SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Within the realm of USAC racing, there are two separate categories in which a National championship season can be claimed: driver and owner.
In most cases, the champion driver corresponds with the champion owner, such as it is at the moment with driver Kody Swanson and his Nolen Racing No. 20 leading the way in both standings.
However, while Swanson holds a commanding 71-point lead on the driver side of things, lurking closely behind Nolen in the owner column by 24 points is the Klatt Enterprises No. 6 coming into this Saturday’s 58th running of the Bettenhausen 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
They’ve reached that level by virtue of a dual-threat lineup consisting of Brady Bacon at the wheel at all the dirt races and Kyle Hamilton in the seat for the pavement shows.
The level of success comes following a year of struggles in which the team was plagued by mechanical issues on both surfaces. Bacon topped out with an eighth in the finale at Eldora for his lone top-10 in five starts while Hamilton earned a 10th and a best of fifth at Salem a year ago, the best among his five appearances.
In 2019, it’s been a completely different story. Hamilton has been consistently excellent with five top-six finishes in four starts and earned his first career Silver Crown win in May at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind., Klatt’s first as a team since 2011.
Meanwhile, Bacon took 5th in May’s Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, then captured his first Silver Crown victory, and Klatt’s first ever on the dirt with the series, on a topsy-turvy final lap in which Bacon passed a reeling Chris Windom who’d had a right rear tire go flat.
The back-to-back wins at LOR and Williams Grove by Hamilton and Bacon, respectively, marked the fourth occasion in Silver Crown history in which the same team/car number won two consecutive races with two different drivers, following Rick Hood and Doug Wolfgang in the Bill King No. 75 in 1982; Tracy Hines and Bobby East as well as J.J. Yeley and East both during the 2007 season for A.J. Foyt Enterprises; and Tanner Swanson and Kody Swanson for Six-R Racing in 2010.
The Klatt team has turned the corner, and with four races to go, appear to be a prime threat to Nolen Racing’s quest of their own first owner title.
First up for Bacon and Klatt the Springfield Mile this Saturday where both have endured a mixed bag of results. Bacon has qualified well in each of his past visits. The Broken Arrow, Okla., driver made his first start at Springfield in 2014, starting third and finishing 10th for McQuinn Racing. In 2015, he qualified seventh and ran 23rd for owner Paul Martens, dropping out with a fuel leak just before halfway.
After the 2016 rainout, Bacon was fast again during practice in 2017, but was a scratch after engine trouble sidelined the he and the Martens team prior to qualifying. In 2018, with Klatt, Bacon qualified eighth and finished with an 11th place result as the last car on the lead lap.
Klatt Enterprises had only one other Silver Crown appearance at Springfield prior to 2018, an 18th place start and 17th place finish by driver Damion Gardner. Interestingly, in Klatt’s USAC Midget appearances at Springfield, Dean Ward finished 10th at Springfield in 1990 while Dave Strickland Jr. drove Klatt’s ride to sixth in 1996.
Meanwhile, USAC Hall of Fame car builder and Klatt team member Bob East has had substantial success at Springfield, with cars he constructed or turned the wrenches on, winning on numerous occasions in both the Midget and Silver Crown series.
Only five times in the USAC Silver Crown division’s 48-year history has a driver champion emerged from a team other than the owner championship team: 1981, ’82, ’99, ’12 and ’16. With the combination of Bacon/Hamilton/Klatt playing to their strength and clicking off top-flight runs, they will remain in the hunt down to the wire with Nolen Racing No. 20 as the prime target.