DuQuoin, IL August 24, 2011-Coming into the 59th Federated Auto Parts-Southern Illinois 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, the question being asked in the ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menard’s garage area is: Can a stock car regular can set quick time on the “Magic Mile? Since 2001 every pole position for the Southern Illinois 100 has been taken by a driver with significant open wheel racing car experience.
Tony Stewart began the trend when the Indy Car Series and USAC Triple Crown champion set track records and captured the Southern Illinois 100 pole position for three consecutive seasons. Stewart set a track record over 104 miles an hour as Frank Kimmel’s teammate in 2001 then finished second to Kimmel, upped the track record by 2 miles an hour in 2002 driving for Andy Petree and again finished second to Kimmel. Stewart brought his own Joe Gibbs Chevy to DuQuoin in 2003 and while his lap of over 103 miles an hour wasn’t a new record, it was good enough for the top slot and he ended up winning the event.
USAC Sprint Car and Silver Crown champion Ken Schrader ran sprint cars and midgets throughout the Midwest before tacking USAC and the World of Outlaws running hundreds of open wheel events prior to becoming NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year. Schrader ran midgets and the Silver Crown machines and had an attempt at the Indy 500 long after becoming a star in NASCAR’s premiere series. He won the pole for the 2004 Southern Illinois 100 leading 14 circuits and finishing eighth in the rain shortened affair. Schrader got his second front slot start at DuQuoin in 2006 and a long sought after 100-mile victory on the “Magic Mile”.
Sandwiched in between Schrader’s top qualifying efforts was a track record set by what could have been a less than obvious favorite to do so by many railbirds. Parma, Michigan’s Brian Tyler had the respect of fellow drivers and fans for his USAC Sprint Car championships and Silver Crown victories yet was something of an unknown in stock cars. Tyler had dabbled in the Indy Car Series and NASCAR Trucks, Nationwide cars and the ARCA series prior to September of 2005 with mixed results. His results on September 5, 2005 were anything but mixed at DuQuoin as he added nearly two miles an hour to Tony Stewart’s three year old qualifying mark, becoming the first driver over 108 miles an hour in a stock car at DuQuoin. His underfunded team ran near the front before losing an engine after the halfway mark.
Galesburg, Illinois shoe A.J. Fike became the seventh consecutive open wheeler to start from the pole when he set fast time in 2007. The USAC and Powri midget regular had been running in the USAC Silver Crown Series and was attempting to follow his older brother into the stock car racing world. Fike has since returned to his Galesburg home picking and choosing which events to run. The limited schedule did not hurt his ability to run fast at DuQuoin as Fike sat on the pole for the 2009 and 2010 editions of the Southern Illinois 100.
Jack Roush development driver, USAC Sprint car, midget and Silver Crown regular, second generation driver were all adjectives that described Mississippi’s Ricky Stenhouse when he rolled onto the “Magic Mile” for qualifications in 2009. Driving for owner Tony Stewart Stenhouse won the 2007 Tony Bettenhausen 100 Silver Crown event at Springfield and had gotten some notice from NASCAR owners. He took the Jack Roush Ford out as the twenty-third scheduled qualifier on September 1, 2008 and promply smashed through the 33 second barrier with a lap at 109.436 miles an hour, a record that stands today.
Arguably the last eleven ARCA pole positions at DuQuoin have gone to open wheel drivers. Centralia’s Joe Cooksey won the pole at DuQuoin in 2000 and his lone DuQuoin victory came in the 1995 Oldani Memorial in an open wheel UMP Modified.
Stock car regulars may have a decided advantage when qualifications open for the Federated-Southern Illinois 100 on Labor Day. Only three drivers with much open wheel experience are expected on the entry list while at least six drivers have significant seat time in outlaw style dirt late models, including former UMP national champion Rodney Melvin of Benton, Illinois, current national point leader Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, World of Outlaw late Model champ Josh Richards and Lucas Oil late Model regular Will Vaught of Crane, Missouri..
The battle for the AnseIl Pole gets underway at 11 a.m. on Labor Day at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds with the 59th Federated Auto Parts-Southern Illinois 100 slated for a 1 p.m. green flag.