After 54 years the Bettenhausen Classic 100 has a new home. For more than five decades the race, in honor one of the area’s greatest drivers, graced the pavement at Illiana Motor Speedway (IL), however, the track closed earlier this year, leaving the future of the Bettenhausen uncertain. That’s when nearby track Grundy County Speedway stepped up to the plate to carry on the tradition.
“Grundy and Illiana, although in different states are very close to eachother,” Grundy County Speedway Announcer Steve Bechtel told Speed51.com. “For decades drivers have ran both tracks so when Illiana closed it not only affected Illiana fans and drivers, but Grundy as well. We wanted to keep the tradition alive in the Chicagoland area and decided to continue forward with this event.”
“I am so happy that Grundy carried it on,” said Brian Campbell. “It’s sad that two of my favorite tracks, Illiana and Columbus, have closed this year, but I’m glad other tracks like Grundy are stepping up and thriving.”
“I think in general that it is a blessing for all us short trackers that Grundy chose to carry on this race,” said Johnny VanDoorn. “With tracks closing left and right, we need to keep the spirit of short track racing alive and well, so this was big that Grundy stepped up to the plate. I know it is a big commitment financially for a track to put on a show like this and with declining car counts and fans in the stands, it’s harder for these tracks to do these type of shows. Hopefully we can get a few kids to get their faces unburied out of their smart phones and bring them to a race like the Bettenhausen so we can continue to run this race for years to come.”
Since its inaugural event in 1962, the Bettenhausen 100 has continued to be viewed as one of the biggest races in the area. Its list of winners includes names like Ed Hoffman, Joe Shear, Jim Sauter and Ted Musgrave. Frank Gawlinski won the event an astonishing nine times, with his last victory coming in 1997.
To host this event is quite an honor,” said Bechtel. “This year will be the 55th annual. That’s longer than the Snowball Derby, Octoberfest and National Short Track Championship. It might not have the ‘nationwide’ popularity that the Snowball Derby or Oxford 250 have, but to Chicago area fans it means everything.”
And to drivers it means a lot too. Eddie Hoffman surpassed his dad’s three Bennenhausen Memorial win and is one of two drivers who has won the event four times. He looks to add a fifth to his name this weekend.
“There’s tons of history with this race,” said Hoffman. “I worked on my dad’s car as a kid and won maybe three times. It’s the biggest non series sanctioned race in this area in forever. There’s always some big guys coming in to try and take the trophy away.”
Campbell is no stranger to Bettenhausen Victory Lane either. He’s won the even two of the past three years, taking back to back trophies in 2013 and 2014.
“It is one of the longest running race in the country,” said Campbell. “For years we talked about racing it and finally Tom White talked me into it and we have been fortunate enough to win it.”
While drivers are grateful Grundy County Speedway will host the 55th annual Bettenhausen 100, for some it does add a twist to the traditional race. This marks the first time guys like VanDoorn and Campbell will race at the track in Morris, IL.
“This race is special because it is like the Daytona 500 of the Saturday Night Chicagoland area Short Track Racing,” said VanDoorn. “With my Car owner Tom Kmak and TK Racing being from Chicago, this race was a must-do on the Schedule. This is my first time running the Bettenhausen and this is also my first time racing at Grundy but I know it is a rock ‘em, sock ‘em type of track so it should make for a wild $5000 to win show.”
“I have never raced at Grundy,” said Campbell. “But there will be lots of local talent mixed in with a few outside guys. From what I remember the track is tight with a lot of nose to tail racing. You’ll need to pick the right opportunities to pass and keeping the car safe will be a good way to work on a win.”
The Bettenhausen 100 takes place on Saturday, September 16. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. with racing set to begin at 7 p.m.
-By Jana Wimmer, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @JWimm22
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com photo