(DuQUOIN, Ill.) – It’s the ARCA version of the ‘Final Four’, a spectacular play-off picture that kicks off this Labor Day Monday, September 1 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds mile-dirt in the 61st running of the Southern Illinois 100 presented by Federated Car Care.
And if you’re going to be the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards champion in the series’ 62nd season, you had better hone up on your dirt track skills because, for championship contenders Mason Mitchell and Grant Enfinger, it’s coming down to a nostalgic, historic horse track in southern Illinois.
“I love it…the fact that the dirt tracks are going to play such a huge part in the championship,” said Mitchell, who leads Enfinger by just 25 points, or five positions on the track. “The dirt tracks really challenge everyone…the driver, the pit crew, everyone. But that’s what makes the ARCA champion so cool…you gotta be so good at so many different race tracks.
“I’m pretty confident in our dirt track program; we obviously had a good run at Springfield. We’re good enough and strong enough to win at DuQuoin. Last year, we actually did a better job at DuQuoin than we did at Springfield, and this year, we ran second at Springfield, so we’re very confident in our ability to get the job done at DuQuoin.”
Beyond the wild-card element of dirt track racing, Mitchell’s clear-cut on his championship strategy.
“It’s not hard to figure it out. We’ve got to finish ahead of the 90 (Enfinger), but the way he runs everywhere, that means we’ve got to win the race. I feel like to win the championship, we’ve got to win at DuQuoin.”
Enfinger, who, in no way, considers himself a ‘dirt track guy’, is ready for the challenge ahead.
“I’m looking forward to it, but I’m not a dirt track guy. I don’t have a dirt track background, but I’m happy with everything I learned at Springfield,” said Enfinger, who finished third at Springfield, one spot behind Mitchell.
“Me and Pickle (crew chief/Ryan London) compared notes coming out of Springfield and took a swing at making it better for DuQuoin.”
While a third place finishing position can be regarded as a good thing, based on the season so far, Enfinger will, more than likely, have to do better at DuQuoin.
“You know, every time GMS Racing fields me a car, it’s got good speed; I don’t expect this weekend to be any different,” added Enfinger. “Our goal hasn’t changed until Pickle tells me it does. We go to win every one of these races. Maybe we can play the points game when we get to the finale at Kansas, but right now, it’s win races.”
And since Enfinger does not consider himself a dirt track guy…Springfield, DuQuoin…it’s all the same for the Fairhope, Alabama driver.
“I’m sure to a real dirt track guy, there’s a lot of difference between Springfield and DuQuoin, but I don’t come from the dirt, so it’s all foreign to me. Having said that, those two tracks are the same to me.”
For Mitchell, Springfield and DuQuoin are two completely different animals.
“You definitely drive the two tracks differently,” Mitchell said. “Springfield’s corners are more symmetrically round and you drive it that way. At DuQuoin, you gotta pitch the car a few times to get the car to rotate through each end, which are more rectangular. It’ll probably be a lot dryer at DuQuoin, unless we get torrential rains like we did at Springfield, but it doesn’t look like it.
“No matter what the conditions are this weekend, it’ll be the same from our end…we’ve got to win the race.”
Five-time DuQuoin winner and 10-time series champion Frank Kimmel is currently third in points, 235 points from the lead.
“It’s been a few years since we’ve won one at DuQuoin, and we’re probably in our best shape ever to win again,” Kimmel said. “We’re definitely looking forward to it. The fairgrounds tracks hold special meaning for me. When you consider the names that have won there over the years, you can really appreciate the history of the place, when, back in the day, you had to do well at these places to win championships and go places.”
Following DuQuoin, just three races remain – Salem Speedway Sept. 13, Kentucky Speedway Sept. 19 and Kansas Speedway Oct. 3.
Impressive Past Southern Illinois 100 Winners
The past winners list of the Southern Illinois 100 includes some of the most widely-recognized names in American motorsports. Jay Frank won the inaugural Southern Illinois 100 in 1950. Just some of the winners who would follow include Marshall Teague, Indy 500 winners Jimmy Bryan and AJ Foyt, Fred Lorenzen, Don White, Norm Nelson, Jack Bowsher, NASCAR champions Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart, Bob Keselowski, Billy Thomas, Ken Schrader, Parker Kligerman, and current NASCAR Nationwide Series driver/winner Chris Buescher.
Practice for the September 1 Southern Illinois 100 presented by Federated Car Care is scheduled from 9:00-10:00 a.m. with Menards Pole Award Qualifying presented by Ansell following at 11:15. The 61st annual Southern Illinois 100 starts at 1:30 p.m. All times are local.
The event will feature live timing and scoring for all on-track activity at ARCAracing.com, as well as live flag-to-flag audio coverage for the race.
Series PR – Jeff Wagoner Photo