FIRST-TIME WINNERS AT SPRINGFIELD TRANSLATE TO USAC CHAMPS
Story By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Photo By: Brendon Bauman/USAC
Springfield, Illinois………When Justin Grant took the checkered flag in the 2017 running of the “Bettenhausen 100” at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, it was a culmination of a dream afternoon for the Ione, Calif. native.
Not only did he capture a victory in one of the most prestigious events on the schedule, he joined a list of some of the most successful racers in the history of the series who earned their first career USAC Silver Crown victory right on the Springfield Mile, host of this Saturday’s USAC Silver Crown event.
The lineage of the Silver Crown series goes back to 1971, when the dirt tracks on the National Championship trail were split into their own division. By that point, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti were already Indianapolis 500 winners and household names. But, their first official Silver Crown wins came after that point when they came out to play in the dirt with Foyt picking up the win in 1971 and Andretti doing so in 1973. Both would win their lone Silver Crown titles a year following their first series victory with Foyt taking the crown in 1972 and Andretti in 1974.
Between 1977 and 1979, all three “Bettenhausen 100” winners celebrated their first career Silver Crown victories at Springfield. In 1977, Larry Rice captured win number one at Springfield on his way to the Silver Crown title aboard the LeFevre No. 5. In 1978, Gary Bettenhausen won his first at Springfield, then two years later, was a first-time Silver Crown champ in 1980. Bobby Olivero took the reins of his first Silver Crown triumph at Springfield in 1979 en route to his first Silver Crown championship later that same year.
Thirty years would go by before another driver would win his first series race at Springfield when Cole Whitt wired all 100 laps for the victory. Eight years later, in 2017, Grant would reach his way to the promised land, holding off Kody Swanson and Jeff Swindell on a late restart to capture the victory, the third consecutive Californian to do the Springfield/first Silver Crown win combo.
Springfield seems to breed champions. All but Whitt in that span went on to capture the Silver Crown title within the next two years. Even then, when Whitt won at Springfield, he was the reigning USAC National Midget champ from 2008.
Prior to the formation of the Silver Crown series, Springfield’s heritage as part of the AAA National Championship schedule goes all the way back to 1934 when Billy Winn captured the first of his two Springfield scores. Tony Willman and Emil Andres followed with their first series wins on the Illinois State Fair soil in 1938 and 1939, respectively.
In a span between the years of 1950 and 1960, five more joined the group, including Paul Russo in 1950, Bill Schindler (1952), Rodger Ward (1953), while Sam Hanks scored later in 1953. Jim Packard earned his lone Champ Car victory at Springfield in 1960, just five weeks before his untimely death in a midget crash in Fairfield, Ill.
Hanks carried on to win the title in 1953 following his win, while Ward would have to wait another six years before grabbing the first of his two USAC National titles in 1959.
At least in the USAC era, a driver enjoying the spoils of victory for the initial time in his career at Springfield has seemingly proved a boon to future success, almost immediately. Grant is still a relative newcomer at this Silver Crown game, amidst in his third full year. He finished a career-high fourth in points a year ago and, this year already, has won at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track and is second in points, albeit a mountainous 126 points behind Kody Swanson.
Perhaps Grant’s success will translate into a championship soon enough, but first things first, winning back-to-back at Springfield this Saturday is the goal, something that’s only been accomplished on 11 occasions: Billy Winn (1934-35), Tony Bettenhausen (1950-51), Jimmy Bryan (1955-56), Jim Hurtubise (1961-62), A.J. Foyt (1964-65), Mario Andretti (1973-74), Chuck Gurney (1984-85, 89-90-91), Jack Hewitt (1986-87), Brian Tyler (2004-05), A.J. Fike (2012-13) and Kody Swanson (2014-15).
Eight of those 11 drivers were already, or eventually became USAC National champions. Something in the cards down the line for Grant? Maybe. Only time will tell.
On Saturday, registration and pits will open at 7am, grandstands and ticket office at 9pm, Silver Crown practice at 10am, two-lap qualifying at 11:30am, Sportsman hot laps at noon, Silver Crown semi at 12:30pm, Sportsman heats at 1pm and the “Bettenhausen 100” at 2pm.
