In the 1980s, the starting line up at any given ARCA Menards Series race would be populated by upwards of half a dozen drivers from the state of Illinois. Drivers like three-time series champion Bob Dotter, from Chicago, led the charge. With him came Lombard’s Bob Schacht, Northlake’s Don Marmor, Joliet’s Dennis Devea, East Peoria’s Rick O’Brien, Villa Park’s Duane Pierson, Mokena’s Bob Strait, and another Chicagoan, Bill Venturini.
Those Illinois Boys were stout. Dotter and Venturini combined for five championships and 20 total ARCA Menards Series wins. Strait is a 16-time winner, and Schacht has 19 career ARCA wins. If that contingent from Illinois was in the pits, chances are the route to the checkered flag would go through them.
Dotter passed away in 2003. Strait earned his last series win in 2000 at Atlanta and strapped in for the final time in 2014 when he drove for long-time team owner Bill Hendren at Springfield and DuQuoin, the two dirt tracks on the ARCA Menards Series schedule. Schacht’s final win came in 1998 at Memphis, and while he still tools around the short tracks of the mid-Atlantic region, his final ARCA start came in 2016 at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Venturini retired from active competition as a driver in 1996, his final race coming at Atlanta. His final win as a driver came in 1992 at Kil-Kare Speedway in Xenia, Ohio.
But his most recent win actually came as an owner, just two weekends ago when Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) scored the win in the Allen Crowe 100 presented by Lucas Oil on the legendary Springfield Mile at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Self is one of twenty-four drivers – including Big Bill and son Billy, who now co-owns the team and serves as a crew chief for the team’s No. 20 car – who have earned wins for Venturini’s family-run race team. Three other drivers, Harrison Burton, Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio/Illinois Truck & Equipment Toyota), and Chandler Smith have won races for the team this season.
Combined the four have won eleven of the series’ 16 races so far in 2019. The organization has won a total of 63 times since Big Bill earned his first series win at Flat Rock Speedway back in 1983.
“Pretty incredible,” was all the elder Venturini could say while seated on his scooter in victory lane at Springfield. “It’s the kind of season everyone wishes they could have. None of this is easy. It’s hard to win a heat race any dirt track in the country.
Additionally, Self and Eckes, the team’s two full-time drivers, are in the midst of battling for the series championship. Should one of them win, it would be the team’s third title and the first since Big Bill himself did it for the second time in 1991.
In a time when the competition at the front of the field is as deep as it’s ever been in the series history, the Venturini family is having a year to remember.
“I have to remember to tell myself this just doesn’t happen,” Billy Venturini said in victory lane at Springfield. “Eleven wins in a season. Wow. That’s amazing. It makes me appreciate all of the hard times we went through and all of the hard work it took for us to get here. It’s just awesome. We appreciate every one of these because we know how hard it is and we know every one of them could be the last one.”
Chances for another win this Saturday night on the Magic Mile at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds are good.
Self and Eckes are both former ARCA dirt winners, combining to win the last two races at Springfield, and the team’s third driver for the weekend, Logan Seavey (No. 20 Craftsman Toyota) earned the team’s 50th series win a year ago at DuQuoin. To further establish themselves as the prohibitive favorites at DuQuoin, they all finished among the top four at Springfield: Eckes was second, behind Self, and Seavey finish fourth.
Seavey is the defending USAC P1 Insurance National Midget Series champion, and he picked up his first career USAC National Sprint Car victory at Kokomo Speedway last week. He will be making his second ARCA Menards Series start of the season in the Southern Illinois 100. He’ll have some positive momentum from that big sprint car victory but he has some unfinished business left over from Springfield where he led 34 laps but faded to fourth at the finish. He’d like to replicate what he did in 2018, finish in the top five at Springfield and then close his stock car season with a win at DuQuoin.
“I’m ready to go again with Venturini Motorsports this weekend at DuQuoin,” Seavey said. “Springfield didn’t quite go as planned just being a little too tight to be as good as we needed to be. But I know DuQuoin races well and fits a dirt racer style a lot better so it makes me look forward to it even more. I know the No. 20 Craftsman Camry will be just as good as it was last year, we just need to put the whole day together and I think we will be tough.”
The Southern Illinois 100 on the Magic Mile at the DuQuoin State Fair is set for Saturday night August 31. Practice starts at 2:30 pm CT, General Tire Pole Qualifying is scheduled for 5:30 pm CT, and the race will go green shortly after 8 pm CT. The race will be televised live on MAVTV; ARCARacing.com will have live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates for registered users.
-ARCA Press Release
-Photo Credit: ARCA