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The mile long ribbon of clay at the Illinois State Fairgrounds is one of the most iconic and historic auto racing venues in the United States which will once again host Champ Car racing of the USAC Silver Crown Series this Sunday afternoon, October 18, in the Bettenhausen 100 presented by Fatheadz Eyewear.
The original racetrack on the grounds hosted auto exhibitions as early as 1905 and professional events as early as 1910. Cars, motorcycles, horses and even airplanes performed in front of thousands of spectators.
Reconfigured over the winter of 1926 to better use available space and acquiring the current concrete and steel grandstand, the Springfield Mile took on an iconic look that is familiar to anyone who has ever witnessed a race on the gumbo surface.
In 1934, the fair received an American Automobile Association national championship race, just one of four on the schedule, courtesy of legendary promoter Ralph “Pappy” Hankinson. Here are some facts and tidbits about the long history f championship cars at Springfield.
Sunday’s race is the eighty sixth scheduled on the Springfield Mile. Eighty-two championship races have been run so far, with the 2010, 2016 and 2019 events lost to rain. Forty-seven Silver Crown Series races have taken place at the Illinois State Fairgrounds since 1971.
The Illinois State Fair championship race was named in honor of Tony Bettenhausen in 1961 after Springfield’s first three-time winner passed away as a result of injuries in a practice crash at Indianapolis. More recently the race has taken the name Bettenhausen 100 to honor the entire family including two-time USAC Silver Crown champ Gary Bettenhausen and younger brother Tony Jr.
While three races have been lost to rain, thee have failed to go the entire 100-mile distance. The 1937 race ended at 95 miles due to rain with Mauri Rose taking the win. In the 1961 Bettenhausen 100 a scoring error caused the checkered flag to be dropped at 99 miles with Jim Hurtubise the winner. In 2007 weather caused the race to be shortened to 75 miles with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. the winner.
Nine Springfield winners are also Indianapolis 500 winners. Nine Springfield winners won national (Indy Car) championships, while 11 Springfield winners won Silver Crown titles.
Overall, 563 drivers have made the field for at least one champ car race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Of those 563, 185 also raced in the Indianapolis 500 and 23 of them won the 500. Seventy-three Springfield contestants won at least one national championship (Indy Car) race, 21 of them won national (Indy Car) titles. Seventy-seven drivers won Silver Crown series races and thirty-two drivers won Silver Crown titles. Thirty-nine won AAA or USAC Sprint Car titles, twenty won the AAA or USAC Midget Crown and five won a AAA or USAC Stock Car championship.
Ninety-seven drivers have led at least one lap of a champ car race at Springfield.
Five drivers won their first dirt car/Silver Crown victory at Springfield: A.J. Foyt in 1971, Larry Rice in 1977, Gary Bettenhausen in 1978 and Bobby Olivero in 1979, Cole Whitt in 2009 and Justin Grant in 2017.
In 1972, Al Unser became the only driver to win both the Bettenhausen 100 dirt car race and the Allen Crowe 100 stock car event on the same weekend. A.J. Foyt, Roger McCluskey and A.J. Fike also won both events, but in different years. Len Sutton also won stock car and championship events at Springfield prior to 1963.
Chuck Gurney has the most championship wins at Springfield, 7. He is one of 9 drivers with back to back wins at Springfield.
Cars carrying the number 30, 56 and 2 each have 6 wins at Springfield.
Oldest race winner-Jack Hewitt, 49 years, 1 month and 11 days in 2000.
Youngest winner-Cole Whitt, 18 years and 2 months in 2009.
Oldest race starter- Jackie Burke-69 years, 3 months, 17 days in 2015.
Bob East constructed “Beast” race cars have 19 wins at Springfield. The Chevy small-block V8 has 37 wins, the Offy 32.
Going by official records, Ted Horn (August 1948), Paul Russo (August 1950) and A.J. Foyt (1971) are the only drivers also listed as the car owner (entrant) of the machine they drive to victory.
The pole position has produced 18 winners, the worst starting position of any race winner was Kenny Irwin Jr. in 1995. Irwin is the only race winner to have come out of the last chance race.
Twenty-one race winners have led all 100-miles.
8669 championship race main event laps have been contested at Springfield.
Drivers from the state of California account for 21 Springfield victories. Indiana is second with 15.
“Lightning” Larry Dickson of Marietta, Ohio has the most dirt car starts from the pole position at Springfield, 4. In a strange twist of fate those starts came in four different decades (1967-70-82-93)! Dickson is the oldest pole winner in State Fair history, his fourth pole position in 1993 came at the age of 54 years, eleven months and 14 days.
The current one-lap track record of 29.305 set by Tracy Hines is 14 years old. Jim McElreath held the track record for 15 years, from August 1965 to August of 1980. The 100-mile track record of 56:07.00 set by Jack Hewitt in 1987 is the oldest 100-mile track record in the Silver Crown series today.
George Snider has the most dirt car starts at Springfield with 29. The driver on the current entry list with the most starts at Springfield is Kody Swanson with 9.
In the 82 races held at Springfield, 50 different drivers have posted wins. In the 56 runnings of the Bettenhausen 100, 30 different drivers have taken home the trophy.
Tickets are still available for fans wanting the opportunity to watch history in the making at an iconic venue. Pit gates will open at 8am Central, grandstands and ticket office at 11am, practice at Noon, qualifying at 1:15pm, the last chance race at 2:15pm and the 57th running of the Bettenhausen 100 presented by Fatheadz Eyewear will take the green at 3pm. All times listed are central.
To ensure a ticket, fans are encouraged to order online at www.trackenterprises.com or by calling the office at 217-764-3200. Advance sale grandstand tickets are $25. Grandstand tickets bought on raceday are $30. Grandstand tickets for kids age 11 and under are $10. Pit passes are $35 for USAC members and $40 for non-members. Pit passes can be purchased on raceday or in advance at www.TracPass.com.
The Bettenhausen 100 can also be watched LIVE on FloRacing at https://bit.ly/3frPoW6.