Illinois State Fair: 42nd Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 notes

August 19, 2002 -- J.J. Yeley secured a page in history Saturday when he pulled into victory lane and collected one of the coveted Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 trophies for winning the USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown event. Yeley had been looking...

August 19, 2002 -- J.J. Yeley secured a page in history Saturday when he pulled into victory lane and collected one of the coveted Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 trophies for winning the USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown event. Yeley had been looking for some time for a win on one of the big dirt miles, and now he can place his name in the record books alongside names like Shaw, Rose, Bettenhausen, Bryan, Ward, Foyt, Andretti, Unser, Hewitt and Gurney, champions all of this prestigious race.

Yeley became the 13th driver in the 68 year history of champ car racing at Springfield to win by leading all 100 miles, and the 13th driver to win from the pole slot. His win in car number 9 was the 4th for that particular car number, and helped Bob East become the all-time leader in Springfield victories for car builders with eleven, all in a row! Yeley's win was just the third for a car shod with Hoosier tires.

J.J.'s win was the FIRST EVER for the small block Ford V-8 in Silver Crown competition and snapped a win streak at Springfield for the small block Chevy V-8 that extended back to 1976. The last win for a Ford product at Springfield was Al Unser's Vicerory car in 1975, with the 255 double overhead cam Ford V-8.

Further, Yeley became the first back to back polesitter since Russ Gamester in 1997-98, and the first lap he led Satruday was his first ever in front at Springfield!

A quirky racetrack led to an interesting day Saturday. A wet track greeted the teams Saturday, a track that quickly dried when a little wind and sun came out later in the morning. The groove widened quite a bit, but no real ledge existed for the drivers to lean on. In the 100-miler, the only groove was along the rail, and the only moisture less than a car width from the rail, meaning a lot of guys were close to bouncing off the inner rail looking for bite.

Yeley's 30.534 lap, done on a very small cushion, was nearly 118 miles an hour. Yeley was the 6th car to go out, and times fell off quite a bit after that. Yeley's race speeds were some 20 miles an hour slower than he qualified, the slick track limited the bite in the corners and in fact, NONE of Yeley's race laps exceeded 100 miles an hour! Had that been the average for the entire event, it still would have been nearly 7 miles an hour slower than Jack Hewitt's 15 year old track record.

Yeley hustled out of the joint to a private plane, heading for Lakeside Speedway and the finale of the SCRA Championship tour. Dave Darland was taken in a car by wife Brenda on their way back to Indiana for the Five Crown event.

Several drivers had days they'd rather forget. Defending winner Paul White qualified 4th, had a tire go flat during the event and dropped out. His team car ran well with George White (no relation) at the wheel, but dropped out and ended 19th. In fact, ten cars were out by lap 20 of the main event!

A.J. Anderson, starting to tear up the sprint car tracks in central Indiana, was a surprise entry in place of Levi Jones in Gus Sohm's 83. Gus, a long time USAC car owner, has the Adkins McQueen Steve Chassey won the Bettenhausen with in 1988. Anderson got together with a couple cars in the semi, and rolled the car at least twice, once on the wall making the frame very questionable for DuQuoin. A.J. was unhurt.

"Hot Rod" Johnny Heydenreich took a more spectacular ride at the start of the main event, losing a rear wheel in turn two and barrel rolling at least five times. John was OK but the Beast of Sharon Duda was hurt pretty badly.

Dane Carter had a roller coaster of a day, he made the show through the last chance race, and then in spectacular fashion rode the rim from 22nd to tenth in a handlful of laps. Preparing to pass Tom Capie in turn one, Capie hit the rear of another car and slid up into Dane's path, Dane rode over his right rear and the two slammed hard into the concrete. Both were OK, Dane headed for Capie's disabled racer for a serious discussion but track workers stopped him before he got to the car. Dane's Pedigo Chevy got the worst of the incident, the front end was moved over several inches and the car needed some major work. Dad Pancho, the 1980 Bettenhausen winner, was seen after the wreck in an animated discussion with a USAC official.

