August 23, 2004 -- Springfield, IL- What a day at Springfield for two-time USAC Sprint Car champ Brian Tyler! After qualifying poorly, Tyler dusted off the competition to win the last chance race and advance to the 44th Tony Bettenhausen ...
August 23, 2004 -- Springfield, IL- What a day at Springfield for two-time USAC Sprint Car champ Brian Tyler! After qualifying poorly, Tyler dusted off the competition to win the last chance race and advance to the 44th Tony Bettenhausen 100. Considered a dark horse favorite by many in the know after his performance in May's Hoosier 100 and then winning the Sumar 100 at Terre Haute, Tyler began the Bettenhausen 100 in the 21st position. Quickly disposing of the stiff competition in front of him, which included Jay Drake, Tony Elliot and defending Bettenhausen 100 winner Dave Darland among others, Tyler caught Rich Tobias on a lap 48 restart and charged into the lead, never to be seriously challenged again. Tyler's win was popular with the crowd, and owner Tom Johnson of 6R Racing as well.
By winning the consi and taking the Bettenhausen 100 as well, Tyler became just the second driver to win the 100-mile grind from the consi since USAC began running the last chance event in 1978. The only other driver to come from the consi and take the Bettenhausen as well was the late Kenny Irwin, who started 28th (the furthest back any Springfield championship race winner has started) and won the race. Tyler's 21st starting position was also the furthest back any winner has started since Irwin's jaunt from 28th in 1995.
Tobias, among others, put on a great show for the fans on Saturday. Tobias, starting 12th in his own creation, looked like a combination of A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones when he headed for the top groove at the drop of the green flag, and swept around seven or eight cars in the first two corners alone! Continuing his march, Tobias crossed the finish line in second and then calmly motored around pole sitter Jerry Coons, Jr. in turn two for the lead! Tobias began pulling away and covered the first 25 miles in just over 13 minutes, averaging over 111 miles an hour in the process! In fact, it appeared for a long time as if seventeen year old 100-mile track record of Jack Hewitt would be smashed to bits, but the first caution of the day on lap 40 for Russ Gamester's stalled car in the second corner squashed any hopes of a new 100-mile track record. As it was, Tyler still averaged over 97 miles an hour for the 100-mile distance.
Speaking of Coons, he won his first Springfield pole position Saturday with a lap of 30.362, or 118.569 miles an hour. Coons used the cushion to set fast time, and in Springfield tradition was aided by an early draw, going out fourth in the lineup. Coons sat on the front row here last year, and it a bit of irony drove a car he used to sit on the pole position a couple of years ago at DuQuoin, while the car he sat on the outside of the front row at Springfield last year sat along side of him this year, driven by the "Silent Gasser", Jon Stanbrough.
Coons must feel kind of frustrated by Springfield, last year he led one lap of the Bettenhausen before being re-passed by teammate Dave Darland. This year, he led the opening lap before watching as the 12th starting Tobias went by on the outside. Jerry missed duplicating last year's second place run by one spot this year.
"The Rave" Dave Darland, one of the pre-race favorites, had a decent afternoon with a third place qualifying effort and early one seemed to be pacing himself. However, the three time Bettenhausen 100 winner was not able to show the blazing speed that the Galen Fox 56 had last year, Darland was never able to seriously challenge for the lead and ended the day in the sixth position, but in the process regained fifth slot in the point standings.
The other heavy pre-race favorite, Jay Drake had a much worse day Saturday. Driving the Mopar sponsored machine owned by 1981 Bettenhausen 100 winner George Snider and NASCAR's Tony Stewart, Drake qualified the machine in 10th and was lapped by Tobias before halfway. The driver who had captured three consecutive Silver Crown events prior to Springfield finished in 14th and lost one spot in the Weld Racing Silver Crown point standings.
Point leader Dave Steele had a day reminiscent of 1993 Silver Crown champ Mike Bliss Saturday. Much like Bliss, Steele is considered a better pavement driver than dirt track ace, though you would never know it by Dave' s performance at the Hoosier Hundred in May. Steele started eleventh, stayed out of trouble all day and finished in seventh, gaining valuable points toward the title.
His closest pursuer Jason McCord didn't have such luck, though his 12th place finish was gained through a lot of hard work and a lot of help. McCord's HatWorld Beast may have had something break in the steering in practice, as the car smashed the front chute wall just past the flag stand. Nearly every bolt on part of the front end was broken or bent, and the Contos crew scrounged the pit area for spare parts. Jason returned to the track in time to take one qualifying lap at the end of time trials, gingerly taking a 34.478 in qualifying. He conservatively ran 8th in the consi, then moved from 28th to 12th in the 100-mile main event, losing just a few points to leader Steele and retaining second in the standings.
