By Richie Murray
Springfield, Illinois (October 15, 2022)………Shane Cockrum vowed vengeance on the Illinois dirt miles entering Saturday’s Bettenhausen 100 Presented By Hunt Brothers Pizza at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Cockrum absolutely dominated at southern Illinois’ Du Quoin State Fairgrounds dirt mile on Labor Day weekend in early September of this season.
For nearly the entirety of the race at Du Quoin, Cockrum punished the field to the tune of a double-digit second lead throughout. Seemingly on cruise control, Cockrum enjoyed a healthy lead entering the latter stages. That is, until his car ran out fuel with 14 laps remaining, relegating him to an agonizing defeat.
A month-and-a-half – and a harsh lesson learned – later, Cockrum drew up his plan and followed it to a T from start-to-finish at Springfield by strategically opting not to be the rabbit that all others chased. This time around, his state of mind for the first half of the 100-miler was simply to “let ‘em go.”
“You can’t lead every lap at Du Quoin, then lose that sucker and not learn from it,” Cockrum offered following his fifth career series triumph in his BLS Motorsports/Hustler Turf Equipment – Ben’s Lawn Service & Trailer Sales/Maxim/Kistler Chevy. “If you don’t learn, you just ought to stay home. We’ve always prided ourselves on being one of the smartest ones and, this time, I just let them go.”
Cockrum already possessed an intimate knowledge of the thrill of a USAC Silver Crown victory on an Illinois mile. However, the fact was that he’d not yet experienced that same feeling at the Springfield Mile in central Illinois. He’d previously won twice at the Du Quoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds and, after crossing the southern Illinois mile off his personal checklist in 2014-15, there wasn’t a track on the schedule that Cockrum longed for a win at more than the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
In eight Springfield starts since 2011, Cockrum had come up empty handed in terms of a visit to victory lane. However, on this day, that time had finally arrived for the Benton, Ill. native.
Cockrum made a strong surge on a restart with 26 laps remaining in the 100-miler, overtaking near racelong leader Kaylee Bryson on lap 75, then sealed the deal by withstanding multiple restarts during the waning laps to finally realize a lifelong elusive goal by reigning triumphant at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
“The Illinois miles,” Cockrum stated ecstatically. “There isn’t anything better in Silver Crown racing than this.”
For the entire duration, Cockrum never drifted outside the top-five after starting in the fifth position on the grid. Meanwhile, Bryson, making just her third career series start, felt more than comfortable on the topside, riding higher on the track surface than any other soul dared to travel on this day in a fantastic display of bravery and skill that awed the throng of fans as well as Cockrum who admitted he was “fanboying” from his driver’s seat a few positions back.
Prior to Saturday, no woman had ever started from the front row of a dirt USAC Silver Crown race nor led a single lap of any sort in the 52-year history of the series. The Muskogee, Okla. native changed all those old facts immediately as she blitzed by pole sitter Justin Grant at the start, then promptly led the initial 22 laps of the main event.
She’d soon find company in the form of C.J. Leary who took a different approach by setting up shop next to the inside guardrail. However, on lap 23, Leary caught up to Bryson, then split between her and the lapped car Cary Oliver to take over the lead at the exit of turn four.
Just then, Bryson didn’t fret as she stayed true to the top and muscled back past Leary to retake the lead a full lap later on the 24th circuit between turns three and four, then completely reconstructed another two-plus second advantage over the field.
The most harrowing incident of the day came on lap 33 as Bryson worked around the outside of the tail-end lead lap cars. While Bryson was pinned to the top in turn two, Dallas Hewitt (18th) & Mike Haggenbottom (19th) were racing side-by-side for position underneath. Haggenbottom’s right rear tire and Hewitt’s left rear met tread to tread, sending Haggenbottom into a series of vicious end-over-end flips. Haggenbottom ultimately climbed out of the mangled wreckage under his own power.
When racing resumed, Leary continued to lurk. He dove under Bryson in turn four on the lap 33 restart, but Bryson clung on tightly to remain in control by a margin of 0.003 sec. at the stripe. Leary stuck to it and made his move stick a lap later. Nonetheless, Bryson and her never-say-die attitude answered the bell once more a single lap later as she surpassed Leary deep into the back stretch, then swept to the bottom to steal away Leary’s line in turn three.
