My dad, who was a former Figure-8 racer on Long Island, always taught me as a kid, “If somebody hits you, you better hit them back twice as hard.” Then he would always pause and come back to say, “But don’t throw the first punch.”
That same principle could be applied to the outcome of the 53rd annual Bettenhausen Memorial at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, IN. Yet, as Brian Campbell stood in victory lane Saturday, a chorus of boos from the crowd put some heat into this chilled evening.
“They don’t like me,”said Campbell with a smile. “We still won the race; its fine.”
Campbell, the defending race winner of the Bettenhausen Memorial event, dominated the majority of the 100-lap distance. But, a restart put fans on the edge of their seats with 20 laps to go.
Anthony Danta, a three-time winner at the Illinois/Indiana state-line track this year, was not afraid to put the pressure on the season-veteran out of Michigan. The two made contact and that allowed the No. 51 of Danta, who also set fast-time in qualifying, to take the lead.
The fans watched knowing the inevitable was bound to happen, yet they clung to the hope that Campbell would not get to the back bumper of their home track racer.
Just as everyone had predicted in their mind, with three laps to go, Campbell’s No. 47 laid the bumper to Danta’s Super Late Model, just enough for him to make contact with a slower car in between turns one and two. And while Danta suffered some left-front fender damage in the melee, Campbell was able to cruise on to the $3,000 payday.
“He gets into me; I get him. It is what it is,”said Campbell, who is regarded normally as one of the classiest racers in business. “He jacked me up a little bit on the restart and I hit him back.
“He (Danta) jacked me up about three times. He just hit me square in the tail three times. He kind of got me up there and got me loose and went by. I spent the next 15 laps trying to get him back. I tried to get him clean, but I probably wasn’t going to get it done so I just jacked him up. I probably hit him a little too hard, but it is what it is.”
Campbell is a savvy veteran and the son of legendary Michigan Late Model racer Freddie Campbell. He has been taught the lessons of racing from his father. And he also knows, even if you do pay him back, don’t wreck him completely, otherwise he would not have been standing in victory lane had the caution come out because of the incident.
“Oh yeah, I would have went to the back; absolutely, absolutely,”admitted Campbell. “I was kind of like, ‘Oh man I hit him too hard,’but then the lapped car saved him. It’s alright. It is what it is. Good short track racing.”
Danta, who was the initial instigator of the feud, did not see it that way.
“I was lapping a car and I just got spun out, that’s basically what happened,”said Danta, who started ninth due to the invert after qualifying.
But like all who were in attendance, Danta knew it was coming.
“I was waiting for it, but not like that,”explained Danta. “When he hit me, I spun out. There was no saving it. I understand he was frustrated there, but I didn’t wreck him and he wrecked me. There’s a big difference there. It’s a tough deal but it is what it is.”
There was a lot of talk in the pit area after the race and most felt that if Danta didn’t lay the bumper to Campbell, there was no way he would have gotten to the lead in the first place and therefore, the rest would have been avoided.
Danta didn’t feel the same way.
“I moved him a little bit on that restart when we were all bumper-to-bumper there with (Eddie) Hoffman behind me, so I had to go,”stated Danta matter-of-factly. “We were a little better on the restart and got by him. I was waiting for him to move me a little bit, but like I said, he just dumped me. There’s really not much saving that. He wins a lot of races, so I’m not sure if he felt like he had to prove something or not.”
Once again, the punches weren’t equal in strength, but the lesson my dad once taught me certainly served Brian Campbell well. He admitted to it. He didn’t try to hide behind an excuse. And for that you have to respect him.
Brian Campbell is now a two-time winner of the Bettenhausen Memorial at Illiana Motor Speedway.
By Bob Dillner – Twitter: @bobdillner – Owner, Speed51.com
Bettenhausen Memorial 100
Illiana Motor Speedway
1) Brian Campbell
2) Eddie Hoffman
3) Jeff Cannon
4) Paul Shafer Jr
5) Erik Darnell
6) Brett Sontag
7) Jack Kalwaskinski
8) Boris Jurkovic
9) Michael Martin Jr
10) Bobby Gash
11) Joe O’Connor
12) Jim Olsen
13) Phil Splant
14) Anthony Danta
15) Kevin Offdenkamp
16) Ricky Baker
17) John Nutley
18) Matt Kocourek
19) Keith Tolf
20) Andy Jones
21) Dean Patterson
22) Landry Potter
23) Keith Sterkowitz
24) Billy Knippenberg
25) DJ Weltmeyer
26) Brian Muick