A record three drivers from Springfield and eight from Illinois entered the 44th Bettenhausen 100 and it was clear the partisan crowd was rooting for the local favorites. Unfortunately, it was an up and down day for the home state pilots. Indy 500 veteran Donnie Beechler, looking at perhaps some stock car or truck racing activity if the opportunity presents, encountered problems with the right rear of the Mopar powered Stanton of Team 6R and failed to make the top 20 in qualifications. In fact he nearly had a repeat of a few years ago when the car jumped the cushion in qualifying and he nearly kissed the fence. The crew fixed the rear brake and adjusted the handling of the car, allowing Donnie to finish 2nd in the consi. Once the Bettenhausen 100 started, Beechler was moving up steadily until a suspension bolt snapped and knocked the right rear shock off, dropping the rear end to the ground and ending his day in the last slot. Springfield's Jim Moughan, once an employee of the Illinois State Fair, ran one of the new Eagle chassis built in Springfield by former driver Jerry Russell. Returning to the dirt cars after an absence of 15 years, the son of "Gentleman Jim" Moughan looked very comfortable and quite fast in hot laps, touring the course in the low 31 second bracket. However, problems developed in practice when the drive pulleys broke and had to be replaced. Moughan started 14th, but on lap 48 the drive belt came apart and sidelined Jim in 26th.
The other Springfield shoe just missed adding his name to the record books on Saturday. Admittedly nervous about his debut in the big cars before the home town crown, Justin Allgaier quickly got comfortable in Ebby Bergfield's J&J chassis, the former Bowen owned mount of Eric Gordon. Allgaier looked good in practice, however by the time he went out in the 26th slot the track had changed considerably. Justin put together two extremely consistent laps, varying only by .05 and setting 30th quick time. He was running in a transfer slot in the consi before a caution came out and the car "loaded up" on fuel during the slow down. He lost several slots on the restart, and as the track took rubber was unable to keep the car on the bottom of the Springfield Mile. Justin missed by one position becoming the first driver in fifteen years to compete in both the Bettenhausen 100 dirt car race and the Allen Crowe 100 stock car race on the same weekend, the last being Tom Bigelow. And, had Allgaier made both shows, he would have been the youngest driver in Illinois State Fair history to make both events. Justin started college on Monday, while trying to get both the stock car and dirt car ready for DuQuoin, where once again he will try to become the first driver in fifteen years and the youngest to make both the stock car and dirt car event on the "Magic Mile".
Allgaier will have company at DuQuoin, as Galesburg's A.J. Fike announced this week he will attempt not two, but THREE events at DuQuoin, running the Ted Horn 100 for the Silver Crown cars, the Federated-Southern Illinois 100 for the ARCA cars and the UMP Modified Bill Oldani Memorial as well. A.J. is a former Silver Crown driver who ran at Springfield last year, and sat on the pole for Sunday's ARCA event this year. He fared better than brother Aaron, who is a former winner in the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series. Aaron had to run the consi in the family machine, and dropped out in 28th with ignition problems early in the Bettenhausen 100. Other Illinois drivers included Marion's Alex Shanks, making his debut in the big cars but finishing 16th in the consi, Saybrook's Kyle Wissmiller who finished behind Allgaier in the consi, and Decatur veteran Terry Babb who finished behind Wissmiller. However, Murphysboro veteran Randy Bateman had a very good day, bringing the car home in 16th in the 100-miler, just one lap down.
A number of top pilots had very difficult days. Jon Stanbrough qualified on the outside of the front row in the Steve Fox machine, but a mishandling car and a flat tire relegated him to 21st. Mopar Thunder winner Kevin Huntley qualified 15th but ended the day in 27th with engine failure. 2001 Bettenhausen winner and Silver Crown champ Paul White was the first car out of the consi after running well ahead of the last transfer slot, and Tyler Walker, third here a year ago in the Roger Johnson machine brought the Kasey Kahne team this season and qualified fifth. He appeared destined for a top finish until the right rear tire gave way, dropping him to 22nd at the end. Hendrick Motorsports development driver Boston Reid started ninth and was running in the top ten when issues with the car dropped him 5 laps down, though running at the end. Teddy Beach, holder of the world record mile dirt track lap for a Silver Crown car set last year at DuQuoin, was blazing fast in practice until the engine let go and the Beach Boys team loaded up and headed for home before noon.
There was some good news for several drivers, however. "Hot Rod" John Heydenreich qualified the Sharon Bank Beast in 20th after going out 25th, and by the end of the day was in fourth. Matt Westfall, the rookie of the year in the dirt cars in 2002, took the Daugherty Beast from 13th to a fine 5th place finish at the end. Bud Kaeding, the winner at Tulsa last year, started 8th and finished there for the Zarounian family, while Indiana's Shane Hollingsworth qualified 4th and garnered a top ten. Todd Kane, subbing for the still recuperating Johnny Parsons, started 18th and had the Ricky Nix dirt car in 11th at the end. Ron Gregory and Aaron Pierce ran all day, while Ohio's Mike Brecht got valuable track time in Ralph DePalma's twenty-year old Gambler.