Bryson continued to hold serve, and then some, as the race passed the halfway mark but, soon after, second-running Leary discovered that another run to the front wasn’t in the cards this time around. On the 57th lap, Leary’s engine expired, forcing him to coast to a stop at the exit of turn four.
The relentless pursuit displayed by Bryson allowed her to up her lead to more than four seconds by lap 72 when Springfield native Korey Weyant (15th) shredded a left rear tire in turn two, sending shards of rubber as high as the clouds before crawling to a halt midway down the back straight.
As it turned out, the resulting caution spelled doom for Bryson’s victory bid when the race returned to green at the completion of lap 75. Moments after the green waved, Cockrum cracked the whip on his horse to gallop past Bryson to the inside as the two traveled side-by-side down the front straightaway.
Cottle subsequently zipped past for second on lap 80 while Seavey followed suit to third on lap 81 as Bryson free-fell back to fourth. Consequently, Cockrum constructed a full two-second lead which vanished into thin air when Brian Ruhlman (17th) stalled in turn one on lap 91. Ditto for sixth-running Justin Grant who fell to the wayside on the 95th lap after his car went up in a cloud of smoke.
Cockrum was undeterred with either of the stoppages and successfully gapped both Cottle and Seavey each time to break away and avoid any major challenges as the sand in the race’s proverbial hourglass was running out.
In the end, it was all Cockrum as he stuffed a first Bettenhausen 100 triumph into his pocket with a 1.836 second margin of victory over Cottle and Seavey while Kody Swanson slipped by Bryson with three laps remaining to take fourth while Bryson rounded out the top-five.
Cockrum and his BLS Motorsports team endured a rough bit of mechanical turmoil and personal tragedy in recent days. The team thought all was copacetic heading into Springfield before discovering an engine issue which required overnight delivery from California to Illinois of an order of replacement parts just less than 24 hours before showtime that came just in the nick of time for them to compete.
Furthermore, Joe Gass, the grandfather of Cockrum’s spotter and crew member Aaron Gass, passed away in late September. In honor of Joe, from the cockpit, Cockrum spread some of Joe’s ashes during the parade lap, then carried the rest of the ashes in his car for the 100-lap ride and into victory lane.
In what was his ninth career Bettenhausen 100 start, Shane Cottle (Kansas, Ill.) made this one his best yet. Cottle bolted from his seventh place starting spot to finish second and give his Hodges Motorsports team its best ever USAC Silver Crown result in the Hodges Automotive – JB Henderson – Ortega’s Appliance Service/DRC/J & D Chevy.
“We were hoping to sneak underneath (Cockrum),” Cottle recounts. “It’s hard to pass on these miles and you’ve got to take them whenever you can get them. Restarts are usually the best chance to do that, and we had our car set up pretty decent. Cockrum was fast and we just didn’t have anything for him.”
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) experienced an inauspicious beginning to his day when his car continuously smoked and spewed oil throughout practice and qualifying, but initial fears of a blown engine were unfounded. After repairs, Seavey finished the day with a third-place result Rice Motorsports/STIDA.com – Lucas Oil – DiaEdge Mitsubishi Materials/DRC/Felker Chevy as well as a spot atop the standings as the new USAC Silver Crown championship leader by three points entering the Saturday, October 22, season finale at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
“I could run a really good lap, then I got into Cottle at the end, then let him drive back around me (for second place),” Seavey explained about his late-race altercation with two laps to go. “I made a lot of little mistakes; I need to be a little bit more aggressive. Overall, from where we started, we didn’t know if we were going to make five laps or 100 laps. We had a long, long day but this is what we needed to do. We’ll go to IRP and try to have a good race there and see how it plays out.”
