ARCA Veteran, Winner 65-Year-Old Bob Strait Returns For Superchevystores.Com 100 On Springfield Mile Dirt
It's been exactly six years to the day since ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards veteran Bob Strait raced on the Springfield mile dirt, but that will change when the 52nd annual SuperChevyStores.com 100 gets ready to roll Sunday afternoon, August 17 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
While some drivers aspire to win the Indy 500, or maybe the Daytona 500, or possibly Eldora's World 100, 65-year-old Strait says it's the ARCA race in Springfield that he wants most up on the mantle.
"It's crazy that I haven't won that thing yet; it's almost an obsession," Strait said.
"More than the obsession, I want to do it for Bill (Hendren) and his team. It'd be so cool to win so close to home."
Strait will drive for longtime ARCA Racing Series car owner Bill Hendren and his partner Brian Smith.
"Bob's all fired up," said Hendren, who hails from El Paso, Illinois. "He still feels like he can get the job done. We started talking on the phone; we were already committed to fielding a car for Ryan (Unzicker), but since this happened, we're going to field a two-car team for Springfield and DuQuoin; at least that's the plan."
Hendren has fielded cars for years on the ARCA circuit for a variety of drivers, including Ken Rowley, Ken Schrader, Bryan Reffner, Unzicker, Strait and more.
"We started racing in 1974, but it was USAC back then. When USAC (Stock Car division) when out of business, we've been in ARCA ever since," added Hendren.
That means that Hendren Motorsports has been racing in ARCA more than 30 years, since 1983, the year ARCA replaced USAC as the sanctioning body for Springfield and the annual Southern Illinois 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.
Strait knows he'll need to knock some cobwebs out of the way inside the cockpit.
"I'm sure there'll be a couple cobwebs, but after a few laps, I should be good," Strait continued.
"I'm sure there'll be naysayers...thinking...'what have I got to prove?' I just love racing. If I could race to one-hundred, I would, especially now that I'm retired. I'd run fulltime if I could. Never say never, right?"
Indeed Strait has been oh-so-close to winning at Springfield.
The Manteno, Illinois driver finished third in his Springfield debut in 1986. Twenty years later, he finished fourth (2006). In between is an amazing string of top-fives, near wins and heartaches. Having been so close so many times only seems to fuel his yearning to win.
Strait's Springfield stat book shows him with finishes of second in '87, '89 and '01, third in '86, '91, '92 and '02, and fourth in '88, '00 and '06.
There was the time in 2003 when Strait, after leading 40 laps, was checked out on the field before his axle broke 25 laps from the finish. When Strait's car slowed abruptly that day, you could hear the grandstand groans over the roar of engines from his throngs of fans that came each year to root the ole warrior on.
There was also the time in 2006 when Strait, after leading 42 laps, was less than a lap from victory before hometown favorite Justin Allgaier passed Strait on the inside heading into turn three on the final lap. Strait, beside himself that he let it happen at all, gassed it so hard off turn four coming to the checkers that his car broke loose and two more machines slipped past.
"That one still eats at me. I feel like we've got unfinished business there."
Beyond the 'unfinished business', the event serves as a reunion of family of friends who will assemble around the veteran driver during this year's 162nd annual Illinois State Fair.
"Springfield's a special place. Above all, this is a race, but it's a lot more. You come early, go to the fair with your family. We hang out and make a weekend out of it. You ask a lot of people, and they'll tell you they'd rather see that race (Springfield) than any others. We've had some good runs there, but never a win. I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather win. It's kind of like Earnhardt wanting to win at Daytona. I feel the same way about Springfield.
"I've got a lot of friends and relatives coming. For me, it's close to home. There's a lot of nostalgia that goes with this race. Look at the people who have won there."
The list of stock car winners for this event at the Illinois State Fair is impressive and includes Curtis Turner, Don White, Jack Bowsher, Al Unser, Ramo Stott, AJ Foyt, Joe Ruttman, Dean Roper, Bob Keselowski, Tim Steele, Ken Schrader and Frank Kimmel to name a few.
"It's grassroots old school racing, and you don't have to have the perfect car to win like you do on the speedways. But you can't use the bumper like you used to either. Bill (Hendren) pointed that out to me. He had me look under the car and said, 'see, there's nothing there, so you can't use it.'
"I know there are a lot of well-financed kids in really good cars, but the dirt-tracks tend to even out the playing field.
"That's what I like about Springfield and DuQuoin...all the big-money cars are not necessarily up front. When we go to Springfield and you look over the practice sheet, you'll notice a whole different cast of characters up front."
The SuperChevyStores.com 100 will mark Strait's 214th career ARCA Racing Series start over a career reaching back to his series debut in 1986. He won the Hoosier Superspeedway Challenge Championship in 2000, and finished a career-best second in overall championship points that same year. He finished in the top-10 points seven times. Overall, he's earned 16 career wins among 95 top-five finishes and 126 top-10s. He's led 2,266 laps in 61 races and earned 16 pole awards. His wins came at Atlanta, Talladega, Cloverleaf, Delaware, DuQuoin, Kil-Kare, Salem, Toledo and Winchester.
"I'm just grateful that Bill asked me back. We're coming back to get a win."
Practice for the SuperChevyStores.com 100 is scheduled from 9:00-10:00 a.m. with Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell following at 11:15. The 52nd annual SuperChevyStores.com 100 starts at 1:30 p.m. All times are local.
ARCAracing.com will feature live timing and scoring of all on-track activity as well as live flag-to-flag audio coverage of the race.