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Du Quoin State Fairgrounds 

Narrative by John Nelson, November 21, 2019 

In 1923 a group of developers headed by horse breeder William R. Hayes built a racetrack and fairground near Du Quoin in southern Illinois and began hosting the Du Quoin State Fair. This fair was parallel to and took place later in the season (late August into early September) than the official Illinois State Fair in Springfield. Unlike the Springfield fair, the Du Quoin Fair allowed pari-mutuel betting, and thus could host higher profile harness racing events. These included the Hambletonian from 1957 to 1980 and the World Trotting Derby from 1981 to 2009.

The original track was a ½-mile dirt oval. Auto races took place for the first time here in 1936. These were relatively short (15- to 25-lap features) involving big cars (sprint cars) from the Central States Racing Association (CSRA) and the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA). Both were strong regional clubs, many of whose drivers achieved national reputations and ultimately were inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. Although a one-mile track was announced as early as 1938, the track and grandstand were not completed until after the Fair in 1947. The original half-mile, near the west entrance to the fairgrounds, was retained and is still used as a horse training track. 

            With its one-mile track ready for racing, the Du Quoin State Fair was able to attract the AAA, then America’s foremost auto race sanctioning body, to hold Championship-level races during the Fair. The Championship circuit raced predominantly on tracks of one mile and larger, including Milwaukee, Langhorne, the Springfield Mile, and the ultimate prize, the Indianapolis 500. Thus, AAA Championship cars appeared during the 1948 Du Quoin fair and continued annually through 1955, when the AAA withdrew from auto racing. Thereafter, the United States Auto Club (USAC) has sanctioned the annual  hundred-mile grind on the Du Quoin mile. From 1956 through 1970, the Du Quoin and Springfield races remained on the national championship circuit with the Indy 500. Stock cars were added in 1955 to make a two-day program.  For several years USAC Midgets also raced during the Fair.  A few still dates have featured various types of race cars.

            Two fatalities have taken place during Championship Car races at Du Quoin. After having clinched the AAA driving championship, Ted Horn crashed to his death on the second lap of the 100-mile race here on October 10, 1948. Henceforth the annual open-wheel race at Du Quoin has been titled the Ted Horn Memorial. On September 6, 1954, famed mechanic Clay Smith died after being struck by Rodger Ward’s flipping race car, which had veered into the pits after contact with another racer.  

           

            Sources for narratives and tables of race results include: Area Auto Racing News, National Speed Sport News, www.newspapers.com for online archives of daily and weekly general-circulation newspapers, race programs archived at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame; and That Magic Mile, The National Championship at Du Quoin, 1948-1970, by Thomas Nasti.

 The “Springfield Mile” at the Illinois State Fairgrounds 

Narrative by John Nelson, November 21, 2019 

            The first edition of the Illinois State Fair took place in Springfield in 1853, but over the next four decades the Fair migrated among 12 different cities before settling in its permanent home in Springfield in 1894. The chosen site, which covered 156 acres just north of the city, previously hosted the Sangamon County Fair and already had a racetrack. The original one-mile oval had straightaways oriented west-northwest and the grandstands faced north. The present track, with straights running north-south and the covered grandstand facing east, was constructed in 1927.

            The first automotive event on the Springfield Mile took place in July 1909 and featured Lewis Strang, Louis Chevrolet, and the Buick Racing Team. Although the event had AAA sanction, it is unclear whether the program included competitive races or merely exhibitions. Strang did run 50 laps in slightly over 50 minutes, breaking several records in the process.

            The 1910 Illinois State Fair featured daily exhibition runs by Barney Oldfield in the Blitzen Benz. Other drivers also made runs, but again, it is not clear whether wheel-to-wheel racing took place. Oldfield turned a lap in 53 seconds, establishing the track record. Heavy advance publicity promised a race between Oldfield and a White biplane, but records I have found do not record the results of this race, if it took place. During the final day’s exhibitions, Larue Vredenburgh was fatally injured when his race car crashed and overturned.

