Champ dirt car tidbits from DuQuoin

CHAMPIONSHIP DIRT CAR NOTES AND TIDBITS FROM LABOR DAY AT DUQUOIN DuQuoin, Illinois September 4, 2000 Labor Day once again brought the long wheelbased, big tailed dirt track championship cars of the USAC Silver Bullet Series to the Magic Mile at ...

Champ dirt car tidbits from DuQuoin


DuQuoin, Illinois September 4, 2000

Labor Day once again brought the long wheelbased, big tailed dirt track championship cars of the USAC Silver Bullet Series to the Magic Mile at DuQuoin. The major story of the whole weekend was the race track itself, first for the 2.6 million dollar improvement project the State of Illinois has embarked on, and then for the way the track's new surface broke up during yesterday's Southern Illinoisan 100 stock car event.

20-year old rookie Kasey Kahne became the story of Labor Day by winning the 50th running of the Ted Horn Memorial 100, presented by the Southern Illinoisan newspaper. In doing so, Kahne became the first rookie since Bubby Jones in 1976 to win the Horn, and only the third in DuQuoin history to win one of the champ car 100-milers. Kahne at 20 also became the youngest winner, and the first rookie to take the pole since Jimmy Sills did it in 1989.

Kahne virtually dominated the event, leading all 100-miles, a feat done by only six other men and last accomplished by Pancho Carter in 1978.

Kasey drives for George and Gary Zarounian, a team out of California. Their Stanton chassied car never hooked up at the Bettenhausen 100 at Springfield two weeks ago, so the crew pulled out a Beast chassis and the car and driver really took to the tricky DuQuoin surface.

Zarounian also gets the award for move of the race. Kasey's car was very sluggish on the first and second aborted starts of the 100-miler, letting several cars pass him on the starts. During the red flag period before the race was officially under way (more on that later) the crew could be seen working on the fuel system under the hood. Whatever they did, it worked as the car took off at the start and was really flying.

To prove that point, Kahne was turning laps in excess of 119 miles per hour late in the event, and cranked the first ten off at over 113 miles per hour.

Kahne's fast qualifying lap was a 30.559 (117.805 MPH), making him the twelfth driver in DuQuoin history to win from the pole slot.

The new concrete wall came in very handy early on, as hot new rookie Bud Kaeding of Campbell, California tested the first turn wall in Rollie Helmling's CarQuest Beast. Apparently Bud slid high over the cushion and into the new fencing, then flipped ending his chances for the day. Kaeding, whose father Brent competed here in Bob Miller's Oz-cars, walked away unhurt.

Promoter Bob Sargent and the track crew did a wonderful job re-working the oval overnight, applying a heavy dose of calcium and water to the surface. The result was a heavy race track, with the first real cushion at DuQuoin since 1986. In sharp contrast to the heat and sun of Sunday, temps cooled considerably and the track held moisture all day.

The heavy track meant a spectacular practice period, one usually reserved for the gumbo surface at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. Drivers during practice were really backing the cars in, and throwing rooster tails of wet clay over the walls in each turn. It really was a sight to behold.

Cooler weather meant more comfort for the fans, and they turned out in droves. This was one of the best champ car crowds at DuQuoin in recent years, and may have in fact out drawn the previous days stock car event.

For the early birds, they saw speed in practice as many drivers flirted with the low 31 second bracket, including Dave Darland, Russ Gamester, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne. George Snider and crew really got J.J. Yeley hooked up at the end of hotlaps and he was the fastest for the session on a few handheld watches.

Tom Capie provided a surprise in qualifying by taking top honors for a short time and ending up 4th on the grid. Unfortunately, Tom got caught in an incident in the first aborted start and hit the turn one wall, ending his day.

Bob East's Beast chassis business must be doing quite well, as 13 of the first 14 in the starting field were at the wheel of one of his creations, and 2/3 of the field was in a Beast built car. Bob has become the A.J. Watson or the Grant King of the 1990's.

Practice and qualifying claimed several cars, only 34 of the 40 on the grounds took times. Eric Gordon, who led early here last year was an early casualty, as was Ricky Shelton in the Aviators machine.

Tony Elliot's promising day ended very quickly. After jumping to the lead on the first aborted start, the car apparently dropped a cylinder when the 100-miler finally got underway, and Tony dropped like a stone through the field. Credit his driving talents though, he stayed out of the way and plugged along to a 14th place finish.

Gary Hieber continued as DuQuoin's "Iron Man" Monday. The red-head from the famous racing town of Langhorne, Pennsylvania made his 18th consecutive start at DuQuoin, breaking a tie with Tom Bigelow. Hieber, in the family sponsored Buck's County International machine, had to go through the semi to do it, and ended up 11th in the main event.

