Springfield, Galesburg Natives Could Find Winner’s Circle
There is a saying that “old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill”. Whether that’s a Chinese proverb, Vulcan axiom or simply something an old guy made up, it doesn’t matter. That statement will get a stern test this Sunday in the 49th Allen Crowe 100 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menard’s stock car race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. A nineteen year old who is batting over .500 in the ARCA series comes to Springfield as the point leader while the active driver with the most Allen Crowe 100 victories comes to Springfield with a 57 race winless streak.
The last time a rookie came to Springfield without any mile dirt track experience and in contention for the ARCA title was in 2009 when Parker Kilgerman beat the historic Springfield Mile into submission. The Roger Penske driver led 18 laps and became the youngest stock car race winner in Illinois State Fair history. A similar scenario may be unfolding for the final day of the 2011 Illinois State Fair.
Half the top ten in the current ARCA point standings have never competed on a one mile dirt track. They are led by the grandson of one of the most prolific car owners in NASCAR Sprint Cup history. Ty Dillon has won 7 of the 13 races to date on the ARCA schedule including two weeks ago at Pocono. Dillon doesn’t exactly come to Springfield without dirt experience as he has considerable time in dirt modifieds but this will be his first attempt at one of the storied mile dirt tracks. His car owner is also his grandfather. Former NASCAR driver and current owner Richard Childress won six NASCAR championships with the late Dale Earnhardt. Currently Dillon has a 410 point edge over his closest pursuer with six races left on the ARCA slate.
The driver chasing him could give the Springfield based Allgaier Motorsports team its second ARCA crown but it will take sterling runs by driver Grant Enfinger and considerable misfortune by the point leader. The twenty six year old Alabama resident is the latest to occupy the seat formerly held by 2008 Allen Crowe 100 winner and current NASCAR Nationwide Series star Justin Allgaier.
Seven time Allen Crowe 100 winner Frank Kimmel of Indiana is looking to erase a 57 race winless streak and make his twentieth consecutive start at Springfield. The nine time ARCA champion is third in the ARCA-Menard’s title run on the strength of 12 top ten finishes in 13 starts. Kimmel was in the midst of a much shorter winless streak in 2008 when the ARCA series made the dirt swing (Springfield and DuQuoin) and Kimmel dominated the 2008 AlIen Crowe 100 for a record tying seventh win.
Chad Hackenbracht of Michigan, Chris Buescher and Matt Merrell of Texas, Chad McCumbee of North Carolina, Sean Corr and Tim George of New York all occupy top ten positions in the ARCA standings. Hackenbracht, Corr and Buescher have never run an ARCA race on dirt while Merrell has one start at Springfield in 2009 and McCumbee started the 2005 & 2010 Allen Crowe 100. Only George and Merrell have posted ARCA victories in 2011.
The driver currently sixth in ARCA points has a good chance of moving up at Springfield and his car owner gives him a decided edge. Tom Hessert III of New Jersey has considerable experience in midgets and USAC Silver Crown cars. Hessert finished third at Springfield one year ago in his foruth Crowe 100 start. His car owner is popular Ken Schrader, the 1998 AlIen Crowe 100 winner and the only driver in 101 years at the Springfield mile to win feature races in three different types of machines. Another rookie who emerges as a strong contender at the Illinois State Fairgrounds is World of Outlaw and Lucas Oil dirt late model veteran Josh Richards. Nicknamed “Kid Rocket” the West Virginia pilot has come on board as one of the drivers for former drivers and Chicago natives Bill and Billy Venturini. Richards has on ARCA start on dirt coming at DuQuoin in 2007 where he finished third for very proud car owner Tony Stewart.
Justin Allgaier became the first Springfield winner of the Allen Crowe 00 in 2006 when he turned the fairgrounds upside down with a late pass to take the win. A second Springfield driver who is one of Allgaier’s employees could be a dark horse for victory Sunday. Kelly Kovski serves as the crew chief for Grant Enfinger and he is expected to make his seventh start on the big dirt track. Kovski finished sixth in at Springfield in 2010;
The other central Illinois driver with a chance at victory is the lone driver pulling ‘double duty’ for the weekend, driving in Saturday’s Tony Bettenhausen 100 as well. Galesburg’s A.J. Fike is attempting to become just the second driver since 1965 to sweep both major state fair races on the same weekend joining Al Unser who turned the trick in 1972. Fike has one pole in his seven Springfield starts and has led 71 laps on the dirt oval with a fourth place finish in 2009 and a fifth last year.
A late entry for the 49th Crowe 100 has McLean County racing fans excited and brings back one of the most popular race teams to Springfield. Normal based Hendren Racing fielded teams for popular Ken Rowley from 1972 until his retirement and then for Bob Strait. Hendren racing nearly captured the 1993 and 2006 Crowe 100 events only to lose them in the waning stages. They return with current UMP national late model point leader Ryan Unzicker of El Paso. Unzicker has one start at Springfield with a strong sixth place finish in 2003.
Other Illinois drivers on the entry list include Mark Littleton of Arenzville, former UMP national champion Rodney Melvin of Benton, Joe Mueller of Brighton and Dale Shearer of Alahambra.
The stock car race at the Illinois State Fair memorializes local driver Allen Crowe who perished in a 1963 USAC Sprint Car race at New Bremen, Ohio. Born in the small town of York, Illinois Crowe was a local stock car champion who competed on the short tracks of Missouri and Illinois winning numerous championships and races including events at Joe Shaheen’s Springfield Speedway. His talents were recognized by USAC car owners and he eventually secured a championship division ride where he made 15 starts. He followed in the tire tracks of fellow capitol city residents Floyd Davis and Chuck Weyant when he made his first start in the 1962 Indianapolis 500 and followed that with a second the week before the New Bremen accident.
Though not yet part of the Illinois State Fair the Springfield stock car race was named in his honor. One week after the 1963 fair ended NASCAR legend Curtis Turner won the very first Allen Crowe Memorial. Victories have been posted in the Allen Crowe 100 by Norm Nelson, Don White, Butch Hartman, Ramo Stott, A.J. Foyt, Jack Bowsher, Bob Keselowski and Bill Baird with seven coming from grand champion Dean Roper. Roper was felled by a heart attack during the 2001 event and the pole award has been presented for several years in his memory.
Stock car racing takes center stage on the world’s fastest one mile dirt track at the Illinois State Fair Sunday. ARCA practice begins at 9 in the morning followed by Ansell Pole qualifying at 11 and the 49th Allen Crowe 100 pushing off at 1 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster, the Illinois State Fair Box Office or at Track Enterprises (217-764-3200). The current entry list can be found at www.arcaracing.com.