SPRINGFIELD, IL AUGUST 5, 2000- Championship dirt car racing celebrates its sixty-sixth anniversary at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield with the 40th running of the Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 for the USAC Silver ...
SPRINGFIELD, IL AUGUST 5, 2000-
Championship dirt car racing celebrates its sixty-sixth anniversary at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield with the 40th running of the Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 for the USAC Silver Bullet Championship series, Saturday August 19, 2000. Over 40 drivers are expected to vie for one of the coveted 30 starting positions and in excess of $40,000 in prize money posted by race promoter Track Enterprises of Macon, Illinois.
The start of the 39th Tony Bettenhausen Memorial in 1999 with the Illinois State Fair Midway as a backdrop.
At least five former winners are expected to be on the grounds when practice opens at 9:00 a.m. on the next to last day of the fair, including 3 time Bettenhausen winner (1986, '87 and '93) and two-time Silver Bullet titlist Jack Hewitt of Troy, Ohio in the Print Express Beast, 1992 winner and three-time National Champion Jimmy Sills of Placerville, California in the True Value Beast co-owned by former winners George Snider and A.J. Foyt, and two-time and defending winner Dave Darland of Kokomo, Indiana in the Galen Fox owned Franklin Power Beast. Also on the entry list is 1998 winner Russ Gamester of Peru, Indiana (winner of the August 2 Dupont 100 at Indianapolis Raceway Park) in the Terre Haute First National Bank Beast. Hewitt is the all-time leader in Silver Bullet wins with 22, and Sills the all-time leader in laps led.
Silver Bullet Series point leader Brian Tyler of Parma, Michigan in Gus Hoffman's Kroger sponsored machine leads nine of the top ten in standings into Springfield on the 19th. Chasing Tyler is former Winston Cup driver Brad Noffsinger who moved from fifth to second in the points after the August 2 Dupont 100 at IRP.
Current USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series standings: 1. Tyler 302, 2. Noffsinger 261, 3. Tracy Hines 258, 4. Darland 254, 5. J.J. Yeley 242, 6. Ryan Newman 242, 7. Jason Leffler 237, 8. John Heydenreich 221, 9. Gamester 197, 10. Paul White 187.
Hines is one of two two-time winners on the circuit this year, the other being Leffler who will not be at Springfield due to his commitments on the NASCAR Busch Series where he drives for car owner Joe Gibbs. But fans need not fret as the team has found a suitable replacement.
Seven-time winner Chuck Gurney will drive a car similar to the number 9 he drove in 1996
Leffler's substitute is none other than Springfield legend Chuck Gurney of Livermore, California! The 1989 Silver Bullet titlist is the winningest driver in Bettenhausen history with seven trophies to his credit, and Chuck could very well add number 8 to the list on the 19th. It's not surprising then that Gurney leads in just about every major category for the championship dirt cars at Springfield, including most wins (7), most races led (7), and laps led (519). Gurney is expected to pilot a new Beast co-owned by builder Bob East, and Winston Cup shoe Tony Stewart. East is a former driver who is no stranger to the dirt cars nor the Springfield Mile, while Stewart drove here in 1995 on his way to the USAC Silver Bullet, Sprint, and Midget crowns. It was Stewart's performance in the Silver Bullet cars that propelled him to Rookie of the Year at the 1996 Indianapolis 500, the 1997 Indy Racing League National Championship, and 1999 Rookie of the Year honors on the NASCAR circuit.
Other entrants like Eric Gordon, former Hoosier Hundred winners Chuck Leary and Gary Hieber, and up and coming drivers Kasey Kahne, Rich Tobias and the red hot Jay Drake make this perhaps the most competitive field in the forty-year history of the Bettenhausen Memorial.
The Bettenhausen will be the first of three consecutive visits for the Silver Bullet cars to fairground racetracks, with the 50th Ted Horn Memorial at DuQuoin on Labor Day, and the rescheduled Hulman-Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on September 22.
