August 15, 2015 Springfield, IL (By Jay Hardin Track Enterprises)
The task of driving two different types of race cars at the same track on different days happens frequently but it is usually two different types of open wheel or stock cars. The task of driving an open wheel championship car and a full bodied stock car on the same weekend isn’t as frequent, especially when it is being attempted on the dirt fairground miles of Illinois. Since 1965, stock cars and championship dirt cars have shared the last weekend of the afternoon grandstand entertainment at the Illinois State Fair. In the last fifty years, just 14 drivers have managed to make the starting lineup for both the Tony Bettenhausen 100 and the Allen Crowe 100 on the last weekend of the fair, and only one has gone to victory lane in both races.
When stock cars joined the Illinois State Fair lineup on Friday, August 20, 1965 young Mario Andretti slid behind the wheel of a Ford for the third running of the Allen Crowe Memorial while his Dean Van Lines Kuzma championship dirt car waited forSaturday’s Bettenhausen 100. Mario finished 11th in the Zecol Ford, then ran third to A.J. Foyt on Saturday. Six years would pass before another driver would try the ‘double’ and it was none other than Foyt himself. For the first time the stock cars ran Saturday and Foyt finished 14th, on Sunday he won the dirt car event.
Al Unser and Ralph Ligouri were the next to make both main events in 1972 with Al becoming the first driver to win both races on the same weekend. Al tried again in 1973 but was unable to take a checkered flag in either event. Larry Moore (’76), Ken Schrader (’81, ’82, ’83), Gary Bettenhausen (’85, ’87) and Tom Bigelow (’87, ’89) also made both races. In fact, Bigelow became the first to run three races in the same weekend making the feature for the Rex Easton midget race as well.
Sixteen years would pass before anyone would make both races again. Young Justin Allgaier put his name in the history books in 2005 and started a trend of open wheel racers crossing over into ARCA stock cars for the Sunday show. A.J. Fike, Ricky Stenhouse, Brian Tyler, Chris Windom and Shane Cockrum all followed Allgaier’s lead.
While Allgaier won the 2006 Allen Crowe 100, he did not experience similar success in the dirt cars. Tyler had a chance to join Al Unser after he won the 2008 Bettenhausen yet he just missed the double with a third place finish in Sunday’s Crowe Memorial.
Two-time Bettenhausen winner A.J. Fike may have come the closest of anyone in the last fifty years to joining Al Unser. After winning the Bettenhausen 100 for the second time in 2013, his Ford led 18 laps and was running among the leaders when a caution flag came out late in the 2013 Crowe 100. Before a national television audience both Fike had Springfield’s Kelly Kovski passed leader Brennan Poole on a late race restart and Fike made it to the checkered flag first setting off a celebration in the grandstands, pits and TV booth. However, ARCA officials reviewed the footage and ruled both he and Kovski violated the restart rules. A.J. was relegated to 14th.
Fike is the driver with the most starts in both races in the last fifty years, with eight, the last seven consecutive. The Galesburg native will try the double again this weekend and at press time is the only driver to appear on both entry lists.
The 54th Tony Bettenhausen 100 takes place Saturday August 22 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, with the 53rd Allen Crowe 100 Sunday August 23.