For the record, Brian Tyler gave car number 21 its first Springfield victory, and his winning time and speed were the 8th fastest in the 70 year championship race history of the Illinois State Fairgrounds. His victory gave the Chevrolet stock block V-8 win number 28 at Springfield, and Bob East a record 13th victory for one of his creations. Tyler's car was the tenth to pull into Springfield's victory lane on McCreary brand tires. Tyler became the 43rd different championship race winner in 70 years (and 70 races) at Springfield, and the 23rd different winner of the Tony Bettenhausen 100. His 21st starting position was the second furthest back anyone has come to victory, behind Kenny Irwin's 28th slot in 1995. Saturday also marked the first laps led on the Springfield Mile by Brian Tyler.
Coons first pole position at Springfield was a speed that was the 4th fastest pole position time and speed in 70 years at Springfield.
Saturday's entry list turned out to be 41 strong, and the quality of the machines unparalleled in recent memory. However, there were a number of no-shows among cars and drivers that could have swelled the entry list back up close to the fifty mark common for many seasons at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Josh Wise was scheduled to drive the Gene Nolen owned number 20, however Josh was busy racing in the SCRA event in Kansas City and neither car nor machine made the trip. It marked the first time in a number of years, perhaps over twenty that the yellow 20 of Glen Neibel or Gene Nolen failed to appear at Springfield. Other no-shows were the 44 of Danny Ebberts who ran at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in May, the familiar orange and white 12 of Bob Galas, the Mataka 3n1 which was entered, Billy Puterbaugh's 73, the Parker 24 which Josh Wise ran at the Indy mile in May and the well used Lloyd chassis number 84 of Herb Spivey which was to have carried Tad Roach. 2000 USAC champ Tracy Hines and the Indiana Underground Beast were entered, but his current NASCAR commitments kept he and the car away. Dane Carter, who took several weeks to recover from his nasty crash at the Indy mile in May was ride hunting and helping out in the pits, indicating that the Beast he crashed was a write off and that the owner lacked funds to put a car together for the dirt miles. Springfield's Donnie Lehmann, many time MARA midget champ is rumored to still have his Watson dirt car but also lacks funding to compete. Also notable was the absence of Gus "Digger" Sohm and the 1988 winning Adkins-McQueen chassis he owns. Apparently Texans Murray Erickson and Wes Miller have left the series, Miller was involved in a spectacular crash at DuQuoin last September and the car appeared to be a write off. Indianapolis midget driver David Bridges and family sold their Beast after last season, and the Chicago based Aviators operation has decided to call it quits, putting their equipment up for sale as well.
One car that has retired but looks like it still could garner a top ten is the former Indiana Underground 37, an Edmunds chassis that A.J. Foyt once bought and intended to run at the Hoosier 100 in the early 1990's. Once owned by Claire Pattee, the car is one of the old style championship machines and has a full belly pan, chrome grille and open cockpit that fans really love. The car is painted as it appeared in the early 90's, it was driven by such greats as Stan Fox, Steve Chassey, Stevie Reeves and even Jack Hewitt. Foyt's foot injuries at Elkhart Lake in 1990 kept him from competing in the machine, but today it carries the Copenhagen logo made famous on Foyt's Indianapolis cars. The car ran in the vintage event prior to the Bettenhausen 100.
The Springfield crowd was treated to some unusual August weather, with sunny skies, low humidity and a temperature in the high 70's, it was a gorgeous day for racing. The cooler weather, rain on Friday and tremendous work by the track crew led to a wonderful race track on Saturday. Two and three distinct grooves developed in hot laps and drivers flirted near the track record. Fans were treated to real old style championship dirt car racing in practice, many drivers were backing it in "old style" and the young midget chauffeurs in the field showed absolutely no fear. In the eleven years as promoter at Springfield, Bob Sargent has really learned what the "World's Fastest Mile Dirt Track" does and does not like.
Hope for improvements at the Illinois State Fairgrounds appeared to take on some reality this year, even the governor mentioned that lighting of the mile would help horse and auto racing, and the fair manager mentioned the possibility again at the close of the festivities. Once the most modern mile dirt track in the world, some minor improvements would once again make Springfield the premier one mile dirt track on the planet. DuQuoin has seen a massive renovation project in the last five years that continues, while the Indiana State Fairground mile, once near demise, has seen a rejuvenation and now may get a new dirt surface to replace the sandy loam now used. The Illinois State Fair has done a number of improvements around the grounds, and this year had a welcome sight at the race track, a new stage and concrete ramps and walkway. The state also replaced or added a number of grandstand seats in the lower area. Lights at Springfield would most certainly mean blazing speed for any auto racing run at night, and perhaps a 28 second lap for the dirt cars!
The USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown Series moves to the pavement at Nazareth this weekend, but comes back to the tradition of the series when they visit the beautiful DuQuoin State Fairgrounds for a Sunday night race on September 5th. This will be the first time during the running of the DuQuoin State Fair the big dirt cars have run at night, last year's event was rained out and run one week after the fair.