By Jay Hardin Track Enterprises Staff-Springfield, IL-(August 12, 2019)-Californian Kody Swanson enters the 2019 Bettenhausen 100 with the point lead in the USAC Silver Crown Championship Series and he shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Swanson has four wins in seven races extending his series record of 28 victories. The two-time Bettenhausen winner is in search of his 5th Silver Crown title but may find the going tough in the prestigious Bettenhausen 100 at the Illinois State Fair on August 17 as the entry list is expected to be one of the most talented in recent history.
The thirty-one year old Swanson now calls Indiana home and has his wife Jordan as his spotter. While Kody may be seeking his fifth USAC Silver Crown title in the last six years, a national championship would be a first for his veteran car onwe Gene Nolen of Columbus, Indiana. When Swanson’s previous car owner Tony DePalma retired after the 2018 season Nolen stepped up and hired the USAC champion.
USAC boasts a large contingent of hungry young drivers in search of one of the sought after 100-mile victories and a group of veterans who would like nothing better than to show the fast lane to the younger generation. Kevin Thomas Jr. of Cullman, Alabama is one of the younger set who broke through in the series with a second place in the 2018 Bettenhausen, leading 42 miles and engaging in a spirited battle with Tyler “Sunshine” Courtney. Courtney led the first 44 miles before dropping out on lap 96 with engine failure. Thomas is currently 10th in Silver Crown points while Courtney picked up a 100-mile triumph in May capturing the Hoosier Hundred for owner Hans Lein.
Defending Bettenhausen winner Chris Windom joined A.J. Fike and the late Don Branson as the only central Illinois natives to win the state fair championship race. Windom should be joined by past Bettenhausen winners Justin Grant (2017), Brian Tyler (2004, 2005, 208, 2011) and Russ Gamester (1998). Windom is 11th in points in search of a second national title despite taking a nasty tumble while leading the Hoosier Hundred. Grant is second in points while Tyler and Gamester are running limited schedules.
Two-time USAC Sprint Car champ Brady Bacon won the event at Williams Grove and is in search of his first mile track win. Wisconsin’s David Byrne was originally thought to be a pavement specialist but has had several top ten finishes on dirt and is 3rd in the point standings. Second generation driver C.J. Leary won the Sumar Classic at Terre Haute a few years ago. Third generation driver Austin Nemire of Ohio continues to improve and is 8th in points.
Veteran Eric Gordon made his return the to the series after an absence and is fourth in points with his last start in the Bettenhausen coming in 2003. Fellow veteran John Heydenreich also returned to the series after an absence as did Billy Puterbaugh Jr., Bill Rose returned to the series in 2018 while former Springfield track record holder Jeff Swindell returned in 2016.
The strong Illinois contingent is expected to return to bolster what should be an entry list of 40 plus of the big cars. Benton’s Shane Cockrum won twice at DuQuoin and may be joined by Edwardsville’s Patrick Lawson, Springfield’s Joey Moughan, J.C. Bland and Korey Weyant, Decatur’s Terry Babb and Elkhart’s Chris Urish. Murphysboro car owner Patti Bateman should return with second generation pilot Casey Shuman. The status of two-time winner A.J. Fike of Galesburg and three-time winner Dave Darland is unknown at press time.
Practice for the Bettenhausen 100 is slated to begin at 10 a.m. on August 17 with qualifying at 11:30, the last chance race at 12:30 and the Bettenhausen 100 pushed off at 2 p.m.