By Jay Hardin
California’s Toni Breidinger comes into the ARCA Menards Series Atlas 100 at the Illinois State Fair seeking to become the first woman to win a major national championship auto race on the Springfield Mile, August 21. Breidinger is currently 5th in the ARCA Menard’s title chase with 4 top 10 finished and is also looking to break a victory drought in the ARCA series.
The 23-year old has a diverse racing background starting in open wheel cars and winning over 15 USAC midget races before transitioning to the bigger USAC Silver crown cars and to stock cars. Breidinger finished 9th in the 2021 Allen Crowe 100 completing all 100 miles and had a creditable run two weeks later at DuQuoin. Of the top 6 in ARCA points she is the only one with any mile dirt track experience.
During the early part of the 20th century women competed on the same race tracks as the men, even before the passage of the Suffrage Act. Ladies such as Elfreda Mais and Ora Holbein competed on the dusty dirt tracks of America including the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Most of the races they competed in were not true contests, but were “hipped” meaning the outcome was predetermined. Women drivers disappeared from the Springfield landscape for nearly 80 years, before a resurgence from the ladies in 2000. Two women competed in the ARCA Atlas-Allen Crowe 100 that year, with Shawna Robinson and Karla Lampe participating and Robinson finishing 12th on the lead lap. In 2020 Hailie Deegan posted the best finish in a major race at Springfield by any female driver, leading one lap and finishing second to eventual winner Ryan Unzicker.
Breidinger has a couple of other aces up her uniform sleeves come August 21. The Venturini team she drives for has won 5 of the last 9 ARCA events at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and crew chief Kevin Reed went to victory lane with Brennan Poole in 2013 and Christian Eckes in 2018.
The event is all part of a huge weekend of racing that begins Friday night, August 19 at Lincoln Speedway featuring MOWA Sprint Cars, Saturday afternoon, August 20 with USAC Silver Crown and Sportsman at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, Saturday night at Macon Speedway with POWRi National Midgets, and Sunday afternoon, August 21 with ARCA and Sportsman at the Illinois State Fair.
Advance tickets for the Illinois State Fair races are available by calling the Track Enterprises office at 217-764-3200, by calling the Illinois State Fair box office at 217-782-1979, or by stopping by the Illinois State Fair box office. Advance sale discounted tickets for the ARCA Menards Series event on Sunday, August 21 can be purchased in Central Illinois area Menards stores for a price of just $20.