The 1999 race was an exciting addition to the list of Bettenhausen contests. The day dawned sunny and warm, with the track lighting fast in the early morning practice session. When time trials for the top twenty starting positions commenced at 10:45 a.m., it was 4th qualifier Bill Rose taking his first-ever Silver Bullet pole in the Beaver Tool and Die Beast, with a lap of 31.768 (113.321 mph). Defending USAC Sprint Car champ Tony Elliot grabbed the outside pole, while Decatur's Terry Babb took the last guaranteed slot. The hopes of a Springfield driver finally winning the late summer classic took a hit when hometown hero and Indy Racing League star Donnie Beechler lost an engine in Jim Logan's Stanton during practice.
Rich Tobias Junior, son of late eastern modified and sprint car star Toby Tobias led the 15 mile last chance race flag to flag, with Rick Treadway, son of 1997 Indy 500 winning car owner Fred Treadway taking the tenth and final transfer spot.
At the start of the 100-miler, front row starter Elliot won a drag race with Rose into the first turn and took the lead.
1997 Silver Bullet champ Dave Darland quickly disposed of Rose and set sail for Elliot. After a yellow for a tow-in on Rocky Hodges' stalled car, Darland swept around Elliot and began to build a large lead. Not even a restart two laps from the end could stop Darland, as Dave became the 8th multiple winner of the Bettenhausen, and the 11th man to record more than one championship car victory on the Springfield Mile.
Darland pocketed over $9,000 and averaged over 91 miles per hour before one of the largest crowds in recent years. Tracy Hines took the second position thanks to a penalty assessed to Elliot, who finished third. 1998 winner Gamester took fourth, while Jack Hewitt plugged along to a fifth place finish.
99 Winner Dave Darland in Victory Lane!
The Illinois State Fairgrounds is the third oldest racetrack in the United States (behind Milwaukee and Indianapolis) to continuously present championship style racing, beginning with the first 100-mile contest sanctioned by the American Automobile Association in 1934, continuing with the United States Auto Club National Championship Series in 1956, and the present USAC Silver Bullet Series (formerly Silver Crown) since 1971. The 2000 edition of the Bettenhausen Memorial will be the 67th championship style race at Springfield, and the 31st Silver Bullet race at the fairgrounds, with the Silver Bullet cars as modern day ancestors of today's Indianapolis machinery.
The annual dirt track classic, in memory of Tinley Park great Tony Bettenhausen who perished in a practice crash at Indianapolis, is one of the most popular and coveted stops on the Silver Bullet trail with the Bettenhausen Memorial's first running taking place in 1961. Bettenhausen himself was a three-time winner at the fairgrounds, and just one of the legendary winners on the State Fair dirt track. Other famous names to pass through the fair gates include former Indianapolis 500 and Springfield winners Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Rodger Ward, Johnnie Parsons, Sam Hanks, Jimmy Bryan, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Al Unser.
A Springfield win propelled a number of drivers to the Silver Bullet series title, including Andretti in 1974, Larry Rice in 1977, Bobby Olivero in 1979, Hewitt in 1986 and again in 1987, Gurney in 1989, and Darland in 1997.
Adding to the dirt mile's history was the late Kenny Irwin's stellar drive in 1995 from 28th to victory lane, a record for starting farthest back in the field and winning, and of course the two wins posted by Tony Bettenhausen's son Gary, with the emotional first win coming in 1978, and the victory that helped him to a series title in 1983.
Practice for the 40th running of the Bettenhausen Memorial 100 begins at approximately 9:00 a.m., followed by qualifications for the top twenty slots at around 10:30. Drivers taking qualification runs will be shooting for Robby Flock's 1996 world record of 29.988 (120.048 mph). A last chance race for the final ten spots will commence shortly after noon. When the green flag falls on the 40th Bettenhausen at around 2:15 p.m., thirty dirt track warriors will be looking to erase Jack Hewitt's thirteen year old race record of 56:07.00 (106.920), as well as capture the lion's share of the purse.
Tickets are available by calling Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200, Ticketmaster, or the Illinois State Fair box office. More information can be found at the website for Track Enterprises at trackenterprises.com, or with the sanctioning body the United States Auto Club at usacracing.com.