SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Bettenhausen 100 presented by Fatheadz Eyewear is less than a week away at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
The staff at Track Enterprises took to the results vault and found a number of unusual entries for championship racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Some fans may remember them, while some may have been long forgotten. Below is a brief look at just a few of the unusual entries at Springfield.
Joel Thorne: Thorne was a wealthy playboy, and an heir to the Chase Manhattan Bank and Pullman railroad car fortunes. Thorne ran twice on the Springfield Mile, in 1936 he started 18th and finished 10th while a car he owned went to victory lane with Wilbur Shaw.
In 1937 he missed the show in his own car, qualified another and ran sixth. He may be best known for trying to buy his way into the field at Indianapolis and at one time allegedly threatening to purchase the entire field.
Pietro Alberti: AKA Pete Alberts, he listed St. Louis as a hometown and drove big cars and sprint cars. Reportedly, he got into some trouble during prohibition and used an alias.
He was friends with Indy driver Jimmy Snyder and at times drove a midget for Cardinals third baseman John “Pepper” Martin. Alberti was fatally injured in 1939 in a Hisso car at the Mt. Vernon, Ill., fairground half mile.
Johnny Mantz: Mantz may be best known as a stock car driver, but he spent some time in championship machinery as well. Mantz made three starts on the Springfield Mile for friend and car owner J.C. Agajanian. All were top-10 finishes.
In August of 1948 he started sixth and finished ninth; in September of 1948 he finished ninth. Later that fall, Mantz would be involved in the fatal accident at Du Quoin that took the life of Ted Horn. Mantz came back in August of 1949 and recorded an eighth-place finish.
Mantz won the first Southern 500 at Darlington in 1950 and returned to the Midwest to become the first USAC Stock Car champ in 1956.
Ray Knepper: Knepper was part of the famous Knepper family out of Belleville, uncle to Arnie Knepper. Ray was a standout midget driver in the Midwest prior to and after World War II, trying championship machinery at the end of the 1940’s and into the early 50’s.
He made two attempts at Springfield, missing the show in August of 1950 in Bill Schoof’s Bardahl Special. Ray came back in the same car for the October still date, qualified 16th and finished seventh in his only Springfield appearance.
Ray is a member of the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
Potsy Goacher: Goacher ran sprint and midget cars all over the Midwest with a dream of getting to Indianapolis. Goacher picked up a ride in 1953 at Springfield with Lee Glessner and missed the show by two spots. In 1955 he came back with the Holyinski Special and missed the show by one spot.
Goacher never made the 500; in fact, he never made the field for a championship race. He continued after retiring as a driver playing music and running an auto repair shop. Members of the Goacher family have owned a sprint car for a number of years.
Curtis Turner: Yes, that Curtis Turner. Turner had many disputes with NASCAR and Bill France during his career. It looked like he might try something else in 1962 when Al Dean became short a driver. Clint Brawner decided to give Turner a shot in the Kuzma-Offy that August.
Turner missed the show in the Dean car, never getting comfortable with an open cockpit. He did get comfortable with the Springfield Mile, however. Curtis won the first Allen Crowe 100 in August of 1963 while on a NASCAR “vacation”.
Salt Walther: Father George was a long time car owner of roadsters, rear engine cars and dirt track machines. Son David “Salt” Walther was known to attempt racing just about any type of machine.
He’d been involved in the Indy disaster of 1973 which led to even more questions about his ability to drive a race car. Salt attempted some dirt track racing as a way to show what he could do.
In 1976, he stepped into the cockpit of the beautiful Jack Rhoades machine and missed the show in his only Springfield attempt.
Steve Smith: The Legendary “Black Bandit” took a turn in the big cars driving a black car! Smith and fellow east coast show Lynn Paxton both missed the show as a huge field showed up for the 1977 Bettenhausen 100.
Smith would go on to cement his status as a Pennsylvania sprint car legend, and his son Stevie had a fine career as well.
Larry Moore: Moore is a dirt late model Hall of Fame driver. However, he began his racing career in dragsters and moved to cars he loved, sprint cars. Moore would race USAC and ARCA stock cars and a variety of dirt late models where he excelled. He was an excellent pavement racer as well.
Larry found an open dirt car ride with Ben Leyba; unfortunately a large field in August of 1977 and a drying race track caused him to miss the show. Later in life, Moore became a winning crew chief helping Justin Allgaier to his Allen Crowe 100 win at Springfield in 2006.
Emmett Hahn: The father of the Chili Bowl was an accomplished sprint car and NCRA championship dirt car driver by the time August of 1982 rolled around.
Hahn was entered in the 22nd Bettenhausen 100 but struggled in qualifying and had to run the “suitcase” race. He looked to be packing after finishing sixth, however a “promoters option” got Hahn into the field, starting dead last.
He managed 18 laps before a piston gave way.
Ron Milton: One of the legends of Springfield Speedway, Milton had laps on the mile during Joe Shaheen’s Super Weekend events. Following the likes of Rex Easton, Allen Crowe and Dean Shirley Milton had a dirt car for the 1983 Bettenhausen 100, courtesy of owner Ron Babb.
Unfortunately the car lost the powerplant in practice and Milton never got another chance.
Kevin Whitesides: Whitesides dreamed of Indianapolis running Bill Tempero’s American Indy Car Series, a circuit which used Indy Car chassis with stock block engines.
However, an Indy ride had yet to materialize so Whitesides turned to the Silver Crown series as a way to showcase his talents. With sponsorship from Missouri’s tourism bureau Whitesides never got comfortable on the dirt.
He missed the Bettenhausen 100 in 1990 and never returned.
Joe Gaerte: Gaerte was an established World of Outlaws sprint car driver by the time he got a shot at the Silver Crown machines. The seat he had was truly a hot one.
Jeff Gordon won the Hulman 100 and the 1991 title driving for Fred Ede, then left for the Bill David NASCAR Busch Series operation. Part of the famed engine building Gaerte family, Joe got the ride.
He started 25th and finished 27th in his only Bettenhausen 100 appearance.
World of Outlaws “Big 3”: The Dream Event of 1982 just about guaranteed the appearance of Sammy Swindell, Doug Wolfgang and Steve Kinser.
However, those three had other shots at the Springfield Mile. Swindell missed the show in 1978 in the Bruce Cogle machine. Wolfgang returned again in August of 1982 to finish the Bettenhausen in 14th. Kinser ran 16th in August of 1983 for Johnny Vance.
Some machines that are noteworthy included Rex Mays running the supercharged Winfield 8 (the predecessor of the Novi) on the Springfield dirt and winning, Jerry Miller and Jigger Sirois in the Riley Turbine in 1972 and 1973, and Jackie Howerton missing the race in George Bignotti’s Turbo Offy in 1974, then winning the Hoosier Hundred later in the year.
Grandstand ticket sales for Sunday’s Bettenhausen 100 will be limited to 20 percent capacity in order to promote a safe atmosphere and allow for proper social distancing.
In addition, face coverings will be required, temperatures will be checked upon arrival, and multiple hand washing and sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the venue.