            From 1911 through 1929 it appears that auto races and/or speed exhibitions took place annually at the Illinois State Fair. Among the top drivers who appeared were Bob Burman, Louis Disbrow, Bill Endicott, Sig Haugdahl, and Ray Harroun. J Alex Sloan promoted IMCA races at Springfield in 1915, 1919, and probably other years. The 1925 program, sanctioned by the Northern Illinois Auto Racing Association, comprised four 10-lap heats and a 35-lap feature event. Unfortunately, the sources I have accessed contain almost no results of races before 1934. The chief exception is the 1929 Fair. On August 17, 1929, the cars of John Gerber, Carl Marchese, and Wilson Pingrey tangled in the turn, and Pingrey’s machine veered through a board fence into a crowd of spectators. Eight onlookers were injured, one later dying in the hospital. Initially “not expected to live”, Pingrey eventually recovered, but his racing career was over. As the State Fair Board wrestled with a series of lawsuits stemming from the 1929 mishap, auto racing was suspended until 1934.  

Championship auto racing made its debut on the Springfield Mile in 1934 under AAA sanction. Except for the World War II years and a few cancellations due to weather, championship races have taken place annually to the present, making the Springfield Mile the oldest dirt track hosting such events. The AAA sanctioned these races until their departure from auto racing at the end of the 1955 season. From 1956 forward, USAC has sanctioned the State Fair races. Through the 1970 season Springfield was part of the national championship circuit together with Indianapolis. The divergence of Indianapolis and dirt-track racing led to foundation of the Silver Crown Series in 1971.

            The first stock car at Springfield took place in 1950 under AAA sanction, but such races did not become an annual event until 1961. Since 1963 this race has been titled the Allen Crowe Memorial in honor of a USAC championship driver and Springfield native who lost his life in a Sprint Car crash at New Bremen, Ohio on June 2, 1963. USAC sanctioned the Allen Crowe Memorial through 1982, and then co-sanctioned the race with ARCA in 1983 and 1984. ARCA assumed full sanction of this event beginning in 1985. Throughout their tenure on the Springfield Mile, USAC and ARCA stock cars have closely resembled contemporary NASCAR Cup Series cars and compete on both paved and dirt tracks.

            From the outset, the AAA and USAC open-wheel races and USAC and ARCA stock car races have taken place on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, of the third weekend in August. These races close out the week-long Illinois State Fair.

            As listed in the table of “Other Races”, a variety of other types of cars have raced on the Springfield Mile over the years. These include Midgets, winged and non-winged Sprint Cars, Supermodifieds, Dirt Late Models, UMP Modifieds, and Sportsman cars. The only such event that achieved any longevity was the UMP Fall Nationals for Late Models, which took place in September from 1992 through 2006.

 

Sources include Area Auto Racing News, National Speed Sport News, programs archived at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, daily newspapers accessed on www.newspapers.com, and the websites www.dirtondirt.com, www.statefairmuseum.com, and www.stlracing.com.  


   

Du Quoin champ and Silver Crown races.xlsx        Du Quoin one-lap records.docx         Du Quoin other races.xlsx         Du Quoin stock car races.xlsx

     Springfield Mile - Other Races.xlsx               Springfield Mile Champ and Silver Crown.xlsx          Springfield Mile Stock car races.xlsx          Springfield one-lap records.docx


            

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Fred Voorhees,
Nov 22, 2019, 8:03 AM
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Fred Voorhees,
Nov 22, 2019, 8:03 AM
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Fred Voorhees,
Nov 22, 2019, 8:03 AM
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Fred Voorhees,
Nov 22, 2019, 8:03 AM
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Fred Voorhees,
Nov 22, 2019, 8:04 AM
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Fred Voorhees,
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Fred Voorhees,
Nov 22, 2019, 8:04 AM
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Fred Voorhees,
Nov 22, 2019, 8:04 AM
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