DuQuoin, IL August 26, 2003-Phoenix, Arizona's J.J. Yeley is the driver that has fans, officials and car owners talking all over the country as he enters the 53rd running of the prestigious Ted Horn Memorial 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds ...
DuQuoin, IL August 26, 2003-Phoenix, Arizona's J.J. Yeley is the driver that has fans, officials and car owners talking all over the country as he enters the 53rd running of the prestigious Ted Horn Memorial 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds Sunday, August 31st. Not only has Yeley set a single season record for victories in the United States Auto Club, but he stands on the verge of clinching three separate USAC titles as the stars and cars of the Weld Racing Silver Crown series invade the park-like setting of the DuQuoin "Magic Mile". However, a talented field of at least four Indy 500 veterans, five former Horn Memorial winners, hungry youngsters and homestate drivers stand in the way of the Yeley steamroller. Over forty USAC cars and drivers are expected to make the trek to southern Illinois for the Horn Memorial, presented again by the Southern Illinoisan newspaper and in it's tenth year of promotion under Track Enterprises CEO Bob Sargent.
Yeley enters the Horn Memorial with an excellent chance of moving closer toward his second consecutive Silver Crown championship, currently leading the point standings by 20 over his closest pursuer. Yeley has set several marks in the USAC record books that may not be touched in the near future and is now the record holder for USAC feature wins in one season. If Yeley can take Sunday's 100 mile dirt car grind, he can extend his single season mark for USAC wins, and could become the first repeat winner of the Horn Memorial since Chuck Gurney won his third trophy in 1996.
Yeley was unable to dominate last year's Horn Memorial, Ed Carpenter broke the track record and started from the pole for the 100-mile contest, while J.J. was relegated to the fifth starting slot. Showing patience, he waited while the handling on Carpenter's machine went away and took the lead just before halfway. No one was able to catch the Arizona driver, as he ran away from the rest of the field on his way to victory lane.
While it appears the driver of the Ford Powerstroke Diesel Beast is having a dominant season in the Silver Crown division, with three wins and a number of top ten finishes, repeating as race winner and national champion won't be easy for the 26 year old budding superstar. One of the strongest fields in DuQuoin championship dirt car history awaits Yeley for the Horn Memorial on the 31st.
That field is led by the man who sits second in the points this year, Dave Steele of Tampa, Florida. Known as a pavement specialist, Steele's talents on dirt continue to grow and improve to the point that he is a threat to win the dirt events as well. Steele has two wins thus far this year behind the wheel of the Northside Propane car. Steele swept the sprint car and midget portion of the recent USAC tripleheader at Nazareth.
Third in points, just 30 behind Yeley is Dave Darland of Lincoln, Indiana. Darland is the 1997 USAC Silver Crown champion and a former one-lap track record holder on the "Magic Mile". Darland took a large step toward a second Silver Crown title last weekend when he de-railed the "Yeley Express" by dominating the 43rd Tony Bettenhausen 100 at Springfield. Darland sat on the pole at Springfield, then led 99 of the 100 miles while Yeley fought and ill-handling car all day, his 17th place finish allowed Darland to close to within nine points of the series lead prior to Nazareth! Darland will be back at DuQuoin once again in the familiar blue Jarvis Enterprises 56 of long-time car owner Galen Fox.
All of the top ten in the USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown points are expected to be at DuQuoin, including 2000 titlist Tracy Hines. Hines is the pilot of one of the Mopar team cars owned by Terry Riggs and currently fourth in the standings. The New Castle, Indiana driver is still in search of his first Silver Crown mile dirt track win, and would like nothing better than to take it at DuQuoin.
Fifth in the point standings is the man who was the hottest drive in USAC in 2000, Californian Jay Drake. Drake won the Pikes Peak event this year and drives one of the MoPar sponsored cars for 1971 USAC dirt car champ and Horn Memorial winner George "Ziggy" Snider.
Sixth in the standings is Parma, Michigan's Brian Tyler, a former USAC Sprint Car champion, while the seventh slot is occupied by 2001 Horn winner and 2001 USAC Silver Crown champ Paul White of Temple, Texas. White missed the USAC dirt track "Triple Crown" in 2001, success at Springfield and DuQuoin didn't translate at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and the Texas native is rebounding from a miserable season last year.
A former two-time Horn Memorial winner who is the oldest DuQuoin championship race winner is also on the entry list, as the ageless Johnny Parsons of Speedway, Indiana drives for Benton, Illinois owner Ricky Nix. Parsons, who won his second Horn Memorial in 1995 at the age of 51, could be the oldest man in the field at age 59 and is still very much a threat in the dirt cars. Other veteran drivers on the entry list include Arizona's Jerry Coons, Jr. (second at Springfield), Indiana drivers Russ Gamester (the 1997 Horn Memorial winner), Eric Gordon, 2000 Horn Memorial winner Tony Elliot, Pennsylvanian John Heydenreich, Californian Brad Noffsinger, while second generation driver Rich Tobias rebounds from a nasty crash at the Springfield mile.
