Winner of 48th Bettenhausen Could Vault to USAC Title The 48th running of the Tony Bettenhausen 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds could play a pivotal role in the 2008 USAC K&N Filters Silver Crown Championship Series title hunt as two...
Winner of 48th Bettenhausen Could Vault to USAC Title
The 48th running of the Tony Bettenhausen 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds could play a pivotal role in the 2008 USAC K&N Filters Silver Crown Championship Series title hunt as two drivers in the top ten at press time seek to repeat as national champions, while seven others are in search of their first national title in the mighty uprights. The prestigious Bettenhausen 100 marks the seventy-fourth national championship dirt track race held on the Illinois State Fairgrounds since 1934 and the seventh of ten events in the USAC Silver Crown Series presented by Optima Batteries. Over $40,000 in cash and prizes are available to the championship dirt car pilots at Springfield, a field that could feature five former Bettenhausen 100 winners, the second oldest driver to ever wheel a championship dirt car on the Springfield mile, the mile dirt track debut of a new engine manufacturer and a youngster attempting the near impossible weekend 'double victory' as the capitol city celebrates the 98th anniversary of auto racing as part of the Illinois State Fair.
The 48th Bettenhausen 100 becomes the first 100-mile dirt track race of the season with the rain out of the May Hoosier Hundred. Recent events at Terre Haute and O'Reilly Raceway Park completely rearranged the standings dropping some drivers as many as three places and further clouding the title picture. Currently leading the standings is former Springfield pole sitter Jerry Coons, Jr. of Tucson, Arizona. The thirty-six year old Coons currently has a twenty three point lead in the K&N Silver Crown chase and is in search of his first 100-mile dirt track victory. The former USAC Midget champion won the opener at Manzanita.
Coons is chased in the point standings by two Illinois drivers eager to post a national championship win on the home turf and five others looking for their first crown. Two-time Bettenhausen 100 winner (2004-05) Brian Tyler of Parma, Michigan jumped from tenth to fourth in the standings and is in sight of the front spot with a good result at Springfield. Tyler has some added help under the hood as he and the 6R Racing team of Indianapolis debut the new Toyota V-8 developed for USAC Silver Crown competition. Other drivers in the top ten in the USAC K&N Silver Crown standings include fifth place Tracy Hines of New Castle, Indiana. The thirty-six year old Hines continues his recovery from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident last year and the 2000 series champ and 2006 Tony Bettenhausen 100 victor has been strong in one of Tony Stewart's two Maxim built machines, both constructed in the Illinois capitol. Hines has a fifth and a fourth in two races this season. Other drivers currently in the top ten include Florida's Wayne Reutimann, Jr., 2007 DuQuoin victor Shane Cottle of Kokomo, Indiana, second generation driver Shane Hollingsworth of Indianapolis and Texan Chet Fillip. All except Fillip, the oldest driver to post a win in series history, are expected at Springfield.
Title contenders from the Prairie State head a group of drivers seeking immortality on the home turf as well. Olney's Levi Jones was a star guard for the East Richland high school basketball team a few years ago but his hardwood accomplishments pale in comparison to those on the race track. Jones is the teammate to Tracy Hines on the Tony Stewart team and he won USAC Sprint Car titles in 2005 and again in 2007. The twenty-six year old who now resides in Avon, Indiana became the first Illinois native in nearly 30 years to start from the pole in a Bettenhausen 100 and led the first 29 laps in 2007. Jones is currently second in the point standings, five spots ahead of Robinson's Mat Neely. Neely has a win at Eldora in the big cars and is currently the teammate of Jerry Coons. Other Illinois pilots expected at Springfield include Murphysboro's Randy Bateman, Elkhart's Chris Urish, Champaign's Patrick Bruns, Galesburg's Aaron Fike and Buffalo's Jeff Leka. Bateman is a regular on the Illinois mile tracks while Urish was unhurt in an accident in last year's event. Bruns is a rookie with sprint car racing experience while Leka is a surprise on the tentative entry list but no stranger to the Springfield Mile having won three of the Sportsman National events and twice in UMP Modifieds. Fike returns to USAC competition after a stint in two of the three NASCAR series. Springfield fans do have one favorite son on the preliminary entry list as Donnie Beechler returns for another try at Springfield's victory lane. The five time Indianapolis 500 starter has a machine owned by long time supporter Dennis McQuinn and sponsorship from none other than four-time Bettenhausen 100 winner A.J. Foyt!
