As it has every season since 1983, the ARCA Menards Series heads to the Illinois State Fairgrounds for the Allen Crowe 100 on Sunday August 18, part of a huge racing weekend that also includes a Saturday afternoon 100-mile race for the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series. And as it has every season since 1983, the fair’s one-mile dirt track will present the drivers and teams one of the most unique challenges they face all season long.
In addition to dealing with each other as they approach 140 miles per hour on the one-mile dirt oval’s long straightaways, the drivers have to deal with the track surface itself. Unlike the asphalt tracks they race on eighteen times throughout the season, the clay surface at Springfield and the DuQuoin State Fair changes continually throughout the course of the day. Not only does that mean it will be different from practice to qualifying to the race, it means it will be different on lap one, lap five, lap twenty, lap fifty, and lap one hundred. It’s a never-ending process that continues until the checkered flag falls. The driver who manages those changes the best is usually celebrating in victory lane at the end of 100 miles.
Last season, Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) found the path to victory. The then-seventeen-year-old native of Middletown, New York, started eighth and worked his way through the field after a caution a third of the way through. He traded the lead with eventual series champion Sheldon Creed near the halfway mark and retook the lead when Creed made his final pit stop of the day with 40 laps to go. The 2016 Snowball Derby winner would withstand pressure on three late-race restarts to hold Creed off at the finish by 0.305 seconds, a couple of car lengths.
It was the second time Eckes raced on dirt following a sixth-place effort in his Springfield debut in 2017, and in 2018 it ended in victory lane. With added experience later in the season at DuQuoin and a couple of weeks ago in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway in Ohio, Eckes is confident he can become the first back-to-back winner of the race since ten-time series champion Frank Kimmel won in 2007 and 2008.
“If it’s like I normally am on dirt we’ll be terrible in practice and I’ll pick up a second and a half in the race,” Eckes joked. “The entire Venturini Motorsports team is putting a lot of effort into these final five races of the season, and especially these two races on dirt. We’re getting into the final stretch and we want to keep our momentum going. Running the Truck race at Eldora really helped with some things. It helped with my entry into the corners. I am always trying to turn in too straight on dirt. It helped me trying to find grip. Hopefully we’ll get to put that to good use at Springfield.”
Last year, Eckes and his victorious Venturini Motorsports team were joined in victory lane by country music superstar Brantley Gilbert, who closed the fair in front of a full house in the fairgrounds grandstand a couple of hours after the race. This year’s fair closer is another name very familiar in stock car racing circles, Reba McIntyre. Eckes and team would take the opportunity for another impromptu photo shoot with the legendary country music artist should the opportunity present itself in victory lane.
“I am not a huge country music fan but I do listen to it,” Eckes said. “I rotate through rock and roll, hardcore rap, just about anything. You name it, it just depends on the month. I go back and forth. After Brantley came and visited victory lane with us I went and downloaded a whole bunch of his songs. I listened to them and was like ‘yeah, I’ve heard that one before’ and thought it was really cool he came to see us after the race. It would be awesome to make it two wins in a row and get another visit in victory lane from Reba. We’ll do our part to make it happen.”
Should he win, it would be his third victory of the season, adding to victories earlier in the season at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville and Pocono Raceway. But more importantly, it would allow him to close the points gap on his teammate Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) as they battle for the ARCA Menards Series championship. Despite missing the third race of the season at Salem Speedway, a race he won last season, Eckes sits just 80 points out of the lead with five races remaining. It’s not an insurmountable gap by any means, but Eckes knows he and his Kevin Reed-led team will have to be on their game if they want to sit at the head table at the series awards banquet in Indianapolis in December.
“We need to go and win,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. We’re 80 points back. That’s about four positions per race. Michael finishes in the top five every week, so we need to go out and win races, lead the most laps, and win the pole every week. We showed at Pocono that we have the speed and we still have the execution. We can get it done, and we need to over the last five races of the year.”
Practice for the Allen Crowe 100 presented by Lucas Oil on the one-mile dirt oval will begin at 10 am ET/9 am CT, General Tire Pole Qualifying is set for 12 n ET/11 am CT, and the 100-mile feature event will go green at 2:30 pm ET/1:30 pm CT. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can follow live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates at ARCARacing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. For ticket information please visit TrackEnterprises.com.