By RICHIE MURRAY
OREGON, WI – One year ago, the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series tackled Madison International Speedway for the first time ever. Now, this Friday, June 28, and with a little more experience under their belts on the half-mile paved oval, the big cars return to the Oregon, Wisconsin track for the Bytec “Dairyland 100.”
Kody Swanson was victorious in the inaugural “Dairyland 100” a year ago. In fact, in the six most recent instances in which Swanson made his first Silver Crown start at a particular pavement track, he’s finished in the top-five: 2nd place finishes at both Michigan’s Berlin Raceway and Ohio’s Toledo Speedway in 2010; a 2nd at Gateway Motorsports Park in Illinois and a 5th at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Colorado back in 2013; followed by wins at Salem (Ind.) Speedway in 2016 and Madison in 2018. At both Toledo and Salem, he followed up with a victory in his very next appearance there.
Ad Madison last year, Swanson started second, led the first five, then retook control just before midway to lead the remaining 53 laps and score the victory. The Kingsburg, Calif. native leads the standings coming in as the winningest series driver of all-time pursues an unprecedented fifth series title. The Nolen Racing team he’s competing with in 2019 had two cars entered last year, finishing 5th with Chris Windom and 6th with Jerry Coons, Jr.
Justin Grant was the driver who took the lead from Swanson early in the going after starting from the pole position in last year’s “Dairyland 100.” The Ione, Calif. driver led 42 laps of the event and settled for third at the checkered. This season, he’s been the only driver to keep Swanson in check in the championship battle, six points out of the lead, and is the only driver to finish in the top four in every race this season. He’s garnered two 3rd place finishes and three 4th place runs in five starts.
David Byrne, third in the standings, is the lone Wisconsin native to enter the event. The Shullsburg driver owns the one-lap track record at Madison in a wing sprint car and was the hard charger in last year’s “Dairyland 100.” After qualifying 8th originally, his time was disallowed, forcing him to start from the rear of the field. He proceeded to charge all the way to a 7th place finish.
Along with Swanson, Eric Gordon (4th in points) is the only other driver entered for Friday’s race who has been victorious in USAC Silver Crown competition in the state of Wisconsin. In 1990, the Fortville, Ind. driver was a winner at the Milwaukee Mile, outdueling the likes of Stan Fox and Dave Blaney to capture his first and, thus far, only career Silver Crown win. Last year at Madison, he qualified 3rd, but experienced brake problems 17 laps in, forcing him to drop out and take a 19th place finish.
Mike Haggenbottom is riding a wave coming into Madison 5th in the series standings after finishing a career-high 4th on the dirt at Williams Grove Speedway in his home state of Pennsylvania. The Levittown, Pa. driver finished 15th last year at Madison, which at the time, was just his second career Silver Crown appearance on pavement.
Sixth in points, Austin Nemire didn’t get a chance to start last year’s race at Madison following engine trouble during practice, forcing him to the sidelines before the start of the 100-lapper. The Sylvania, Ohio driver arrives at Madison coming off solid 9th and 6th place finishes in his two most recent starts.
Bobby Santos has scored all 10 of his career Silver Crown victories on pavement. Last year, in his first foray onto the banks of Madison aboard a Silver Crown car, he charged from his 6th starting spot to finish 2nd. He hasn’t won yet this season, but the Franklin, Mass. driver is knocking on the door with finishes of 2nd (Memphis), 2nd (Toledo) and 3rd (Lucas Oil Raceway).
Kevin Thomas, Jr. dropped from 3rd to 8th in the Silver Crown standings after his ride fell through for the round at Williams Grove. The Cullman, Ala. native is back in for his Madison debut this Friday. The dirt standout was 2nd at the “Hoosier Hundred” in May, but has been solid on the pavement as well, finishing 6th (Memphis) and 8th (Lucas Oil Raceway).
Danville, Indiana’s Kyle Hamilton was the winner of the series’ most recent pavement outing, in May at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind. where he led the final 27 laps to score his first career Silver Crown victory. In fact, his Klatt Enterprises team has won the last two Silver Crown races on pavement with Hamilton and on dirt with Brady Bacon at Williams Grove. Last year at Madison, Hamilton started 4th and finished 11th after the car suffered a driveshaft issue. Hamilton has started all three of his 2019 Silver Crown appearances from the outside of the front row.
Chris Windom, admittedly, hasn’t had the season he’s hoped for in the Silver Crown division in 2019, coming into Madison 10th in the standings with a best finish of 5th at Toledo in April. He was leading the “Hoosier Hundred” when a right rear tire gave way, sending him into a terrifying series of flips down the front straightaway. Earlier this month at Williams Grove, he was running up front when mayhem ensued as he and race leader Steve Buckwalter made contact, putting Windom up front for the final restart where the right rear tire gave way on the final lap, ultimately dropping him to 9th at the finish line. The 2016 series champ from Canton, Ill. started 5th and finished 5th at Madison in 2018.
Jim Anderson (Joliet, Ill.) took home a career-best 4th last year at Madison, while Travis Welpott (Pendleton, Ind.), Matt Goodnight (Winchester, Ind.) and 2018 Rookie of the Year Kyle Robbins (New Castle, Ind.) rounded out the top-ten in positions 8, 9 and 10 last year. They, along with leading 2019 Rookie of the Year contender Derek Bischak (Angola, Ind.), Toni Breidinger (Hillsborough, Calif.) and Patrick Lawson (Edwardsville, Ill.) are back for a second Madison start. Breidinger and Lawson are aiming to make their season debuts with the series.
Meanwhile, 1989 USAC National Midget champion Russ Gamester (Peru, Ind.), nine-time USAC National Midget and Sprint Car feature winner Brian Gerster (Fishers, Ind.), two-time American LeMans Series champ Chris Dyson (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.) and 2010 Pavement, California North and California South Ford Focus Midget champion Cody Gerhardt (Fresno, Calif.) are among those in for their first Madison experiences.
Madison International Speedway has hosted a smattering of USAC races over the decades. The National Sprint Cars have competed twice on the pavement with Larry Dickson taking the top honors in 1970 and Dave Steele capturing the checkered flag in 1997. In 1987, the track was covered with dirt with Kevin Huntley picking up the first of his five career USAC National Sprint Car victories.
The National Midgets have raced at Madison on five occasions with the legendary Mel Kenyon sweeping all three in 1969 and Gary Bettenhausen winning the following year in 1970. Jimmy McCune picked up the midget portion of the USAC doubleheader in 1997.
Friday at Madison, the pits open at 3pm (Central), drivers meeting at 4pm and cars on track for practice at 4:45pm. Qualifying is slated for 6:25 with racing set to begin at 7:30pm.
Adult tickets are $20. Seniors age 62+ are $18. Students age 12-17 are $10. Children age 6-11 are $5. Children 5 and under are free. Pit passes are $30 apiece for members, $40 for non-members.
It’s also Salute to America Night with the area’s biggest and best aerial and ground fireworks display by Spielbauer Fireworks. The Big 8 Late Model Series will also be on hand.
USAC SILVER CROWN CHAMP CAR SERIES POINTS: 1-Kody Swanson-320, 2-Justin Grant-314, 3-David Byrne-227, 4-Eric Gordon-216, 5-Mike Haggenbottom-211, 6-Austin Nemire-209, 7-Bobby Santos-198, 8-Kevin Thomas, Jr.-198, 9-Kyle Hamilton-186, 10-Chris Windom-175.