Three-time Bettenhausen 100 winner (1997, 99, 2003) winner Dave Darland of Kokomo, Indiana looms large as one of the veterans capable of dominating the 48th Bettenhausen 100, returning at the wheel of the familiar Galen Fox owned machine. Darland is also in the hunt for his second national championship as he vaulted to third in the standings on the strength of his Terre Haute win. The 1997 Silver Crown champ may encounter 2001 Silver Crown champ and 2001 Bettenhausen 100 winner Paul White at the fairgrounds as well as central Indiana sprint car star Jon Stanbrough, a past front row starter on the Illinois State Fair mile. 1998 Bettenhausen 100 winner Russ Gamester is entered and two-time and defending series champ Bud Kaeding of Hanford, California is still in search of that elusive mile dirt track win. The twenty-eight year old third generation pilot nearly won the 2000 Bettenhausen Memorial until veteran Jack Hewitt passed him for the victory. Kaeding recently fell out of the top ten in the 2008 K&N Silver Crown standings.
The driver that could make his mark in the history books at Springfield is the defending race winner, twenty-year old Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. of Olive Branch, Mississippi. Stenhouse was the story in 2007 during a strange day of events at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Sixteen cars had taken qualifying times before a thunderstorm drenched the grounds and forced the starting field to be set by practice times, just the fourth time that official time trials were not used to set the field, Stenhouse started in the second row of a record 39 car field and quickly pressured teammate Jones after the restart from the cleanup of the Urish accident. He took over the lead of the 47th Bettenhausen 100 after passing teammate Jones and led the rest of the way becoming the youngest race winner in Springfield championship dirt car history at 19 years, 10 months and 16 days. This year Stenhouse has teamed with NASCAR star Carl Edwards to form a potent Silver Crown team and is a Roush-Fenway development driver in the ARCA RE/MAX stock car series where he leads the point standings! It is conceivable that Stenhouse could become the fifth driver since 1950 to post a win in stock cars and championship dirt cars at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, and join Al Unser as the only two drivers to win both the Tony Bettenhausen 100 and the Allen Crowe 100 on the same weekend!
However, the young Stenhouse isn't the only driver chasing and setting records at Springfield. Speedway, Indiana veteran Johnny Parsons became the all-time leader in USAC Silver Crown Series event starts at Springfield last year with 25 and should he return next year for his 40th year of national championship dirt track racing, could become the oldest driver ever to start a Tony Bettenhausen 100. Parsons may be chasing Jim McElreath's record for longevity but that does not mean the veteran is not capable of running up front, he finished sixth last year driving for Benton, Illinois' car owner Ricky Nix.
It is a safe assumption that Tony Bettenhausen would be quite pleased with the level of competition in the 48th running of his memorial event. The late Tinley Park, Illinois native was one of the best and most popular drivers this country, and perhaps the world has ever known. Tony was known for a hard charging, hard driving style fans loved and other drivers admired. He became very popular at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in part due to his driving ability, but also because of his status as a home state driver and his willingness to interact with the race fan. He became Springfield's first three-time national championship race winner in 1951, went onto dominate the 1951 national championship with eight wins and came out of retirement to win a second national crown in 1958. Along the way he won numerous midget, championship car and stock car races and set track records around the county. Unfortunately, one place he could not conquer was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Tony appeared to have the place beat in 1961, flirting with the elusive 150 mile an hour lap and dominating practice. Sadly, it was not meant to be as he lost his life in a testing accident immediately before qualifications. Tony left a racing legacy that was unparalleled, and a family that included three sons who would follow in his footsteps. The citizens of Illinois sought a way to honor his family and legacy by naming the Springfield championship race in his honor for the 1961 Illinois State Fair.
The racers coming to Springfield Saturday August 16 know they have some high expectations with the legacy of Tony Bettenhausen. They know that a win at Springfield places them among racing legends such as Wilbur Shaw, Ted Horn, Rodger Ward, A.J. Foyt, Jimmy Bryan, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Jack Hewitt and Chuck Gurney. Thirty to forty of the best dirt track championship teams and drivers are expected to descend on the Illinois capitol on August 16. Drivers will try in qualifications to break the one lap record of 29.305 (122.846), set by Tracy Hines in 2006 while Jack Hewitt's 100-mile standard of 56:07 (106.920) remains unchallenged since set in 1987. Practice for the K&N Filters USAC Silver Crown championship dirt cars is slated to begin at 9 a.m. with Earl's Fast Qualifier time trials at 10:25. The last chance race is penciled in for 12:45 with the 48th running of the Tony Bettenhausen 100 taking the green flag at approximately 1:30. More information on the Tony Bettenhausen 100 and the USAC K&N Filters Silver Crown Series can be found at www.trackenterprises.com and www.usacracing.com