Advanced adult tickets are $25. Day of Race Adult 12 and older tickets are $30. Children 11 and under are $10. Pit passes are $35. Children pit passes (11 and under) are $20. Infield tickets for adults are $20.00. Children 6-11 are $5. Children under 5 are FREE!
You can listen to all the action LIVE on the USAC App or watch on-demand within a day of the race at http://www.Loudpedal.TV/.
“BETTENHAUSEN 100” ENTRY LIST:
04 (R) NEIL SHEPHERD/Warsaw, IN (Shepherd Racing)
07 JACOB WILSON/Crawfordsville, IN (Wilson Brothers Racing)
2 PATRICK LAWSON/Edwardsville, IL (Patrick Lawson)
4 JOE LIGUORI/Tampa, FL (Liguori Racing)
5 J.C. BLAND/Springfield, IL (Bland Brothers Enterprises)
6 BRADY BACON/Broken Arrow, OK (Klatt Enterprises)
7 (R) KYLE ROBBINS/New Castle, IN (KR Racing)
8 (R) JOHNNY PETROZELLE/Denton, NC (Cornell-Petrozelle Racing)
9 (R) CHRIS DYSON/Pleasant Valley, NY (Chris Dyson Racing)
10 C.J. LEARY/Greenfield, IN (Mickey Meyer)
12 BRIAN TYLER/Mt. Pleasant, NC (Galas Motorsports)
14 KEN SCHRADER/Fenton, MO (Dennis & Dave McQuinn)
16 AUSTIN NEMIRE/Sylvania, OH (Nemire-Lesko Racing)
17 CHRIS WINDOM/Canton, IL (Gene Nolen Racing)
18 (R) TRAVIS WELPOTT/Pendleton, IN (Welpott Racing)
20 JERRY COONS, JR./Tucson, AZ (Gene Nolen Racing)
21 JEFF SWINDELL/Germantown, TN (Swanson Racing)
23 TERRY JAMES/St. Louis, MO (Todd Satterthwaite)
24 (R) KEITH BURCH/Farmington, MO (Keith Burch)
29 JOEY MOUGHAN/Springfield, IL (Joey Moughan)
31 (R) DAVE BERKHEIMER/Mechanicsburg, PA (Berkheimer Racing)
33 JACKIE BURKE/Houston, TX (Jackie Burke)
34 TERRY BABB/Decatur, IL (Ken Morford)
39 MATT GOODNIGHT/Winchester, IN (Goodnight Racing)
40 DAVID BYRNE/Shullsburg, WI (Byrne Racing)
41 A.J. FIKE/Galesburg, IL (Dave & Dennis McQuinn)
44 DANNY LONG/Bonne Terre, MO (Danny Long)
47 (R) AUSTIN MUNDIE/Dallas, TX (Les Butler)
51 RUSS GAMESTER/Peru, IN (Gamester Racing)
53 STEVE BUCKWALTER/Royersford, PA (SET Racing)
55 CASEY SHUMAN/Tempe, AZ (Bateman Racing)
56 (R) KEVIN THOMAS, JR./Cullman, AL (Foxco Racing)
63 KODY SWANSON/Kingsburg, CA (DePalma Motorsports)
66 BILL ROSE/Plainfield, IN (Bill Rose Racing)
71 SHANE COCKRUM/Benton, IL (Hardy Boys Racing)
77 CHRIS URISH/Elkhart, IL (Chris Urish)
81 SHANE COTTLE/Kansas, IL (Curtis Williams)
88 CHRIS FETTER/Troy, MO (Fetter Racing)
91 JUSTIN GRANT/Ione, CA (Hemelgarn Racing)
92 DAVE DARLAND/Lincoln, IN (Gene Kazmark)
97 TYLER COURTNEY/Indianapolis, IN (Hans Lein)
99 (R) KOREY WEYANT/Springfield, IL (Scott Weyant)
124 (R) MIKE HAGGENBOTTOM/Levittown, PA (Haggenbottom Racing)
(R) represents a USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series Rookie of the Year contender.