Two important milestones in the careers of one of the premiere announcers and premiere racing promoters will be reached during the final weekend of the 2013 Illinois State Fair. Southern Illinois native Jim Childers celebrates his 30th anniversary as the voice of auto racing at the Springfield Mile, while promoter Bob Sargent and the Track Enterprises crew mark their 20th year of promotion of the auto racing events at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Childers began his career at Paducah International Raceway in 1980 and by 1983 was the voice of the now defunct Midwest Auto Racing Association (MARA) Midget Series. He was first introduced to Springfield race fans calling a MARA midget race on the mile in conjunction with the June 1983 American 100 USAC Stock Car race. A chance meeting with the late William “Wild Bill” Oldani, then the Motorsports Director at the Illinois State Fair, led to Childers working the microphone on race weekends with USAC’s Gary Lee and eventually taking control of the Sunday Allen Crowe 100 after the ARCA series took over sanction of the event. When Lee relinquished duties over the USAC Tony Bettenhausen 100 after 25 years, Childers and veteran announcer Larry Limbach became the PA voices at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Jim has the longest tenure of anyone to hold the mike for the state fair auto races.
Childers, currently the voice of the Lucas Oil POWRi National Midget Series, can count time behind the mike at places such as the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Terre Haute, DuQuoin, the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, Memphis Motorsports Park and Gateway International Raceway as some of the venues he has worked in a 34 year career.
“I’ve learned a lot from different people over the years, people like Bill Oldani, Bob Sargent, Gary Lee have all taught me a lot about my profession and the racing business”, said Childers. “I owe a great deal to a lot of people, most importantly my family for allowing me the time to do this, and the fans for listening.”
Sargent took over Macon Speedway from the Webb family in 1985, not that long after graduating college. By 1992 he was being recognized as an up and coming race promoter and in looking for other venues found one in the Springfield Mile. For the first time in nearly a decade a private promoter obtained the facility for a ‘still’ date and Sargent’s Illinois Fall Nationals became a staple of motorsports at the fairgrounds in October of 1992.
When Bill Oldani suddenly passed away before the 1993 Illinois State Fair, the mantle of Motorsports Director passed to Bob Sargent, though not without some speculation and concern by those in the racing business as to who might take over race promotion at the fair and what form the racing program might take. It was well known that the State of Illinois was seeking to privatize many aspects of entertainment at the fair and a number of names were talked about as potential suitors. In the end the Track Enterprises crew won the bidding and for the first time in over 30 years, the promoter of title at the Illinois State Fair would not be a state employee.
Private promoters at Springfield were the norm from the time Ralph Hankinson took over in 1934 until his death in 1942. After World War II, the fair races either had the Illinois State Fair manager as the promoter of title or an outside promoter. After 1965, the promoter of title became the Illinois State Fair manager. When Jim Thompson was elected Governor in 1978, Bill Oldani came to the Illinois Department of Agriculture as the motorsports director for the Illinois State Fair and would hold the same title later when the state took over the DuQuoin State Fair.
With 20 years in the books Bob Sargent has the longest tenure of any promoter of title at the Illinois State Fair. In addition to his duties at Springfield, Sargent counts DuQuoin, Paducah International Raceway, the Indiana State Fairgrounds and the Terre Haute Action Track among his regular venues, and has promoted races at Lincoln Speedway, Farmer City Raceway, Danville, Elko, Minnesota and Indianapolis Raceway Park. He and the Track Enterprises staff have won numerous awards including USAC’s promoter of the year award in 1994 and national promoter of the year in 2011.
“Sarge” also counts Kenny Schrader, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kenny Wallace as close friends and business associates.
“It was an honor to take over the Illinois State Fairgrounds and preserve the tradition and history that this venue holds”, said Sargent. “I know a number of fans love the dirt miles and the rich history they have and I didn’t want to see that possibly go away.” “It’s been a good partnership for us with the fair, USAC, ARCA, the competitors and most importantly the fans.” “It’s a relationship that we want to continue and to grow in the coming years.”
The celebration for Jim Childers and Bob Sargent takes place during the last weekend of the Illinois State Fair with the 52nd Tony Bettenhausen 100 August 17, the 51st Allen Crowe 100 August 18 and the 20th Sportsman Nationals split between both days.