INDIANAPOLIS – Chuck Gurney came from behind in the point standings with an impressive victory in the Labor Day race at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds to claim the 1989 Valvoline USAC Silver Crown championship, overtaking Johnny Parsons to win the coveted title.
Gurney, who won the USAC Supermodified championship in 1985 and was third in the Silver Crown points three consecutive years between 1983 and 1985, did not appear a threat for the title until the latter half of the season.
It was at that point when he qualified on the pole twice, won two 100-milers and compiled enough points to lock up the title prior to the final race on the schedule.
Driving the Gohr Distributing car in the season opener at Phoenix, Gurney finished 13th at the Copper World Classic.
He then hopped in his familiar black No. 30 Plastic Express/George Middleton Chevy for five more races and ran consistently enough to threaten Gary Bettenhausen and Parsons for the point lead.
Having led all but the first five laps at DuQuoin, the 40-year-old Gurney captured an impressive win and clinched the title. The DuQuoin victory was Gurney’s second win of the season, having already won the Tony Bettenhausen 100 at Springfield, Ill., on Aug. 19.
Gurney expressed that his confidence in the Junior Kurtz-owned Plastic Express Chevy helped him to his first championship. He had also driven the car to seven of his eight USAC Silver Crown wins during the decade of the 1980s.
“When a car handles as well as this one, it makes it a lot easier to win,” Gurney said. “They always have it in top shape and constantly update it for each race. It’s a heavy car with good lines and an older hood configuration. It is a three-year-old chassis with an engine by Stewart Van Dyne and machine work by Tuck Jones and Gordon Barrett.”
Gurney was always impressive on the one-mile dirt tracks and seemed to have mastered the technique of competing on the grueling championship trail fairground circuit.
Equally impressive in a midget on the big tracks, he won the 1989 Belleville Nationals in Kansas.
“Chuck just knows how to drive the miles,” said Larry Howard, owner of the midget in which Gurney also drove to victory at the Springfield Mile in USAC competition.
“He drives hard but he keeps the car straight and saves the tires which is something you really have to do in 100-mile races. He’s one of the best mile-track drivers I’ve ever seen.”
Former series champion Ken Schrader won the 50-mile Copper World Classic opener at Phoenix in February. Driving the Seymour Enterprises Chevy, the NASCAR stock car standout led all but the first four laps of the race.
Rich Vogler finished second in the Moran Electric car to take the early point lead, since Schrader competed on a temporary permit.
Vogler drove the Wilke Racers Tru-Cut/Future Electric Chevy to victory in the ninth Hulman Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis in May, leading the final 45 miles of the 60-mile contest.
It was Vogler’s fourth career Silver Crown win.
Californian George Snider led all 100 miles of the June 4 Golden State 100 at the new Cal Expo State Fairgrounds in Sacramento, Calif., in a dominating run with his Snider/A.J. Foyt Skoal Classic machine.
The Sacramento event was the first in the California capital since the 1970 race at the now defunct old fairgrounds oval. In response, California fans packed the stands, while Vogler held onto a slim one-point lead over Snider after the Sacramento race.
The Silver Crown machines then returned to the pavement for the Pepsi-Cola 150 at Indianapolis Raceway Park in July.
Under a new format, with the 150 laps separated into two 75-lap contests, Ken Schrader captured the overall championship with a second in the first 75 and a victory in the finale.
He led the first 69 laps of the opener before being passed by eventual first-time series winner Bob Cicconi of Prospect Park, Pa. Schrader then led all 75 laps of the second race.
Gary Bettenhausen’s fourth and second-place finishes in the two IRP features boosted him into the series point lead, with a 96-point edge over young Andy Hillenburg.
Vogler set a new track qualifying record at IRP, but saw his point lead vanish when he lost a wheel and crashed at the start of the first 75-lapper.
Gurney led all but eight laps of the Springfield 100-miler in August, but Johnny Parsons’ runner-up finish there and subsequent runner-up finish in the Hoosier Hundred at Indianapolis one week later shot him to the top of the series standings.
Jack Hewitt, behind the wheel of the Barfield’s Gift Fruit/J.W. Hunt Produce Chevy, led the final 46 laps of the 37th Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds for his third victory in the prestigious race in four years.
The 1989 race, moved to August from its former September calendar date, was held for the first time during the Indiana State Fair and for the first time under the lights.
Parsons needed a top finish at DuQuoin to clinch the title for himself, but finished 13th while Gurney, streaking to victory, ended up 58 points ahead of Parsons with only 50 remaining in the final race, hence the chase was over.
DuQuoin was highlighted by the courageous return to the cockpit of Gary Bettenhausen, who had suffered painful first and second degree burns 11 days earlier in a USAC National Sprint Car race at IRP. He finished 23rd after running competitively for the first 48 laps.
Series newcomer Jimmy Sills of Placerville, Calif., caught everyone’s attention at DuQuoin by winning the pole position and finishing third.
Hewitt led all 50 laps to win the 4-Crown Nationals finale at Eldora Speedway in September, his third 4-Crown Silver Crown victory in the last four years.
Sills earned the Silver Crown Rookie of the Year Award for 1989, while Ron Dunstan was rewarded as the series’ Most Improved Driver.