USAC Silver Crown at Illinois State Fair August 20 Tyler Trying to Repeat, Darland Looking for 4th Bettenhausen A mixture of up and coming youngsters and experienced veterans make up what promises to be one of the most competitive and diverse ...
USAC Silver Crown at Illinois State Fair August 20
Tyler Trying to Repeat, Darland Looking for 4th Bettenhausen
A mixture of up and coming youngsters and experienced veterans make up what promises to be one of the most competitive and diverse fields in the 95 year history of auto racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds when the teams of the United States Auto Club Weld Racing Silver Crown Series pull into the Illinois capitol for the 45th running of the Tony Bettenhausen 100 on Saturday, August 20. Forty-nine entries appear on the preliminary entry list for the Bettenhausen 100, a race that has become one of the most prestigious on the USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown calendar.
The 45th Tony Bettenhausen 100 entry list may include veterans of the IRL and the Indy 500, drivers who are hoping to or have attempted some form of NASCAR racing, several drivers from Illinois and at least four former winners of the Bettenhausen Memorial. At the top of the list of former winners is the defending champion Brian Tyler of Parma, Michigan. The thirty-seven year old Tyler is a former USAC national Sprint Car champion who has run with the IRL and NASCAR and is currently running part time in the ARCA stock car series. Tyler is also third in the current USAC Silver Crown points after finishing fourth in 2004. Last year, Tyler started 21st and swept his Print Express Silver Crown car around race leader Rich Tobias on the 48th circuit to capture his first mile dirt track triumph.
Tyler faces stiff competition in defending his Bettenhausen crown, as most of the top ten in the current Weld Racing Silver Crown title chase are slated to run at Springfield, including current point leader Dave Steele of Tampa, Florida. Steele, the defending USAC Silver Crown champ, is also a veteran of IRL and NASCAR Busch series competition who had amassed ten career Silver Crown wins prior to 2005, all on the pavement. Steele has been nothing short of dominant, winning four of the five pavement races held to date and leading 360 of the 400 laps in those events! Steele's performance on the dirt at Springfield could have a profound impact on the 2005 title chase, he has a 42 point lead over second place and several drivers proficient on the dirt sit in the top five in the standings.
Other drivers in the top ten in points expected to enter the Bettenhausen 100 include second place Josh Wise, Jay Drake (4th) of Val Verde, California, third generation driver Bud Kaeding of Campbell, California (5th), Tampa, Florida's Wayne Reutimann, Jr. (6th), Jason McCord of Anderson, Indiana (7th), Noblesville, Indiana's Ron Gregory (8th) and John "Hot Rod" Heydenreich of Bloomsberg, Pennsylvania (10th).
Wise and Drake are teammates on the Tony Stewart owned MoPar Racing Team and have been a force since the season started, with Wise leading a great deal of the Hoosier Hundred in May and winning the Sumar Classic in June. Drake, currently driving in the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series, has posted several top five and ten finishes along the way. Kaeding is a third generation driver that led a great deal of the 2000 Tony Bettenhausen race, while McCord is a series veteran who has had some strong runs on the dirt. Reutimann is a second-generation shoe who has a relative running in the NASCAR Truck series, while Gregory is the stepson of former driver Gary Irvin.