Rich Tobias had to be considered a darkhorse going in, but was caught off guard by the slick surface and never hooked up to the track. A tie rod broke on the car before halfway, and Rich spun in turn 1.

Former winning crew chief Bob Galas (Gary Bettenhausen 1983) had his Galas chassis back, with sponsorship from former owner Tim Derose. They have secured the services of the "Red Head" Gary Hieber for the dirt events. Gary, the 1990 Hoosier Hundred winner gave up the family car to take this ride, and failed to make the show, crashing in hot laps. Galas and crew thrashed to get the car ready, but it failed to make the main event.

Young Jonathan Vennard made a last lap pass of Sport Allen in the semi to make the race in the Mucci 99, only to have the engine go sour. It left a streak of oil when it fired up for the Bettenhausen 100, and Jonathan pulled in before completing a lap. He stated after the race that he should be in the car for DuQuoin and the finale at Syracuse.

Guys who missed the setup included Tony Elliot, Jason Leffler in George Snider's MoPar car, Aaron Fike (whose car wouldn't start), and Dave Steele who saw a lot of his point lead dwindle Saturday. Derek Davidson also struggled, but found the high side to his liking late in the race and was able to salvage an 11th place.

Who says that you need a new race car every year? Ralph Depalma (not the 1915 Indy 500 winner) pulled out a Gambler that is nearing it's 20th birthday, put midget ace Matt Westfall behind the wheel and Matt qualified 7th and ended 5th with a strong run. The car has quite a history, drivers include Dave Blaney and Jack Hewitt.

Speaking of Hewitt, he was sorely missed Saturday. The four-time Bettenhausen winner is a crowd favorite, and could have tied legend A.J. Foyt on the consecutive Bettenhausen start list at 18. Hewitt still is in the top 5 in starts at Springfield, and word in the pit area was that he is already walking around at his Troy, Ohio home.

Drivers who had pretty good days included Dave Darland (13th to 4th), rookie Carl Edwards in the former Gene Beach car (19th to 10th), and Nick Lundgreen (28th to 15th).

Nearly 50 cars were pre-entered, but only 40 showed on the grounds race morning. No shows included the Beast of Johnny Vance, Hewitt's car from 6R racing, Eric Gordon in the Bowen 41, the Hoffman 69, Jim Mills, Billy Puterbaugh (looking for another Putnamville sprint car win), and Terry Pletch (who may be selling his equipment).

It was hard to understand why Donnie Beechler did not have a ride with a number of good cars available. Beechler's appearance probably would have led to several hundred more spectators, though Saturday's crowd looked to be about the same as the estimated 7,700 from last year.

Other no shows included A.J. Foyt IV (who had no conflict with the Infiniti Pro Series) and fellow IPS driver Ed Carpenter.

How about Johnny Parsons? At age 58, still very competitive in the series and quite capable of winning, the veteran put Ricky Nix Beast in the top 20 and ran in the top ten until the car let him down. If the car would stay under John for 100 miles, he could easily become the oldest race winner ever in the Silver Crown cars.

Rumor in the garage area was that Craig Kinser, son of sprint car legend Steve Kinser, might be doing some pavement Silver Crown racing for Galen Fox next season.

Looking in the pit area, there is quite a noticeable difference in many of the cars. The most glaring example is that of Brad Fox and Dave Darland, teammates for Galen Fox. Brad has a dirt Beast obtained from Junior Kurtz, and Dave has a combo Beast (made for dirt and pavement). Dave's car has a low, wide profile while Brad's car is narrower with a higher cage.

Also seen in the pits for sale was the Red Line Oil 117, formerly driven by Californian Ronnie Day. The car was less engine, no word on any takers.

Call Jerry Coons, Jr. Harry Gant of the dirt cars! Jerry finished second at DuQuoin last year, second in last year's Hoosier Hundred, and second at Springfield last year. Chalk up another second place finish for the midget ace at Springfield Saturday. The driver of the Dan Drinan built Kele car is always tough on the miles, and if he and crew chief Joe Gaerte can find a little extra, you should see him in the winners circle at DuQuoin in two weeks.

