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ILLINOIS DRIVERS HOPING TO END SPRINGFIELD DROUGHT

By Dick Jordan

It’s been 27 years since a native Illinois driver has won the “Tony Bettenhausen 100” at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. That drought could end this Saturday.

Drivers Levi Jones of Olney, A.J. Fike of Galesburg, Donnie Beechler of Springfield, Zach Daum of Pocahontas, Randy Bateman of Murphysboro, Mike Hess of Petersburg and Chris Urish of Elkhart are expected to compete and that gives hope to Illinois faithful that the drought could be over. Gary Bettenhausen of Tinley Park won the 1983 race, his second win at the one-mile dirt oval.

Fike ranks third in the USAC Silver Crown standings and Jones is fourth. Both drivers have cracked the winners circle this year, Fike winning at Iowa Speedway in May and Jones taking the series opener at Tucson, Ariz. in February.

Of the above-mentioned drivers, Jones, Fike and Beechler appear to have the best chance at victory since each has a “top-10” finish at Springfield this decade. Jones was third and Fike fourth last year. Beechler has a fourth, eighth and ninth since 2000 and Aaron Fike, A.J.’s brother, also posted a ninth in 2001.

Saturday’s race is the sixth in the 2010 USAC Silver Crown campaign and four brand-new race winners have already emerged this year, including Jones and Fike. Not since 1990 has the series seen different race winners in every race.

Saturday’s 100-mile race will be conducted similarly to the “Hoosier Hundred” in May where a mid-race stop offered participants the chance to make changes to their cars before a restart. That experiment proved extremely successful at the Indiana State Fairgrounds where competition in the final 50 miles of the race was unprecedented and kept the fans on their feet most of the time.

Fike and Jones are expected to figure in the battle for the 2010 USAC Silver Crown title. Fike is only 52 points in arrears and Jones trails leader Bud Kaeding by only 57, with 66 available Saturday. Kaeding’s lead over runner-up Jerry Coons Jr. stands at 42 points as he searches for a record fourth series title in five years!