USAC heads back to Memphis

Ryan Newman. Jason Leffler. Kasey Kahne. All of these NASCAR stars have either won a USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown Series race or title. They've also honed their short-track skills at venues like Memphis Motorsports Park. Many other drivers, ...

Ryan Newman. Jason Leffler. Kasey Kahne. All of these NASCAR stars have either won a USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown Series race or title. They've also honed their short-track skills at venues like Memphis Motorsports Park.

Many other drivers, including Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and Formula 1 champions, have piloted a Silver Crown Series car. This weekend, drivers who have made the field for the greatest races in the world gather in Millington, TN. for the running of the Big M Motorfest. The ¾-mile track hosts its fourth Silver Crown Series race and first since 2000. All three of the previous races have produced a new winner.

"It's a beautiful racetrack," said Boston Reid of Fairmount, Ind., the driver of the No. 35 Curbs Records J&J/Gaerte, owned by R.E. Technologies. "I think Memphis is a great stop for the USAC Silver Crown Series tour in the fact that it is bringing auto racing to a great city. The track is absolutely beautiful. Hopefully the track surface itself will have a lot of rubber down so we can have some great racing. It's definitely a technical racetrack and hard to get right. It's going to offer the fans in Memphis and around a great opportunity to see us."

The series started in 1971 as a dirt track companion series to the USAC Champ Cars. Jim McElreath won the first event at Nazareth National Speedway in Nazareth, Pa. Other winners during the four-race season include George Snider and four-time Indy winners A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr. The series had its first pavement race in 1975 at the ½-mile Minnesota State Fairgrounds track in St. Paul, Minn. It would be another nine years before the track was placed on the schedule again. Ever growing, the Silver Crown Series schedule is comprised of about 10 events a year across the United States. Events range from 25-mile thrillers to 100-mile sprints. The series runs on tracks dirt and pavement tracks, ranging from ½-mile tracks to one-mile tracks.

J.J. Yeley won the 2003 crown, picking up four wins en route to his second straight Silver Crown Series title. Yeley joined Tony Stewart as the only two drivers to win the Silver Crown and National Sprint Car and Midget Car Series divisions in the same year.

Dave Steele of Tampa, Fla., ranked in the top ten in most poles and wins in the series, won the first Silver Crown Series race at MMP on June 7, 1998. It was the first USAC race in Bluff City since October 10,n 1987, when Billy Moyer won a 40-lap late model feature. Steele remembers the day being hot. The race was scheduled for 100 laps, and Steele was on target with the car's setup. He started on the pole, bolted into the lead and led the "Delta Thunder" from green to checkered flag, landing his first of 10 career Silver Crown Series wins.

"Actually, it stands out to me because it was the first place I won a Silver Crown race," Steele said of MMP. "As a kid, going to Silver Crown races, I realized how tough they are to win. We had had some pretty good runs before that, but to finally get a win, and it being there, was good. Those are the reasons Memphis stands out."

Steele said the track has its unique points. "Memphis is kind of unique in that it is a pretty big track, yet it is only a ¾-mile track," he said. "It seems like it has a lot of characteristics of a quarter-mile bullring. It seems to me that the corners are pretty tight. You don't really carry a whole lot of speed through the corners. It might take a little different setup for a little tighter track, but it is a ¾-mile track. I like it. I think we'll do well there."

Brad Noffsinger of Concord, N.C. has made a career out of teaching people how to drive racecars. In USAC's second event at MMP, Noffsinger taught his competition a thing or two, winning the 100-lap "Memphis 100". The first 44 laps mirrored what fans had seen the year before. Steele, this time starting on the outside pole, led the first 44 laps before suffering engine problems, which dropped him from competition. Defending series champ Jason Leffler took the point from Steele and led the next 38 laps. But Noffsinger was undeterred. He passed Leffler on lap 83 and led the final 18 laps for his first and only Silver Crown Series victory, ahead of Kenny Irwin Jr., Leffler, Russ Gamester and Bentley Warren.

Brian Tyler of Parma, Mich. won the last race at MMP, which came Oct. 29, 2000. Starting eighth, Tyler charged through the field to second place during the first-quarter of the race. But the runner-up position was short-lived, at least for a while. The top of the spring coil Tyler's left-front shock came off, and he fell back in the field.

As luck would have it, though, a red flag stopped the event, and Tyler and his crew put the top back on the coil. When the green flag flew once again, Tyler marched through the field, regaining second position and following Ryan Newman around the track for several circuits. But Newman suffered misfortune, breaking a clutch on lap 76. Tyler inherited the point and led the final 25 laps to score his second Silver Crown Series victory of the season. But even without a victory, his weekend was full of emotions. Tyler quickly drove back to Indianapolis, and the next day, his son Robert was born. With a 30-lap sprint car race set for Friday, Tyler said he's looking forward to running twice.

"I like the whole weekend because they're running Silver Crown and sprint cars both," he said. "Two nights of racing is double the paycheck."

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Series USAC
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jason Leffler , Ryan Newman , Kasey Kahne , J.J. Yeley , Dave Steele , Brian Tyler , Bentley Warren , Brad Noffsinger , Russ Gamester , Jim McElreath , Boston Reid , A.J. Foyt , Al Unser