By Richie Murray – USAC Media
SPRINGFIELD, IL-It was among the finest debuts in USAC Silver Crown history.
In his first ever series appearance, Chase Dietz wheeled car owner Bruce Lee’s DRC to a runner-up finish in June at Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway.
Now comes the follow-up act as the Pennsylvanian duo teams up once more for their second USAC Silver Crown ride this Saturday, August 19, during the 60th running of the Bettenhausen 100 Presented By Hunt Brothers Pizza at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
The Springfield Mile is admittedly a different animal for both Dietz and Lee with it being a twice as big, twice as fast and will feature twice as many laps as Port Royal. Furthermore, the team has never before contested a mile dirt track and Dietz mainly possesses a plethora of laps around tracks no larger than a half-mile in length.
However, all that is just paper talk. After his stirring performance at Port Royal, the 26-year-old York, Pa. native openly admitted, “I’ll be damn honest; we had no clue what was going on.” However, you would never know it. The same prospects lie ahead as the team takes on a new adventure this weekend on the Springfield mile.
Dietz is a regular in the rough and rugged winged sprint car scene of central Pennsylvania and possesses a share of feature victories at speedways such as Lincoln, Williams Grove and Selinsgrove in the 410 c.i. ranks. Some aspects translate seamlessly from one discipline to the other such as keeping the car straight and keeping tire wear to a minimum.
But the differences between a Silver Crown car and a sprint car are stark regarding when and where to get in and out of the throttle, not to mention the closing speeds, plus the lack of downforce without a wing and just how hard he needed to run in a long-distance race with a heavy tank of fuel sitting behind him.
The same contrast applies to the venues as well with him not wholly expecting what to find at Port Royal and now facing another new challenge, albeit with a little more seat time on this occasion, heading into Springfield.
“I guess you could say we’re going into it a little blind,” Chase admitted. “But I think it comes down to watching and studying the race and how to race (the track), and not necessarily what we need to do the car or things like that. A lot of it is going to come down to tire wear or fuel mileage. If you watch the guys who’ve won a lot of them, specifically Kody Swanson, he’s definitely learned to drive these races the best way. Instead of forcing his way at times, he picks the right time to make his moves.”
Just getting to this point to be involved in USAC Silver Crown competition is a story in itself. Chase’s father, Tim Dietz, was a longtime competitor with the American Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) Midget series, picking up Rookie of the Year honors in 1994 and ultimately went on to win eight races with the division over the years.
Chase’s car owner, Bruce Lee, just so happened to be Tim’s shop teacher in high school. Tim was just beginning to embark on his racing career when he was a student in Mr. Lee’s class. Upon discovering Tim’s racing ambitions, Lee stepped in and decided to help out Tim’s racing career. Since then, it’s been a Lee/Dietz partnership that continues all these decades later and even spans multiple generations.
“Bruce and my dad would always have conversations about getting into something different when he retired from teaching,” Chase explained. “Two of the divisions he always talked about were midgets and Silver Crown cars. Now that he’s retired, he decided to go the Silver Crown route and this is his first time having an entire car and team. He’s more so just looking to have some fun; he didn’t want to be running full-time for 40, 60, 70 races a year like we would with our 410 stuff. The Silver Crown division is definitely beneficial to him and what he wanted to do. We can do a little bit of traveling and race at places we haven’t been to before and experience some of the dirt miles and things like that.”
To say expectations were exceeded at Port Royal is not exceeding the truth by any stretch. They qualified third, then Chase remained at the forefront throughout the distance, reading the track as he gained more laps. On their first swing, they nearly pulled off one of the major shockers in series history.
“The run at Port Royal made him very happy,” Chase said of Bruce. “It’s not something we really expected to do, but it was pretty cool to do that right off the bat. We didn’t really know what to expect, but I felt I could do well as long as I did my job. I felt comfortable right from the beginning, and while we were up there, I felt like I could’ve pushed harder and done more. I just needed to get more of an idea who we were racing with and also how hard I could push with the car, especially early in the event with a full load of fuel.”
In fact, it was so good of a run, Chase became just the 14th driver in the 53-year history of USAC Silver Crown racing to finish inside the top-two during his debut race. He’s just the second individual to start inside the top-three and finish top-two in his first race. P.J. Jones at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1994 is the other.
The only drivers thus far to win in their USAC Silver Crown debut are Jim McElreath (Nazareth 1971), A.J. Foyt (Springfield 1971), Danny Smith (Eldora 1982), Rick Hood (Indiana State Fairgrounds 1982), Jimmy Horton (Nazareth 1983), Herb Copeland (Oklahoma City Fairgrounds 1983) and Marvin Carman (Minnesota State Fairgrounds 1984).
The lone drivers to finish as the runner-up in their first USAC Silver Crown run are Arnie Knepper (Nazareth 1971), Barry Camp (Williams Grove 1981), Jac Haudenschild (Indiana State Fairgrounds 1985), P.J. Jones (IRP 1994), David Gravel (Springfield 2020), Tyler Roahrig (IRP 2021) and now Chase Dietz (Port Royal 2023).
It’s pretty elite company to find oneself in, but Chase keeps the expectations tempered for now going into Springfield. After all, he’s still new to the discipline and he’s visiting a type of track he’s never before turned a wheel on. However, there is that thought that sticks in his mind of ‘you never know,’ just as Port Royal played out.
“Going into the mile, we still don’t necessarily have those expectations,” Chase admitted. “But the second-place finish kind of puts it in your mind that, ‘man, we know we can do well.’ But we also haven’t had time at the mile and we don’t know what the track is going to be like, so we’re going to take it like we did the first race and try to find out what we can and attack as fast as possible and go from there. It’s a whole new experience and a lot to learn, but I’m confident that we can do well, and we’ll see what we can do from here on out.”
Chase Dietz is one of 44 entries for this Saturday’s Bettenhausen 100 field at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on August 19, which is the largest assemblage of USAC Silver Crown cars for a series event since 2005.
On Saturday in Springfield, pits and registration open at 7am Central with the ticket office and grandstands opening at 9am, the drivers meeting at 9:30am, practice from 10am-11:10am, Honest Abe Roofing Qualifying at 11:30am, followed by the qualifying race, pre-race ceremonies and the 100-lap main event at 2pm.
Tickets will be available on race day or by calling the State Fair office at 217-782-1979. Info and tickets can also be obtained by calling the Track Enterprises office at 217-764-3200.
Advance tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for children 11 and under. At the gate on race day, adults are $30 and $10 for children 11 and under. Infield tickets are $20 for adults and $5 for children 11 and under. Pit passes are $35 for USAC members and $40 for non-members. Infield parking is $5 for those parking in the infield with no infield or pit passes.
Every lap of Saturday’s Bettenhausen 100 will be aired live on FloRacing at https://flosports.link/3AMU46z