They will be opposed by a talented crop of young drivers looking to further their careers with a win at the historic "Magic Mile". USAC's new motto is the "Starting Line for Champions", and nothing could be more appropriate considering that former USAC shoes account for five NASCAR Winston Cup titles, a NASCAR truck title, and Indy Racing league title, an Indy 500 "Rookie of the Year award and four NASCAR Winston Cup "Rookie of the Year" awards since 1992!
Heading the group of youngsters is Tyler Walker of Los Angeles, California in his first full season on the tour. Currently 8th in the Silver Crown point chase, Walker attempted to run the series two years ago with Johnny Vance and backing from NASCAR's Ray Evernham. That team failed to make it to the season's end, and Walker has now come back to USAC running for the potent RE/Kele Racing team from Iowa. Walker had a fine third place finish at Springfield last week, however, his teammate and fellow World of Outlaw driver Donny Schatz failed to make the event. Schatz has since announced his withdrawl from the Kele team and USAC competition.
Another second-generation star carries a name quite familiar to DuQuoin race fans, and has crept into the top ten in the Silver Crown points. Dane Carter, son of 1978 USAC Silver Crown champ and 1978 Horn Memorial winner Pancho Carter, recently secured a deal to run the Silver Crown car now owned by Panther Racing, the team that has won the last two Indy Racing League national championships! Carter finished 7th last week at Nazareth, and vaulted to tenth in the standings.
Other youthful drivers to watch Sunday at DuQuoin include Ohio's Teddy Beach, regularly a midget driver, but in his first season in the long-wheelbase machines and very impressive in the Hoosier Hundred, last year's Rookie of the Year Matt Westfall driving for the Chicago based Aviators team, 9th place point driver Jason McCord of Anderson, Indiana and Vincennes, Indiana driver Jonathan Vennard.
Two young drivers could be late entries on the list. Campbell, California third generation driver Bud Kaeding nearly won the 2000 Silver Crown event at Springfield and has recovered from injuries suffered in a flip at Terre Haute last season. The other driver, Ed Carpenter, is the stepson of Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George and won the IRL-IPS race at the Speedway in May, driving for A.J. Foyt. Carpenter broke the one-lap track record last September at DuQuoin
Native Illinois drivers always draw a lot of fan interest at both Springfield and DuQuoin, and this year will be no exception with the return of Indianapolis 500 veteran and Springfield resident Donnie Beechler. A former pole sitter for the Horn Memorial, the popular veteran has formed his own team with chief wrench Dennis McQuinn and a group of investors, purchasing an ex-Gary Stanton Beast and naming the operation "Freedom Motorsports". Beechler has four wins in the series, three on dirt miles, and ran in the top ten all day at Springfield.
Illinois own A.J. Fike of Galesburg had been tenth in the USAC standings prior to Nazareth. Driving for the family RFMS sponsored operation, young A.J. has a couple of top ten finishes this year as he gains experience in his first full season in the bigger machines. Older brother Aaron, also from Galesburg, is seeking to one day run in the Indianapolis 500 and could be an added entry. To further that dream, Aaron vacated the seat now occupied by A.J. and is running in the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series for 1996 Indy 500 winning owner Ron Hemelgarn. Aaron and the Hemelgarn operation have one win in the Pro Series so far this year. However, he still finds time to run a limited Silver Crown schedule and has aligned himself with the Zarounian operation, the car owners for 2001 Horn champion and current NASCAR Busch Series driver, Kasey Kahne.
In addition to the Fike family and Beechler, other Illinois drivers include local shoe Randy Bateman of Murphysboro, strong on the dirt and with repairs completed to a new car after a flip at Indianapolis and Olney's Levi Jones, a starting guard for the AA Olney High School team that won twenty games and made it to the sectional a few years ago. O'Fallon, Illinois car owner Bob Galas also has ties to DuQuoin, he was the chief wrench on the orange and white creations that DuQuoin favorite Gary Bettenhausen drove five times into victory lane. However, the Galas team has not appeared so far this season.
Local drivers include Rod Holshouser of Cape Girardeau, Missouri and Danny Long of Bonne Terre, Missouri.
Unfortunately, one driver who will be missing is three-time Horn Memorial winner Jack Hewitt of Troy, Ohio. Always a favorite at DuQuoin Hewitt is still recovering from injuries in a sprint car crash last summer and had hoped to back in a Silver Crown car by now.
Nearly forty drivers, young and old, will be in search of one of the most prestigious and coveted trophies in all of auto racing, the Ted Horn Memorial. They will converge on one of the most storied pieces of racing real estate, the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, a facility known worldwide.
