By Jay Hardin
Entry List Bolstered by ILLINI PRIDE
Springfield, IL August 18, 2015 (By Jay Hardin Track Enterprises)- The largest entry list in 8 years for the Tony Bettenhausen 100 USAC Silver Crown Series event Saturday at the Illinois State Fairgrounds has the racing scene buzzing as does the fact that the 37 car entry list contains no less than 10 drivers from the home state. “Illini Pride” includes a past two-time winner of the Tony Bettenhausen 100, a past series champion and winner of the Hoosier Hundred, two past winners of the Ted Horn 100 and three pilots from the capitol city itself!
Defending Tony Bettenhausen 100 winner and 2014 USAC Silver Crown champion Kody Swanson of California heads to the Illinois State Fair looking for a repeat victory and title. Last year Swanson showed the kind of dominance his predecessor Jack Hewitt displayed when he drove the famous number 63 wrenched by Bob Hampshire, winning on the dirt miles of Indianapolis, Springfield and Syracuse on his way to the 2014 crown. Swanson won the Toledo opener and repeated at the May Hoosier 100 helping him to a 58 point leader over Aaron Pierce of Indiana at press time.
Since the first 100-mile national championship race in 1934, Illinois drivers have usually been a part of the program. Six winners come from the home state with a good possibility of number seven being added to the list in 2015. The size of the entry list and the local participation is a further sign that the mighty uprights and their series continue to move in the right direction.
The series momentum has been helped in part due to support from Illinois teams and drivers. One of those is two-time Bettenhausen (2012-13) winner A.J. Fike of Galesburg who tries for the ninth time to do what only Al Unser has done, win both the Bettenhausen 100 and the Sunday Allen Crowe 100 stock car race on the same weekend. Swansea driver Levi Jones, a native of Olney, won two USAC Silver Crown titles and the Hoosier Hundred in 2013. Jones is still in search of a 100-mile win on home turf. Second generation driver Shane Cockrum of Benton won last September at DuQuoin and his win in the Sumar Classic at Terre Haute in July indicated he is a force to be reckoned with. Chris Urish of nearby Elkhart missed the Hoosier Hundred due to the birth of a child but returns to Springfield having won at DuQuoin in 2013.
Springfield sends three hometown drivers to the World’s Fastest Mile Dirt Track Saturday. Rochester High School grad Steven Russell follows in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps as does Joey Moughan. J.C. Bland is the third Capitol City driver and a Bettenhausen rookie. Other Illini pilots include Chris Windom of Canton, Terry Babb of Decatur, Patrick Lawson of Edwardsville and Tad Roach of Granite City. Chris Fetter and Terry James come from just beyond the Illinois border, Missouri.
Previous Bettenhausen winners expected at Springfield include Lincoln Indiana’s Dave Darland (1997,99,2003), Peru, Indiana’s Russ Gamester (1998), New Castle, Indiana’s Tracy Hines (2006) and Parma, Michigan’s Brian Tyler (2004, 05, 08, 2011). Tyler, Darland and Hines are in the top ten in money earned in championship cars at the Illinois State Fairgrounds while Darland displaced George Snider in 2014 as the driver with the most miles in championship competition at the Springfield Mile.
The mighty uprights known as championship dirt cars have endured talk of their demise since the mid-1950’s. When the Silver Crown machines were given their own series in 1971, many thought the cars would not survive. However, the unique nature of the machines and the tracks they compete on, the history associated with the big cars and the love shown to them by fans and competitors have seen them through some very tough times.
With series director Andy Hillenburg leading the way, a positive ‘buzz’ was felt in the pit area at Silver Crown events in 2014 and that has carried over to 2015. The series has seen an influx of new teams and drivers, as well as some well-known former owners who have returned or are preparing to return to the series.
C.J. Leary, Shane Cottle, Brady Bacon and Justin Grant have all been terrors in sprint cars and have picked up well earned rides with car owners new to the series. Former winner Brian Tyler returned to the series in May with legendary owner Junior Kurtz, while indications are that past car owners Robert Galas and Gary Zarounian may be considering returns to the series in 2015 or 2016. Past series champ Rick Hood made his series return in May with owner Galen Fox.
One of the current group of Bettenhausen entrants has a chance to place their name alongside legends such as Foyt, Andretti, Unser, Ward and Bryan this coming Saturday. Practice for the 54th Bettenhausen 100 is slated for 10 a.m. August 22, with qualifying at approximately 11:15 and the 100-mile race taking the green flag at about 2:00. Tickets are available at the Illinois State Fair Box office or by calling 217-764-3200.