When Bill Oldani suddenly passed away before the 1993 Illinois State Fair, the mantle of Motorsports Director passed to Bob Sargent, though not without some speculation and concern by those in the racing business as to who might take over race promotion at the fair and what form the racing program might take. It was well known that the State of Illinois was seeking to privatize many aspects of entertainment at the fair and a number of names were talked about as potential suitors. In the end the Track Enterprises crew won the bidding and for the first time in over 30 years, the promoter of title at the Illinois State Fair would not be a state employee.
Private promoters at Springfield were the norm from the time Ralph Hankinson took over in 1934 until his death in 1942. After World War II, the fair races either had the Illinois State Fair manager as the promoter of title or an outside promoter. After 1965, the promoter of title became the Illinois State Fair manager. When Jim Thompson was elected Governor in 1978, Bill Oldani came to the Illinois Department of Agriculture as the motorsports director for the Illinois State Fair and would hold the same title later when the state took over the DuQuoin State Fair.
With 20 years in the books Bob Sargent has the longest tenure of any promoter of title at the Illinois State Fair. In addition to his duties at Springfield, Sargent counts DuQuoin, Paducah International Raceway, the Indiana State Fairgrounds and the Terre Haute Action Track among his regular venues, and has promoted races at Lincoln Speedway, Farmer City Raceway, Danville, Elko, Minnesota and Indianapolis Raceway Park. He and the Track Enterprises staff have won numerous awards including USAC’s promoter of the year award in 1994 and national promoter of the year in 2011.
“Sarge” also counts Kenny Schrader, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kenny Wallace as close friends and business associates.
“It was an honor to take over the Illinois State Fairgrounds and preserve the tradition and history that this venue holds”, said Sargent. “I know a number of fans love the dirt miles and the rich history they have and I didn’t want to see that possibly go away.” “It’s been a good partnership for us with the fair, USAC, ARCA, the competitors and most importantly the fans.” “It’s a relationship that we want to continue and to grow in the coming years.”
The celebration for Jim Childers and Bob Sargent takes place during the last weekend of the Illinois State Fair with the 52nd Tony Bettenhausen 100 Aug. 17, the 51st Allen Crowe 100 Aug. 18 and the 20th Sportsman Nationals split between both days.