SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The annual SuperChevyStores.com 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds – this year being the 52nd running – always sports a good bit of local flavor, which definitely adds to the overall personality of the show, complete with its very own and spectacular Illinois State Fair as a backdrop.
El Paso, Illinois’ Ryan Unzicker fits this description to a tee. If he’s not well-known within the ARCA ranks, he most assuredly is in the dirt late model ranks, not only in the Land of Lincoln, but across the United States.
Unzicker was the 2011 UMP National Late Model Series champion, and just finished second in points in the wild and brutal UMP Summer Nationals “Hell Tour”.
“We do it (Hell Tour) all in about a month,” Unzicker said.
“This year, it was 33 races in 38 days all over Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. We led most of it this year until Terre Haute…fell off there and lost the lead. We ended up losing it by 38 points. It was so disappointing; we led the majority of it.”
Talk about at Illinois fan favorite, and a national champion to boot. And you can bet he’ll have a boat-load of fans coming out to root on their local hero, who will be driving for longtime ARCA car owner Bill Hendren, who is also fielding a car for Manteno, Illinois’ Bob Strait.
“We’ll get a lot of fans coming out for the race…between Hendren’s and Bob’s fans and my fans, but I also have to compete against Bob Strait, my teammate this year. Both cars are coming out of the same shop. We’re all pretty pumped about it this year.”
With 65-year-old Strait returning to compete this year, Unzicker will not run the number 66 as he had in most of his previous ARCA starts at the fairgrounds. The 66 will go back to Strait. As it turns out, it works out great for Unzicker too.
“Strait was always 66, at least since I’ve been coming around this thing. So this year we got the number 24, so we got our number back too.”
Unzicker’s late models are all lettered with the 24.
“I’m not sure who owns the 24 in ARCA, but somehow Bill (Hendren) got it, and I’m pretty excited about that. I’m hoping the fans will identify with me even more now.”
With so much local support, Unzicker knows full-well that success in a 2300-lb. dirt late model does not necessarily translate over into a 3400-lb. ARCA car.
“There really is no resemblance to be honest with you. The dirt late model has much more chassis movement…the speeds are more…the accelerating is faster…braking…everything is faster.
“You get in an ARCA car and it feels like a steel tank. It takes a mile to slow down. The visibility is not as good with all the bars, padding, mirrors; you’re a lot more enclosed.
“There really is no comparison. The only comparison where it bears some resemblance is the track itself, which gets hard and slick.
“With the ARCA car, you keep it straight and work the pedal and brake a lot. And you’re running on a smaller, harder tire; it feels like there’s no traction; it’s hard to get hooked up.”
Unzicker finished an ARCA career-best sixth at Springfield in 2002, in his first try.
“I know it’s a tall order…to win it…but we’re going with the idea that we can. It would absolutely be a big, huge deal for me, and certainly for Bill Hendren and his family and fans. It would be so much fun and gratifying to win it for them. There’d be a lot of happy people; I can tell you that.”
Back home in El Paso, Unzicker helps run the family business, RJR Transport, a longtime sponsor/supporter of Hendren Motor Sports.
“It’s a trucking company. We do all 48 states.”
10-time ARCA Racing Series national champion Frank Kimmel is the all-time Springfield winner with eight wins, his most recent in 2012.
NASCAR veteran and former Springfield winner Ken Schrader has also filed an entry for the race, as has defending race winner Brennan Poole.
Over the years, SuperChevyStores.com-Allen Crowe 100 winners include Curtis Turner (’63), Don White (’66, ’67, ’72), Al Unser (’72), Jack Bowsher (’73), Roger McCluskey (’74), Ramo Stott (’76, ’77, ’80), AJ Foyt (’79), Joe Ruttman (’80), Dean Roper (’81, ’82, ’83, ’83, ’85, ’86), Bob Keselowski (’87, ’88, ’89, ’93), Bobby Bowsher (’91, ’92), Tim Steele (’96, ’97), Schrader (’98), Bill Baird (’99, ’04), Justin Allgaier (’06), Parker Kligerman (’09), and Kimmel (’00, ’01, ’02. ’03, ’05, ’07, ’08, ’12).
Practice for the SuperChevyStores.com 100 is scheduled from 9:00-10:00 a.m. with Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell following at 11:15. The 52nd annual SuperChevyStores.com 100 starts at 1:30 p.m. All times are local.
ARCAracing.com will feature live timing and scoring of all on-track activity as well as live flag-to-flag audio coverage of the race. For tickets, call Track Enterprises or the Illinois State Fair box office.