TOLEDO, Ohio – The interest from the Illinois locals is still steady and strong as the ARCA Racing Series steers back towards the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds for the 60th running of the Southern Illinois 100 presented by Federated Car Care Oct. 14.
Originally scheduled for Labor Day, the renowned stock car classic was rained out and rescheduled much deeper in the ARCA season, right in front of the season finale at Kansas Speedway Oct. 19.
Currently, nine drivers from Illinois are entered at DuQuoin, including Springfield’s Kelly Kovski, who’s searching for his career-first win on the one-mile fairgrounds oval.
Kovski likes the idea of running during the cooler fall season rather than in the oppressive heat of late summer.
“The track’s going to be different going back in the fall, and I think that will provide an opportunity for a guy like me,” Kovski said.
“That’s the fun of dirt track racing, keeping up with the changing track conditions, and being able to read it right.
“Ken Schrader always told me (about running the ARCA dirt tracks), ‘you don’t know what you have until the race is over,’ and it’s the truth. So you come back each year and hope you took good notes from last year.
“I’m going back with a little different state of mind – set up-wise. I’m not running for points, so I’ve got nothing to lose, so I can gamble and get outside the box a little.”
Kovski’s career-best ARCA finishes were a pair of fourth-place runs at DuQuoin in 2011 and most recently on the Springfield mile dirt in late August.
Kovski is also seeking the advice of ARCA veteran driver and former World 100 winner Larry Moore.
“I actually talked to him (Moore) for long periods of time on this same subject, and he’s encouraged me to try some different things going back. The track’s going to be different in mid-October than it would have been in summer, so I’ll have something different for it. I can’t say what, but we’re going to try some new ideas. We’ll still have our baseline set-up that we always have for the dirt when we unload, but we’re definitely going to try some new things, and with the idea that I have, I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Local favorite Joe Cooksey (Centralia, Ill.), who has the most ARCA experience among the Illinois drivers entered, earned the pole at DuQuoin in 2000, and finished third there in 2003 behind race winner Tony Stewart and runner-up finisher Ken Schrader. In 141 career starts, his career-best ARCA finish was second at Springfield in 2004. Cooksey also thinks that running later in the season at DuQuoin will change things.
“There are two things that I anticipate. Number one – there will be no (USAC) Silver Crown race the day before so that’s going to change the track preparation. The track won’t be hammered down from the Silver Crown cars so I don’t think it’ll take rubber as quick as it normally does. It’s going to be a whole different animal this year.
“And number two – I think the groove will be narrower, heavier and probably a little rougher. Outside of pulling a little more gear to get off the corners, and maybe having to manage the front grill a little differently with the heavier track, I don’t think it’s going to change our set-up much. It’s going to be interesting; that’s for sure. We still have this crazy idea that we can win there.”
Illinois’s Ryan Unzicker is also entered. Unzicker, driving for fellow Illinoisan Bill Hendren, is the 2011 UMP Late Model National Champion and has a strong contingent of fans that follow his career.
A.J. Fike, also entered, has been impressive at DuQuoin over the years earning three poles in 2007, 2009 and 2010. He has twice finished fourth at DuQuoin in 2007 and 2009.
Other Illinois drivers in the field include Mark Littleton (Arenzville), Rodney Melvin (Benton), Joseph Hughs (Springfield), Shane Cockrum (Benton), and Mike Affarano (Shorewood).
The past winners list of the Southern Illinois 100 includes some of the greatest names in motorsports. Jay Frank won the inaugural Southern Illinois 100 in 1950. Just some of the winners who would follow include Marshall Teague, Indy 500 winners Jimmy Bryan and A.J. Foyt, Fred Lorenzen, Don White, Norm Nelson, Jack Bowsher, NASCAR champions Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart, Bob Keselowski, Billy Thomas, Ken Schrader, Parker Kligerman, and most recently, Chris Buescher, in 2011.