Can Levi Win The Bettenhausen?

usac United States Auto Club 2012 logo

usac United States Auto Club 2012From Jay Hardin

Springfield, IL (August 9, 2012)-The question on the minds of racing fans of the mighty uprights is whether or not two time and defending Traxxas USAC Silver Crown champion Levi Jones can finally capture the elusive first 100-mile dirt track win of his stellar career in the 51st Tony Bettenhausen 100 Saturday (August 18) at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Should Levi be able to shake the proverbial “monkey” off his back he will become the first Illinois native in nearly three decades to win the annual championship dirt track race on the Springfield Mile.

It’s not as if Jones hasn’t had success on any of the dirt miles on the USAC schedule. One pole, a second, a third and twenty-eight laps led at Springfield, two poles, two seconds and ninety nine laps led at Indianapolis and a second at DuQuoin show that the Tony Stewart Racing driver has the ability and machine to run up front on the big tracks. Jones’ previous wins in the series indicate that he can win in the big cars, yet victory lane on one of the historic miles continues to elude the former Olney, Illinois basketball star.

Seven other Illinois drivers are expected to join Jones trying to become the first Illini since Gary Bettenhausen won his father’s event on a 106 degree day at the 1983 Illinois State Fair. The entry list should also include two Indy 500 veterans, five USAC Silver Crown champions, four past winners of the Tony Bettenhausen 100 and a surprise return of a popular veteran.

Springfield’s own Donnie Beechler makes the short drive from his home for his fifteenth try at capturing the Bettenhausen 100. Beechler, a four-time starter in the Indy 500, has five series wins including victories on the miles at Indianapolis and Sacramento. Pocahontas native Zach Daum won the 2011 Hut Hundred midget race and finished twelfth at Springfield as a series rookie. Galesburg’s A.J. Fike owns one series win on the pavement at Iowa Speedway and may try double duty once again by running the Sunday ARCA stock car race at Springfield. Fike set fast time on the Springfield Mile in 2009.

Other Illini drivers expected are Elkhart’s Chris Urish, Benton’s Shane Cockrum, Murphysboro’s Randy Bateman and Steve Adams from Cooks Mill. Urish has five starts at Springfield while Cockrum is a second generation shoe who was a rookie last year. Bateman has ten starts in nineteen tries in the state capitol dating back to 1984. Adams has been a devotee of mile dirt track racing in the UMP Modified series and bought a dirt track championship car over the winter making his debut at the May Hoosier Hundred.

Past USAC Silver Crown champions include Bud Kaeding of Campbell, California, Jerry Coons of Tucson, Arizona, Tracy Hines of New Castle, Indiana and Dave Darland of Lincoln, Indiana. Kaeding is attempting to become the first four time champion in series history while seeking his first ever mile dirt track win. Coons is a two-time Hoosier Hundred winner capturing his second victory in May. Hines is a former Bettenhausen 100 winner (2006) while Darland is a three time (1997, 1999, 2003) winner of the Bettenhausen 100. Darland can break a record on August 18 that he shares with the great A.J. Foyt. Each has eighteen consecutive Bettenahusen starts.

Defending Bettenhausen 100 winner Brian Tyler of Parma, Michigan joined the club of four time winners of the event last year taking the lead from Jerry Coons on lap 15 and pulling away steadily over the last 50 miles. Tyler shares second place with Jack Hewitt and A.J. Foyt with four wins apiece, three behind Chuck Gurney’s record of seven. The other former winner in the field should be Peru, Indiana’s Russ Gamester (1998). Gamester and Darland have the most Springfield starts of active drivers, nineteen.

Hines is the only driver in the 2012 Traxxas point chase with a Springfield win and just three have 100-mile championship victories. The current point leader Kody Swanson of Kingsburg, California comes to Springfield with a 20 point lead over Bobby East. Swanson won the 2010 Ted Horn 100 at DuQuoin. Third in the standings is Coons, followed by Bobby Santos, Jones, Kaeding, Tanner Swanson, Hines, Fike and Jacob Wilson. Eight of the top ten are expected to be at Springfield making the 66 potential points for the victor pivotal in the title chase.

Indy 500 veteran Bryan Clauson teams with Jerry Coons, Jr. in the RW Motorsports-Toyota Racing Team entries and the Noblesville, Indiana native leads the current USAC National Drivers Championship point standings. Clauson’s finish in the standings last year resulted in the Indy Car Series assisting him in securing a ride for this year’s 500-mile race with Sarah Fisher-Hartman Racing. Fellow Hoosier Shane Hollingsworth sat on the pole for the Tony Bettenhausen 100 in 2008 and along with Clauson is one of USAC’s rising stars.

Popular veteran Rich Tobias, Jr. announced this week his return to Silver Crown competition securing a car formerly driven by three-time national champion Jimmy Sills. Tobias, after destroying a car in front of the Springfield grandstand in 2003, converted a sprint car to a long-wheelbase machine and won the 2003 Ted Horn 100 at DuQuoin.

Championship dirt car racing has a long and storied history at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Auto racing during the Illinois State Fair pre-dates racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and 100-mile national championship racing at Springfield dates back to 1934. Saturday’s race will be the 78th scheduled such event in the Illinois capitol and the 77th race contested. USAC has held 41 races in the Silver Crown division at Springfield since 1971. Past winners at Springfield include Hall of Fame drivers Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Tony Bettenhausen, Rodger Ward, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Al Unser.

Practice for the 51st Bettenhausen 100 is slated to begin at 9 a.m. August 18 with qualifying at approximately 10:30. The starting field for the Bettenhausen 100 is slated to take the green flag at 2:00 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster, the Illinois State Fair Box Office or at the Track Enterprises Office (217-764-3200).