SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Saturday’s Tony Bettenhausen 100 USAC Silver Crown race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds marks the 80th anniversary of the first 100-mile national championship dirt track race at the Springfield Mile.
That first event featured two-man Indianapolis cars and was won by the popular Billy Winn, who would win the second one as well. As the late Tony Bettenhausen of Tinley Park is remembered this year, along with members of the Bettenhausen racing family, the 53rd Bettenhausen 100 is marked by the largest Springfield entry list in seven years as evidenced by the large number of Illinois participants in the field.
“Illini Pride” has swelled the entry list this year with at least eight drivers entered from the home state, plus an owner with two machines expected and yet another driver or owner perhaps in the mix to attempt to conquer the World’s Fastest Mile Dirt Track.
The Illinois contingent is led by two-time defending Bettenhausen 100 winner A.J. Fike of Galesburg in a machine owned by his father Don. Fike nearly pulled off the impossible last year by winning on Saturday and then nearly winning the ARCA Racing Series Allen Crowe 100 stock car race on Sunday, a feat performed only by Al Unser in 1972. Fike became the first home state driver in 29 years to win the Bettenhausen in 2012, the last before Fike was Gary Bettenhausen, the eldest son of Tony and also a Tinley Park native. Gary, who won his father’s race in 1978 and 1983, passed away earlier this year at the age of 72.
Another contender from the Prairie State is Canton’s Chris Windom in the RW Motorsports entry. Windom led 85 laps of last year’s race at Springfield before surrendering the lead to Fike and led late at DuQuoin two weeks later before running out of fuel. He did score his first win in the mighty uprights at Eldora in the USAC Silver Crown finale last year.
Yet a third Illinois driver could join Fike and Windom as Silver Crown victors and drivers pulling double duty over the weekend. Benton’s Shane Cockrum qualified fourth at Springfield last year after a practice crash and was in contention for a victory at DuQuoin until the car ran low on fuel. He, like Fike and Windom, should have an ARCA ride for Sunday as well.