who timed third but blew an engine on the opening lap, former winner Tony Elliot whose car quit on lap 36, Tyler Walker who ran out of fuel on lap 88, and Beach who lost the powerplant on lap 92.
Walker had a great opportunity Thursday night, running the NASCAR Truck race at Richmond for Jim Smith's Ultra team, as a third truck to Ted Musgrave and Jimmy Spencer. Qualifying was washed out, so Walker started 34th on owner points and moved to 8th before a cut tire sent him into the wall.
J.J. Yeley looked much better after his Springfield fiasco. Entering the fairgrounds in his gleaming black PT Cruiser, Yeley appeared to be relaxed and confident, which showed in his quick qualifying lap. At the start, he outdragged Beach into turn one and appeared he might dominate the race. But a push devloped late in the race, and he was able to hang on to third at the end.
Jerry Coons secured another top ten in the Galen Fox team car, placing 7th in the white Plastic Express.
Forty-two cars were on the final entry list, with 41 drawing pills for qualifying. Jonathan Vennard made the top 20 in the Mucci-Matazak 99, but the car blew up on the second lap. Six time DuQuoin winning crew chief Bob Galas was in attendance with his beautiful orange and white 12, but the car never made it past practice with Brian Tyler. Mike Hess, the Petersburg, Illinois midget ace, broke an engine firing up for hot laps. Oklahoma City sprint shoe Larry Neighbors encountered teething problems with his new car, while Wayne Reutimann made the tow from Florida and made the 100-miler. Another driver who made the main event was vet Jerry Nemire, recovered from his hard ARCA crash on Labor Day at DuQuoin. Aaron Fike ran in the Zarounian 67, fresh off the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series event at Chicago. Jay Drake looked stong in George Snider's MoPar 11, but crashed hard in practice and the team loaded up for home.
No shows were the Mataka 31, the 6R Racing 21 and 85, the Depalma 64, Danny Long's 68 and Murray Erickson's 71. Drivers who might have been in attendance included Ed Carpenter, Kevin Newton, Kenny Jacobs, Donny Schatz, Greg Wilson and Bud Kaeding.
One driver who was sorely missed was Jack Hewitt, still on the mend from his injuries last season.
Saturday night's event marked the 7th time in ten years the Horn Memorial has been red flagged due to an accident. As a result, no time and speed of the race were recorded.
Congrats go out to Springfield and DuQuoin announcer Jim Childers, celebrating 20 years at the miles. Childers feat merited a full page article in the race program, and an award from ARCA driver Ken Rowley on Labor Day.
As has been reported, there was an accident prior to practice involving one of the state trucks and a state worker. It is still unknown how or why the accident happened, and an investigation continues.
The Silver Crown cars venture to Tulsa next weekend for the Tulsa 100 on the revamped 3/4 mile Tulsa fairgrounds, an event that is generating great interest.