Capable veterans also make up the Bettenhausen field, led by three-time Bettenhausen winner and 1997 Silver Crown champ Dave Darland, of Lincoln, Indiana. The thirty-eight year old Darland is also a former USAC Sprint and Midget champion who last won at Springfield in 2003 and excels in the big cars on the mile dirt tracks. Darland is almost certain to be joined at Springfield by the ageless and very popular Johnny Parsons, an Indy 500 veteran and the active driver who has led the most laps at Springfield without capturing the Bettenhausen 100. Two other veterans that could challenge at Springfield are also former winners. Temple, Texas pilot Paul White won the 2001 Bettenhausen 100 which propelled him to the series title. Peru, Indiana's Russ Gamester is 7th in the current USAC Silver Crown standings and won the Bettenhausen Memorial in 1998. A veteran to watch will be Tucson, Arizona shoe Jerry Coons, Jr., the pole sitter for last year's event at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Coons has yet to capture a 100-mile race on the dirt, and is currently driving part time in the Infiniti Pro Series for 1996 Indy 500 winning owner Ron Hemelgarn. Another veteran who may be at Springfield should his NASCAR commitments allow is 2000 USAC Silver Crown champ Tracy Hines. Other veterans to watch include two-time Hoosier Hundred winner Tony Elliot, Indiana sprint car ace Jon Stanbrough, Kevin Huntley and secon generation driver Rich Tobias.
A crop of youngsters that includes 2005 Hoosier Hundred winner Teddy Beach plus former Silver Crown Rookie of the Year Matt Westfall. Iowa's Ryan Durst (who drives for Springfield, Illinois car owner Scott Long) and Indiana's Aaron Pierce and Nick Lundgreen are all in search of that elusive mile dirt track triumph.
They could be joined by an entry list of Illinois drivers that may number as high as eight by the time August 20 rolls around. Garnering the most local interest is Springfield's own Justin Allgaier. The diminutive Allgaier is a veteran of the ARCA stock cars and area midget racing and has been behind the wheel of a NASCAR Truck for part of 2005. He attempted the Bettenhausen 100 last year in a car owned by Arcola's Ebby Bergfeld and this year returns with Bergfeld and Ethanol sponsorship. Allgaier again gets the chance to perform a feat that has only been done once in the 95-year history of auto racing at Springfield, winning the championship and stock car race on the same weekend at the Illinois State Fair. Three men have won both races, but only Al Unser has swept the weekend at the fair.
Other drivers from the Prairie State could include Galesburg's A.J. Fike, Robinson's Matt Neely, Olney's Levi Jones, Granite City's Tad Roach, Murphysboro's Randy Bateman, Springfield's Donnie Lehmann and Marion's Alex Shanks. Waterloo midget shoe Tim Siner is presently working on a new car and hoped to have it ready for Springfield and DuQuoin. The state of Missouri sends two cars and two drivers to Springfield as well. St. Charles youngster Kyle Steffens ran for Illinois owner Bob Galas at Terre Haute. Former Illinois resident Hud Cone runs for the Harris team out of Missouri and Bonee Terre native Danny Long has his own machine.
Over forty of the finest dirt track drivers in the world will try to carry on a tradition of national championship racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds that began all the way back in 1934. Over the last 71 years names such as Wilbur Shaw, Jimmy Bryan, Rodger Ward, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Chuck Gurney and Jack Hewitt have entered Springfield's hallowed victory lane. However, it was Tinley Park, Illinois resident Tony Bettenhausen who captured the hearts and imaginations of Springfield race fans during the 1950's. Bettenhausen made such a mark at the Worlds Fastest Mile Dirt Track that the people of Springfield and the Illinois State Fair honored his memory in 1961 after his fatal Indianapolis crash by naming the national championship race in his honor.
It is this tradition that continues at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on August 20 when the gates of the grandstand open at 9 a.m. Practice for the USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown Series follows shortly, with pole qualifying at 10:25. In qualifying, drivers will be attempting to break Robby Flock's 1996 track record of 29.988, or 120.048 MPH. A last chance race is set for around noon, with the 30-car field taking the green for the 45th Tony Bettenhausen 100 at 1:30 p.m. A first place check of approximately $9000 and Jack Hewitt's seventeen-year-old track record of 56:07 (106.920) plus a place in racing history awaits the winner of the Tony Bettenhausen 100. Tickets are on sale now at Ticketmaster, the Illinois State Fair Box Office or at Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200. Additional information can be found on the Internet at www.trackenterprises.com or www.usacracing.com.