Unfortunately, Jack Hewitt had a streak end Monday. The two-time Silver Bullet champ and three-time Ted Horn 100 winner came in to the event as the odds-on favorite. You see, Jack captured Silver Bullet win number 23 two weeks ago at Springfield, and every time he had won the Bettenhausen at Springfield, he had also captured the Horn Memorial at DuQuoin. Jack qualified well, but the right rear tire looked to be vibrating during the 100-mile race and he pitted after getting a lap down at the halfway mark for new rubber. Hewitt ended the day in 13th, 3 laps in arrears.

Kudos go out to Jeff Galas of Galas Motorsports and Magnum chassis. Jeff worked very hard to fix the car trashed by Cary Faas at the Indiana State Fair mile in May, then had to work overtime again to repair Randy Bateman's damaged car from Springfield. Randy made the show, then destroyed the car in the main event in a first turn flip on the last aborted restart. Galas reported the frame as junk after the race.

Tips of the hat also go to Donnie Lehmann and crew, who fixed the motor in their old A.J. Watson built car and made the 100-mile event through the semi. Donnie and the car looked good and ended up with a 15th. Jerry Coons, Junior came back with Dan Drinan's Kele operation and ran in the top ten until the car overheated on lap 84. Richie Tobias was a rocket in hot laps, then lost an engine and the crew changed it in time for the semi. Richie made the show, only to crash in turn one on the first aborted start. And Johnny Heydenreich gave the fans an unexpected thrill when the right rear tire inexplicably left the Mucci #99 coming down the mainchute at halfway. "Hot Rod" had some anxious moments, but guided the car safely to the top of turn one while the wheel bounded down the track.

Unfortunately, that shunt cost John dearly in the points, he now stands 6th, 26 behind Brad Noffsinger who ended the day 17th.

Paul White was another driver who dropped in the standings, a popped tire on the last lap dropped him fron sixth to tenth in the final count.

Many drivers were extremely complimentary of the revamped Magic Mile before race time. Johnny Parsons said that "I wish it could have been done long ago, but what they've done so far is very, very nice." Others who looked around with smiles were Gamester, Darland, Hewitt, Hieber, Tracy Hines and Donnie Beechler.

USAC officials were delighted with the improvements also. Mike Devin, Competition Director and USAC's Jason Smith were all smiles at the driver's meeting, and very pleased with the new fencing and the lights. A USAC Silver Bullet race at night at DuQuoin would be quite a show and the cars would really shine under the MUSCO lights.

Beechler had a decent day in Jim Logan's Stanton, coming from 17th to 9th at the end. Hines started 7th and looked like a factor for a while, but had to stave off challenges from behind and ended up fifth.

Any race fan who goes in the pits needs to go meet Terry Pletch. Terry is one of racing's nice people and always has time for anybody, no matter who they are or how busy he is.

At first it looked like this day would be far better than yesterday's events at DuQuoin. Things ran very smoothly until the start of the 100-miler, then things started to unravel. Tobias and Capie hit the wall on the first start, and the field relined under the yellow. Then. Dana LaLiberte hit the turn three wall on the second aboterd start. USAC then attempted to start the race single file, but several drivers refused to assme their proper place in line. The crowd became quite restless and the booing got louder as 18 laps had been run and none of those under the green! On the third restart, Bateman got upsuide down causing a red flag. USAC threw up it's hands and appeased the fans by restarting the race completely, with no laps completed. It was the right and sensible thing to do, especially in light of Sunday's debacle.

USAC has a rule that if a red flag comes out with 90 or less laps to go, they will ensure a green flag ending accoring to Devin and Smith. The problem becomes if they have a red prior to lap 10, because the cars could potentially run out of fuel. It seems that the 355's produce a lot of horses, in some cases right at 700 and gulp a tremendous amount of methanol. Surprisingly, the mileage isn't much better under the yellow flag.

One rule that may need to be looked at is allowing the cars to return to their trailers during a red flag. This seems to delay restarts, causing some discomfort for the paying customer and sometimes a delay getting the cars relined in proper order. Plus, the fans don't get to see the work being done on the cars. Maybe USAC could bring the field to a stop on the front chute, or at the very least along the pit road.

Another suggestion that arose Monday concerned the issue of communications. In many other racing series where radios are allowed, the tower or race control also has the ability to talk to the car or crew in order to hand out a penalty or get the cars in proper order. Many if not all of the champ cars now have a two-way communication system, and had race control been tied into those systems a lot of headaches Monday could have been avoided.

This was the second of three straight mile dirt races for the champ cars, next up is the Indiana State Fair Mile and the rescheduled Hoosier Hundred September 22. Darland lies just 24 points behind Brian Tyler, and Dave has an excellent record at the ISF mile. It's possible that the series will have a new points leader going into the Four Crown at Eldora.

Youth dominated the events Monday, as sixteen year old Kyle Steffens won the 20-mile UMP Modified Bill Oldani Memorial event. Steffens, who looks young for his age, went wild in victory lane even hugging track announcer Jim Childers before he got his helmet off!

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