USAC SILVER CROWN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: October 15, 2022 – Illinois State Fairgrounds – Springfield, Illinois – 1-Mile Dirt Oval – 59th Bettenhausen 100 Presented By Hunt Brothers Pizza
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn-30.850; 2. Kaylee Bryson, 26, Pierce-30.898; 3. C.J. Leary, 6, Klatt-30.991; 4. Kody Swanson, 1, Doran/Dyson-31.009; 5. Shane Cockrum, 71, BLS-31.024; 6. Davey Ray, 8, Cornell-31.095; 7. Shane Cottle, 74, Hodges-31.141; 8. Logan Seavey, 22, Rice-31.155; 9. Patrick Bruns, 95, Full Throttle-31.528; 10. Matt Westfall, 54, Westfall-31.628; 11. Chase Stockon, 69, Pink 69-31.636; 12. Kyle Steffens, 08, Steffens-31.693; 13. Kyle Robbins, 7, KR-31.828; 14. Bryan Gossel, 06, Gossel-32.011; 15. Dallas Hewitt, 57, Hewitt-32.383; 16. Travis Welpott, 18, Welpott-32.457; 17. Carmen Perigo, 52, Stehman-32.567; 18. Casey Buckman, 110, DMW-32.695; 19. Mike Haggenbottom, 24, Haggenbottom-32.857; 20. Korey Weyant, 199, Weyant-32.902; 21. Steven Russell, 14, McQuinn-32.999; 22. Brian Tyler, 81, BCR-33.171; 23. Jake Swanson, 10, DMW-33.207; 24. Brian Ruhlman, 49, Ruhlman-33.348; 25. Dave Berkheimer, 31, Berkheimer-33.629; 26. Gregg Cory, 32, Williams-35.355; 27. Dave Peperak, 77, Peperak-35.462; 28. Tom Paterson, 111, Paterson-35.466; 29. Cary Oliver, 11, Oliver-35.865; 30. Danny Long, 44, Long-61.716; 31. Anthony Macri, 9, Dyson-NT; 32. Emerson Axsom, 20, Nolen-NT.
FEATURE: (100 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Shane Cockrum (5), 2. Shane Cottle (7), 3. Logan Seavey (8), 4. Kody Swanson (4), 5. Kaylee Bryson (2), 6. Brian Tyler (22), 7. Matt Westfall (10), 8. Kyle Steffens (12), 9. Chase Stockon (11), 10. Davey Ray (6), 11. Travis Welpott (16), 12. Patrick Bruns (9), 13. Casey Buckman (18), 14. Carmen Perigo (17), 15. Steven Russell (21), 16. Danny Long (30), 17. Dave Berkheimer (24), 18. Justin Grant (1), 19. Brian Ruhlman (23), 20. Korey Weyant (20), 21. Jake Swanson (25), 22. C.J. Leary (3), 23. Dallas Hewitt (15), 24. Mike Haggenbottom (19), 25. Cary Oliver (28), 26. Bryan Gossel (14), 27. Tom Paterson (29), 28. Dave Peperak (27), 29. Kyle Robbins (13), 30. Gregg Cory (26). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-22 Kaylee Bryson, Lap 23 C.J. Leary, Laps 24-33 Kaylee Bryson, Lap 34 C.J. Leary, Laps 35-74 Kaylee Bryson, Laps 75-100 Shane Cockrum.
**Mike Haggenbottom flipped on lap 33 of the feature.
USAC SILVER CROWN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Logan Seavey-604, 2-Kody Swanson-601, 3-C.J. Leary-532, 4-Brian Tyler-477, 5-Justin Grant-462, 6-Travis Welpott-365, 7-Kyle Robbins-290, 8-Gregg Cory-282, 9-Bobby Santos-280, 10-Taylor Ferns-255.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-172, 2-Thomas Meseraull-131, 3-Brady Bacon-125, 4-Robert Ballou-107, 5-Kaylee Bryson-103, 6-Buddy Kofoid-100, 7-Logan Seavey-98, 8-Kyle Cummins-94, 9-Cannon McIntosh-81, 10-Shane Cottle-81.
NEXT USAC SILVER CROWN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: October 22, 2022 – Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park – Brownsburg, Indiana – .686-Mile Paved Oval – Howard Companies Championship Saturday
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Dirt Draft Hot Laps Fastest Driver: Shane Cockrum (29.826)
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Justin Grant (30.850)
Hard Charger: Brian Tyler (22nd to 6th)