The DuQuoin State Fair was the brainchild of local Coca Cola bottling magnate Bill Hayes, who bought the property adjacent to the bottling plant for a festival similar to the one held in Springfield, that southern Illinois residents could easily attend. Hayes was a visionary, and an aficionado of horse racing, but it's doubtful that in 1923 he could have foreseen the evolution of the DuQuoin State Fair and the place it would hold in motor racing history.
Auto racing was in integral part of the fair in the 20's being held on the half mile track that still exists on the west side of the grounds. After World War II, Hayes envisioned a new one-mile facility that would rival the one in Springfield. Construction began on a one-mile dirt track on a parcel of land adjacent to the fairgrounds that was a former strip mine, and a new concrete and steel grandstand. The first race, held in 1946, was a sprint car race won by Jimmy Wilburn.
Hayes' new facility caught the eye of the American Automobile Association, then the sanctioning body for national championship racing and the Indianapolis 500. Looking for new venues for the championship machines after the demise of the board speedways in the thirties. AAA turned to the fairground dirt miles for dates for its championship series. Springfield came on board in 1934, the Indiana State Fairgrounds hosted a race in 1946, and DuQuoin got not one, but two races in 1948!
Future Indy 500 winners took the first two events. Lee Wallard won the race held during the fair, while Johnnie Parsons won the race scheduled for October, a race marred by the tragic loss of one of racing's true legends.
Ted Horn was one of the best and most popular championship drivers ever in the United States. A good mechanic and a better car designer and builder, Horn's exploits in sprint cars were legendary, while his career in championship machinery was mind-boggling. In Horn's rookie year at Indianapolis in 1935, he was the driver that was able to nurse one of the ill-fated factory Ford entries further than anyone on the team, providing a preview of what is the most prolific Indy 500 career of any driver never to win that historic event.
From 1936 to 1948, Horn posted several seconds and thirds in the "500", never finishing below the 5th spot in any year! Included in that record was one pole position as well, and along the way, Horn became the first driver in history to win three American Automobile Association national championships.
Horn had clinched the third of those crowns when the AAA champ cars came to DuQuoin on October 10, 1948. He was newly married, and his new bride in the stands. A superstitious man, his pre-race ritual this day varied greatly from his normal routine. While normally meticulous in detail when it came to the mechanical part of the sport, he decided against replacing the front spindles on his championship car known as "Beauty", thinking they would last the race.
Heading into turn three shortly after the green flag dropped, one of the spindles broke, and "Beauty" began to flip. Future Southern 500 winner Johnny Mantz was collected in the crash, and Horn was thrown to the track, unconscious. He was transported to the Marshall Browning Hospital, but the injuries suffered by the great champion proved fatal. When his shoes were removed, where he normally carried two pennies and a dime for good luck, all that could be located was the dime.
The Hayes family sought to honor the loss of the racing legend by naming the fair's championship event simply, "Ted Horn Memorial". Other racing legends such as Tony Bettenhausen, Jimmy Bryan, Rodger Ward, Mario Andretti and Al Unser all captured a Horn Memorial national championship trophy. After the USAC dirt cars split into a separate series in 1971, George Snider, Tom Bigelow, Gary Bettenhausen and Jimmy Sills all pulled into DuQuoin's victory lane.
But, it was America's greatest racing driver that captured the heart of DuQuoin fans, and the most wins in the Ted Horn Memorial. A.J. Foyt won his first championship race at DuQuoin in 1960, on his way to four consecutive Horn wins, and six overall. Ironically, the last of his 26 one-mile dirt track championship wins also came at DuQuoin, when he won the rain-shortened event in 1972.
Sunday's event is the 55th scheduled Horn Memorial, and the 53rd actual running of the event. Two races were cancelled due to rain, in 1950 and again in 1962. Many of the finest dirt track championship drivers around will make the annual tow to the small southern Illinois community for a chance at placing their name alongside the legends who have championship dirt car victories on the "Magic Mile".
Practice for the USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown series is slated to begin at 9 a.m., with qualifying scheduled for 11. Drivers will be shooting for Ed Carpenter's one-lap track record of 30.093, 119.629 miles per hour set last year. A last chance race will be held around 12:30, and then thirty of the bravest dirt track warriors in the country will do battle in a 100-mile grind, taking aim at the world record for 100 miles on the dirt set at DuQuoin in 1992 by Johnny Parsons at 56:03, 107.047 miles and hour. Over $40,000 in prizes and awards, plus $9,000 to the winner, is posted for the 53rd running of the Ted Horn Memorial.
On the card with the Weld Racing Silver Crown cars will be the local stars of the UMP Modified series, running their preliminary heat races for the tenth running of the Bill Oldani Memorial on Labor Day. Robinson, Illinois' Brian Shaw is the defending Oldani Memorial winner.
Tickets are $20 for adult, and $10 for children and are on sale at Ticketmaster, the DuQuoin State Fair Box Office or by calling Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200.
Additional information can be obtained by calling Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200, or on the World Wide Web at www.trackenterprises.com, or at www.usacracing.com.