(by Jay Hardin) Springfield, IL August 24, 2011-Mother Nature threw a scare at the USAC and Track Enterprises crews on Saturday with some dark clouds to the north and south of the Illinois State Fairgrounds but unlike last year’s deluge the rains held off and the 50th Bettenhausen 100 went off without a hitch. While the day turned-warm and humid it certainly was not as hot as years past and the morning cloud cover helped hold down the temps.
Brian Tyler was able to add to his livestock collection and join some heady company by taking his fourth Bettenhausen 100 win Saturday. He joined A.J. Foyt and Chuck Gurney as the only drivers with four or more championship wins on the state fair mile. He still needs three more to tie Gurney’s record of seven Bettenhausen 100 victories. Tyler, who moved to North Carolina and became a ‘gentleman farmer’, has been buying cows and naming then after each Silver Crown win. This one is slated to become Springfield the Second.
Tyler started twenty first when he won in 2004 and sixteenth in his 2005 win. Some railbirds correctly predicted he was a threat to win when he timed fourteenth Saturday and he rapidly moved through traffic. Using the high side and low side he zipped into the top five and caught leader Jerry Coons in traffic in turn three of the fifteenth go around. Once he got the lead be began using the Snider or Gurney groove and never looked back. The win marks the fourth in 12 Springfield starts for the Michigan transplant and only twice in those 12 starts has he failed to finish the Bettenhausen 100.
Levi Jones dropped back at the start but came back strong toward the end passing Jerry Coons and Kyle Larson to take second at the end. Coons finally led a race at Springfield taking the lead at the start. Larson ended the day fourth with Tracy Hines a solid fifth. Bryan Clauson had a tire go flat early on and pitted to change the left front and resumed a couple laps down.
Tyler’s win was the eighteenth since 1992 for a Beast chassis, the second for Toyota engines, the thirteenth for McCreary tires and the fifth for a car carrying the number 21.
Brian moved from ninth to third on the all-time laps led list in champ cars at Springfield, He now has 285 in the books just four behind Jack Hewitt but 245 behind the “King” A.. J. Foyt. Tyler moved to fourth on the all-time money won list for champ cars at Springfield but remains over $30,000 behind Chuck Gurney.
Former winners Russ Gamester and Dave Darland are now the ‘graybeards’ (sorry guys) at Springfield, each the active driver with the most starts at 19 apiece. Gamester joined the top ten in money won in championship machinery at Springfield Saturday while Darland tied a record of A.J. Foyt’s that has stood for 37 seasons. Each now has 18 consecutive dirt car starts on the Springfield Mile.
Darland has completed 1665 miles at Springfield and needs a couple more races to catch all-time leader George Snider who completed 1808. Dave is also tied with Snider and Hewitt for most times running at the finish, 13.
Practice sessions at Springfield for the USAC Silver Crown machines can be spectacular and Saturday was no exception. There were clearly two and at times three different grooves being used and drivers were nearly flat footing it all the way around the big dirt mile. The cushion in turns two and four was pushed to nearly the wall by the time practice ended and while not quite like the days of yesteryear when the dirt cars ran Eldora style on the cushion against the wall, it was pleasing none the less.
Two drivers were under the track standard in practice, one being nineteen year old Kyle Larson of California. A Springfield rookie he occupied the seat of 2009 Springfield race winner Cole Whitt for team owner and wrench Keith Kunz and the car was lightning fast in hot laps.
Some sun baked the track and by the time qualifying rolled around the track was two seconds slower than in hot laps. Still, the cushion appeared to be the fast way to go and an early number wasn’t necessarily the best as Hines went out late, used the very thin cushion and set fast time. It was the first pole ever in the series for the Lightfoot Racing Team and the second for Hines who set the one lap track record in 2006.
Hines, TSR teammates Levi Jones and Springfield rookie Bryan Clauson were the only drivers in the 31 second bracket in qualifying.
Twelve Illini drivers were on the USAC dirt track driver roster prior to the Bettenhausen with ten actually making the trip to the Illinois capitol. Olney’s Jones second was the best showing followed by Canton’s Chris Windom in tenth and Galesburg’s A.J. Fike in twelfth. Others weren’t so lucky. Pocahontas Zach Daum suffered through mechanical issues and wound up running at the end 16 laps down. Springfield’s Mike Hess and Benton’s Shane Cockrum were running but three down at the checker. Elkhart’s Chris Urish lost a drive line on lap five and Chicago’s Craig Dori went out on lap 57 with a bad ignition.
Springfield’s Donnie Beechler had the toughest day of the Illini. Beechler was caught up in the melee that ensued when Darren Hagen slowed and was hit by Darland in turn four. Beechler had no where to go and did a couple of end overs and destroyed the Stanton chassis. Beechler says he will be back but his status for DuQuoin is doubtful Unfortunately the same shunt caught up Murphysboro’s Randy Bateman as well but his car appeared to be repairable.
Springfield was the last of the dirt miles to try the lap 51 intermission and it had little effect on the outcome.
Several cars and drivers were in absentia. The Riggs 37 was missing with Jon Stanbrough now in the RW 17. The SC 97 was also missing as was the Depalma 63 assigned to Shane Cottle. Unknown to most was that Cottle had been injured in a nasty flip at Gas City Friday night. Get well soon Shane.
Fourteen cars completed the 100 miles with 20 running at the end. Two cautions for just six laps slowed the field with one regular red flag in addition to the lap 51 intermission. Saturday’s attendance pushed the number of people who have seen championship racing at Springfield near the one million mark and the total purses near $2.2 million.