(TOLEDO, Ohio – August 27, 2015) – What started out as a one-off deal in a back-up Larry Clement car (teammate to Frank Kimmel) at DuQuoin, turned into a three-year quest for Tony Stewart. Stewart, who finished second to Kimmel in his maiden ARCA voyage at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds mile-dirt in 2001, apparently would not be satisfied until he finally won it, which didn’t happen until two years later. Having finally conquered the Southern Illinois 100 at the “Magic Mile”, he could finally make his grand exit knowing he had checked off another worthy goal from his scorecard.
So how did Stewart end up in Kimmel’s back-up car at DuQuoin the day after a Darlington Cup race in 2001? Well…it’s a pretty good story and goes something like this......
“I was attending the Eastern Motorsport Press Association in January in Philadelphia, like I do every year, and Tony Stewart was the guest speaker,” said ARCA’s Don Radebaugh.
Image: Tony Stewart works on his front grill mud screen at DuQuoin
“He was fielding questions from the audience and in one of his answers he mentioned that he’d like to run one of those ARCA dirt races one time at Springfield or DuQuoin. That caught my attention, and I passed it on to Ron Drager (ARCA President). Drager passed the word on to Ken Schrader, who was racing Cup regularly with Stewart back then.
“Next thing you know…at one of ARCA’s conjunction events with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Schrader drags Drager down to Stewart’s hauler and the discussion began. The way I heard it, Stewart asked really only two poignant questions…’Is it a good car? (referring to Kimmel’s back-up Chevrolet)’ and turned to his pilot and asked, ‘Is there a landing strip nearby?’” After all, if Stewart’s going to do this deal, he’d have to make the timeline work coming from Darlington, South Carolina the day before. He also knew that on a one-day show at DuQuoin, the garage opens before the sun comes up.
“Next thing you know, a second Kimmel car shows up on the entry list with a fictitious name on it…I think it was Slick-something…that part is a little fuzzy. Well, come raceday, everyone pretty-much knew by then who was planning to occupy the car, which looked exactly like Kimmel’s, but with a number 40 on it.
“Sure enough, before the sun came up, here comes Stewart…marching through the back gate in jeans and a sprint car t-shirt, carrying only the specially-fitted seat that would soon be mounted in his new ride.”
Image: Tony Stewart congratulates Frank Kimmel in Victory Lane at DuQuoin
Stewart was also the first car out on the track that morning while the track was still wet and heavy. To no surprise, Stewart went out in qualifying and broke the one-lap track record. The crowd went crazy. But despite leading 30 laps, Stewart, right on Kimmel’s tail, finished second to Kimmel. The top-five running order that day: Kimmel, Stewart, Bill Baird, Ken Schrader and Joe Cooksey.
“After the race, we expected to hear the “Elvis has left the building announcement,” or something similar, but it never came. By the time he got back to his hauler, the line waiting for him was already humungous. He must have felt that he needed to address his fans, so he did. At any rate, he wasn't going to leave them hanging, so he took a seat on the back of his hauler, took a big puff of southern Illinois air, and signed autographs for well over an hour…till every person in line had the chance to meet and greet the show’s biggest superstar. I thought that was pretty dang cool. And it wasn't just swiping his name across a card...he spent time with each person...it was cool. He could have left right away…he had no obligation to stay…he wasn’t a hired gun…he just wanted to race, and do the right thing. When asked why he came to race, and why he stayed, he just simply said, ‘because I’m a racer..it’s what I do.’”
Fast-forward to 2002. Stewart was apparently taking no chances this time, and entered a specially-prepared Andy Petree-owned Chevrolet, one that Stewart could get his hands on ahead of time. Here we go again. Stewart’s the first one out in practice…the car way up on the wet, heavy cushion where few ever dare to go with a 3400-lb stock car. And, like the year before, he goes out in qualifying, and breaks his own one-lap track record. The crowd went nuts.
During the race. Stewart led the first 22 laps but got shuffled back in the order when he got bottle-necked in on pit road. In the end, he was again all over Kimmel, but without getting too aggressive, he could not find a way around and finished second, again. The top-five finishing order: Kimmel, Stewart, Schrader, Red Farmer and Cooksey.
Fast-forward to 2003. Stewart was back, but this time, it wasn’t in a Frank Kimmel back-up car or an Andy Petree ride…it was in his own black, plain-jane, Home Depot-sponsored Chevrolet. No contingency decals either...he didn't need any. All he needed to do was win the race, so he could get on with his life, for crying out loud. This time for sure, there was no doubt that Stewart meant business. By now, most everyone that had been paying attention to Stewart’s saga at DuQuoin, had already figured the Rushville, Indiana driver would be back for what was his third consecutive attempt. The competitors planned on it, and so did the crowd, which, despite the incoming monsoon rains that were ultimately going to hit, showed up in droves to see Stewart do his thing.
Same deal…Stewart qualifies for the pole to the delight of an audience overwhelmingly in his favor.
“I’ll never forget it,” Radebaugh continued. “After Tony received the pole award from the announcer Jim Childers, Childers, still on the house PA, asked Stewart for some predictions regarding the race. I’m paraphrasing a little but not much. Stewart said, ‘I’m not sure how this race is going to go, but I’ll guarantee you one thing...Frank Kimmel is not going to win this race.’” He did not say it jokingly. He said what he meant, and meant what he said. Classic Stewart.
And, he was ultimately right. Stewart dominated the race, leading 85 of the 103 laps before the rains came down in sheets as predicted. It didn’t matter to Stewart though…he had finally conquered the “Magic Mile” in a stock car. With the rain pouring buckets, he was happy as a clam (cover photo) in Victory Lane, and right at home. The top-five finishing order: Stewart, Schrader, Cooksey, Norm Benning (he was always fast on the mile-dirts) and Kimmel, who had suffered with overheating issues.
Image: Tony Stewart on pit road at DuQuoin which, back then, was dirt, just like the track still is
Stewart did return to DuQuoin on two other occasions, but solely as a car owner. Having secured his name in the history books as a winner of the prestigious Southern Illinois 100 at DuQuoin, he could now finally move on to his next quest.
Impressive Past Southern Illinois 100 Winners List
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 XFINITY Series point leader Chris Buescher, the 2012 ARCA national champion. Current ARCA point leader Grant Enfinger won last year’s race.
Raceday Schedule/Media Coverage
The 62nd running of the Southern Illinois 100 presented by Federated Car Care is scheduled to get the green flag at approximately 1:30 p.m. local Central time. Practice is scheduled from 9:00-10:00 a.m. with Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell following at 11:15. ARCAracing.com will feature live audio coverage of all on-track activities including flag-to-flag coverage of the Southern Illinois 100. Live timing and scoring of all on-track activities and live chat box will also be available throughout the afternoon at arcaracing.com.