Four-Time Indy Winner Known as "SuperTex" Returns to Historic Dirt Track for 1st Time Since 1979!!! August 18, 2001 USAC SILVER BULLET SERIES Springfield, Illinois Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 41st Annual Running 100-Mile National Championship...
Four-Time Indy Winner Known as "SuperTex" Returns to Historic Dirt Track for 1st Time Since 1979!!!
August 18, 2001 USAC SILVER BULLET SERIES Springfield, Illinois
Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 41st Annual Running 100-Mile National Championship Dirt Track Race
Macon, Illinois-August 1, 2001-A major announcement was made today by Bob Sargent of Track Enterprises, Inc. concerning the 41st Annual Corona-Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 championship dirt car race August 18 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, and it involves the first four-time winner of the event.
Racing legend A.J. Foyt has agreed to return to the historic Springfield Mile for the 1st time since 1979 as Grand Marshall for the event, which features the United States Auto Club Silver Bullet Series and the championship dirt cars. This event will be a homecoming of sorts for Foyt, he made his first championship car start at Springfield in 1957 and wond his last race on dirt at the Fairgrounds in 1979.
"A.J. Foyt is a legend in auto racing and a household name, and we are pleased and honored that A.J. has decided to return to Springfield as Grand Marshall of the event", said Sargent. "We think that his appearance will draw a large crowd and be a real thrill for all of the race fans in attendance, not to mention the thousands of people at the fairgrounds on the 18th." "I can't think of a better way to kick off the weekend."
Foyt is an auto racing icon around the world, known for his hard charging style and determination, both as a driver and a car owner. A.J. was the first man to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, the final victory as a driver coming in 1977, and recently added a fifth win as a car owner with Kenny Brack in 1999. Foyt also was the first seven-time national champion, a three-time USAC Stock Car champion, and 1972 USAC Dirt Car champion, and the 1960 Eastern Sprint Car champ. He also has victories in the 1972 Daytona 500, the 1967 24 Hours of LeMans, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and is an International Race of Champions winner. Foyt owns seven NASCAR Winston Cup wins as a driver, is second on the all-time win list of the defunct USAC Stock Car Series with 41, has 28 USAC Sprint wins, 20 USAC Midget wins, 2 USAC Dirt Car wins, and an incredible 67 National Championship victories.
While A.J. has said that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway "made A.J. Foyt", it was his appearances on the dirt miles of the national championship trail during the 60's and 70's that bonded him to a legion and generation of race fans. Foyt's smooth yet hard charging driving style made him a winner on the dirt miles 26 times in national championship competition, a record that may never be broken.
Foyt's championship career started on Saturday, August 17, 1957 at Springfield during the State Fair Championship Race. Driving the Hoover Motor Express of legendary mechanic Wally Meskowski, A.J. qualified a creditable 16 and finished in 9th position. Returning in 1958 with another legendary mechanic, Clint Brawner and the Dean Van Lines team, Foyt made the field in 8th, and placed 11th. In 1959 with the same team, A.J. started 5th and finished 15th.
In 1960, A.J. hooked up with chief wrench George Bignotti, and the pair were about to become a formidable combination. Foyt qualified 8th, but finished 17th. He later won his first championship race in the same car at DuQuoin. Returning in 1961 as the defending national champion, and after his stirring Indy 500 win, Foyt started 3rd, but couldn't catch winner Jim Hurtubise. A.J. returned again as national champ in 1962, but could do no better than 7th in Lindsey Hopkins dirt car. Starting on the pole in 1963, he led for the first time (for 3 laps) but placed second to Rodger Ward. It seemed as if A.J. had no luck on the central Illinois Mile.
Actually, Foyt was fairing a little better in the USAC Stock car races at Springfield, he led 95 laps of the 1st Allen Crowe Memorial 100 in 1963, only to fall out.
In 1964, Foyt finally conquered Springfield in perhaps the greatest season in champ car racing history. Winning 10 of 13 events on his was to his 4th national crown, the Texan rode the cushion all day long in a thrilling duel with Bobby Marshman. Neither driver had a distinct advantage that day, and both rode wheel to wheel during the last part of the event, with Foyt gaining the win on a last lap pass. The next day, Foyt took the same car to Milwaukee, stuck it on the pole after his rear engine car failed to show, and finished second in the event! Later that year, he led 55 laps of the second Crowe Memorial stock car race, but the tables were turned and the race was won by Bobby Marshman.
A.J. dominated the 1965 Bettenhausen, starting 5th and leading the last 88 laps to the checker. In 1966, he finsihed 3rd, but came back in 1967 to lead all 100 miles on an extremely rough track and tie the late Tony Bettenhausen for most Springfield championship wins.
A.J. had a great battle with Mario Andretti in 1969, taking the four-cam Ford dirt car to the front but an mechanical troubles and an engine fire two miles from the end relegated him to 5th. Once again, he ran the same car at Milwaukee the next day! In 1970, Foyt finished 9th in the Bettenhausen.