Nice guy Rollie Helmling was in the pits Saturday, enjoying his reign as USAC President and doing a fine job. Rollie has made the move to Indy from Vincennes, with both daughters now in college.

Vintage cars were on display Saturday, the former Amerling dirt car was on the track, while the former Vetzel dirt car driven by Jan Opperman in his last dirt car starts was in the infield. So was the Hinkle dirt car made famous by Jack McGrath.

Vintage drivers were around also, as Lincoln's Dean Shirley was in the pit area Saturday, with former Springfield Speedway rival and Jacksonville promoter Ron Milton around on Sunday. George Snider, winner of the 1981 race and the 1971 dirt car champ was on hand to crew chief for his driver Jason Leffler.

Weather was one of the hot topics of the weekend, an inch and one half of rain Friday morning and afternoon left the track (and infield) a quagmire and cancelled the scheduled tractor pull. A supreme effort by promoter Bob Sargent and the track crew had the facility ready to go by 9 the next morning, though the rain prevented any calcium from being applied to the surface. As a result, the track was extremely slick by the last chance race and took almost no rubber throughout the day.

Thank goodness for the inaccuracy of the weatherman! Forecasts of an approaching front mid afternoon, and severe weather prompted USAC and Bob Sargent to hustle the program along. The last chance race was moved up by a half hour, and when driver introductions were slated to begin at 1 p.m., nearly all the top twenty starters were ready to go. A large black cloud appeared over the fairgrounds just before the 100-mile race, but moved to the east and it became a very pleasant day.

A tip of the hat from fans to Bill Carey, chief steward of the series. In the morning driver's meeting, Bill complimented the drivers and teams for their professionalism, less one significant complaint about the teams being ready to go when driver intros were slated to begin. It's hard to comprehend why it takes sometimes three or four calls to get cars rolled onto the track, and fans enjoy getting to see the drivers as they are introduced. Absent a major mechanical problem, like an engine change or an accident in hot laps or the semi, fans just don't understand why a car that has been sitting for two hours, isn't ready to go when the schedule says it's time to start. Carey flat out told the teams that if they qualified in the top twenty, and weren't ready to go at 1 p.m., they'd be starting at the tail. It seems Bill's little talk worked quite well.

Another detail in the driver's meeting that would have drawn fan applause was the discussion of not ending a race under the green. Several scenarios and solutions are in place, many of which involve throwing a red flag NASCAR style and ensuring a green flag finish.

USAC also emphasized the need for the teams to use the starter. More and more teams would request a push truck after attempting to start the car, or not even make an attempt to start the vehicle at all, delaying things even further. The new emphasis seemed to have an effect, none of the cars appeared to need a push to start the Bettenhausen Memorial, though a few required one during the red flag periods.

Another new rule was a delight to the folks in the stands, on the red flag the field was brought, single file to a stop on the front chute. Upon USAC's signal, crews could run out and make adjustments to the cars, right in view of the paying spectator. The procedure also made the lineup for the restart much easier to align.

Relining the field seemed much easier Saturday, now that all Silver Crown cars are required to have a two-way radio.

Springfield extended it's catch fence through part of the corners, and with the flipping cars Saturday it looked like a very smart idea.

It's on to the "Magic Mile" at DuQuoin for the Silver Crown series, Sunday of Labor Day weekend.

-jh-

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Series USAC
Drivers Jason Leffler , A.J. Foyt IV , Donnie Beechler , Steve Kinser , Dave Darland , J.J. Yeley , Jack Hewitt , Aaron Fike , Carl Edwards , George White , Dane Carter , Dan Drinan , Matt Westfall , Johnny Parsons , Jonathan Vennard , Eric Gordon , Levi Jones , Jerry Coons , Tom Capie , Gary Hieber , Dave Blaney , Tony Bettenhausen , Harry Gant , Ed Carpenter , Al Unser