In 1971, USAC separated the dirt cars from the national championship series. Jim McElreath won the first race for the new series at Nazareth, Springfield was second on the schedule. Roll cages had just become mandatory in the USAC Sprint and Midget divisions, but weren't required on champ dirt cars. Foyt led the way toward installing the devices on the dirt cars by displaying one when he rolled out for practice that morning. Foyt had nearly won the Crowe Memorial Stock Car race the day before, losing out to teammate Jack Bowsher. He was not about to lose two days in a row. A.J. dueled with Larry Dickson and good friend George Snider before taking the lead seven laps from the end. Foyt had his first Dirt Track Division win, and Springfield had it's first four time winner!
Foyt's status in 1972 was doubt due to a serious accident at DuQuoin in a dirt car one day after the Indy 500. Somewhat weak and pale, A.J. pulled into Springfield for what would be his first race since the accident. In a herioc effort, A.J. set the crowd on fire by battling Al Unser for the first slot and actually leading part of the event. But Unser was too strong, taking the win as A.J. placed second. Foyt returned for a 23rd place showing in 1973, and a 12th place run in his final dirt car appearance at Springfield in 1974. However, it would not be his final appearance at the Illinois State Fair.
Much of A.J. Foyt's exploits are the things that create legends, and his performance in the 17th running of the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 at the Springfield Mile certainly added to that legend. Forty-four years old, a four-time Indy winner, and a two-time USAC Stock Car champ, A.J. had curtailed his dirt runs to a couple of Hoosier Hundred events. A.J. had passed up the dirt tracks on his way to the 1978 USAC Stock Car crown, and the lack of points didn't hinder the title run. That changed in 1979, with the arrival of a rookie named Rusty Wallace. Wallace and Foyt were in a classic duel for the title, and Dick Jordan of USAC informed Foyt that A.J. couldn't possibly win the title without racing on dirt. The trouble was, Foyt only had one car and it wasn't set up for dirt track racing, yet on that Sunday in 1979, the Gilmore transporter was parked in the pits.
Foyt's appearance drew one of the largest crowds in years, and he did not disappoint, putting the Valvoline Camaro on the pole. Leading the first 51 circuits, he gave up the lead on his pit stop on lap 52. Unfortunately, a new track surface began to break up and the track got extremely dusty. By lap 67, the race was stopped, and the track heavily watered. What happened next was vintage Foyt, and still ha veteran Springfield fans in awe to this day. Mired back in the pack, Foyt decided to try the outside groove, a practice unheard of in a stock car. After radioing his intention to the crew, and having them question his sanity, he began his pursuit of the leaders. Foyt made some progress early on, but he spun in turn 4 and dropped to the back of the pack. Angry at the mistake, he stormed back, riding the cushion with abandon, inches from the outside concrete, and throwing the car around like a champ dirt car. Slinging mud over the fence, he passed car after car and going into turn one on lap 93, passed leaders Don White and Joe Ruttman for the lead sending the crowd into a frenzy. That day Foyt became only the third man in Springfield history to win both the Bettenhausen and Crowe races. Al Unser and Rodger Ward are the others.
Foyt is at or near the top of many statistical lists for auto racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, his four champ car wins tie him for second with defending Bettenhausen winner Jack Hewitt, and he is 4th on the laps led list with 270 behind Chuck Gurney, 5th on the all-time starts list with 18, but holds the record for most consecutive Bettenhausen starts with 18 between 1957 and 1974. He is one of 9 men who have won the Indy 500 and at Springfield, one of three who accomplished the feat in the same year, and twice the points earned at Springfield helped him to a national title. Foyt is also one of 11 drivers to lead all 100 miles of a Springield race. In addition, records are sketchy, but A.J. may be the only owner-driver to ever win the Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100!
A.J. may be returning "home" to a legion of race fans as a grand marshall, but he could also have an influence on the outcome of the event. Several drivers will be looking to prove themselves for a shot at one of Foyt's coveted Harrah's Casino sponsored IRL machines, one of which is driven by Springfield favorite (and possible Bettenhausen entrant) Donnie Beechler. Driver's may also be looking for a chance in A.J.'s NASCAR ride, the Conseco Pontiac as well. Foyt himself has been known to tinker in the pits, he has been a co-owner of a car with George Snider, one that is now piloted by rising star Eddie Carpenter.
Springfield has a history of auto racing that goes back over 90 years, so it is only fitting that the first four-time championship race winner return as Grand Marshall for the 1st race of the new millenium. Race fans all over the Midwest will be able to welcome back the grand champion on Saturday, August 18 for the 67th anniversary of national championship racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds during the 41st running of the prestigious Bettenhausen Memorial. More information can be obtained from the website www.trackenterprises.com, while tickets can be obtained by calling 217-764-3200 or the Illinois State Fair box office.