Robert Ballou is going USAC Silver Crown racing with the Wisconsin-based team owned by Hans Lein for the full seven race dirt track slate in 2024.
Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.), one of the most prolific drivers in USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship history and a driver/entrant champion of the series in 2015, has made just 16 previous Silver Crown starts in his career between 2010-21 with a best finish of second at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway in 2012.
In 2013, Ballou led 80 of 100 laps at the Du Quoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds before running out of fuel while leading. Winning USAC Silver Crown races remains a category that Ballou aspires to conquer, and he feels this opportunity provides him with that shot after three years away from the series.
“If I couldn’t get into a car that was capable or build my own, then I wasn’t ever going to do it again,” Ballou said of Silver Crown racing. “I truly believe that this car is more than capable. With Greg Nelson being the crew chief, his resume speaks for itself. Hans (Lein) has had unbelievable racecars for about 40 years now. I think we should jell pretty well.”
Lein’s black and yellow No. 97 has twice won in USAC Silver Crown competition, both with Tyler Courtney behind the wheel. Together, they scored victories during the 2017 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora and in the 2019 Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. In 2023, Mitchel Moles drove the car throughout the season, winning the pole for the round at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway.
For the past decade, Ballou has been an independent on the USAC National Sprint Car tour, and in fact, is the winningest driver/owner in series history. Accustomed to working and overseeing his own team and equipment, this will be a bit of a change for Ballou with the car being based in Wisconsin, around a 600-mile round trip distance from his Tipton, Ind. residence.
“It’s hard,” Ballou acknowledged. “They asked Ricky Thornton Jr. that question a couple weeks ago when he drove the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports midget at the Chili Bowl. He’s pretty hands on. He mounted his seat and asked them if they needed any help, and they said, ‘no, we got it.’ So, he got in his car and went home. He wasn’t sure what to do. It’s a similar situation here. This car is based in Wisconsin, so it’s not like I can go help out even if I wanted to. But Greg doesn’t really need any help. He’s unbelievable. He builds a really nice racecar and Hans gives him all the funding to make the thing fast. Then, from there, it’s left up to the driver to do his job.”
The dirt side of the 2024 USAC Silver Crown schedule consists of dates at Kansas’ Belleville High Banks on May 17-18; Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway on June 15; Indiana’s Terre Haute Action Track on July 4; Kansas’ Salt City Speedway on July 19-20; the Illinois State Fairgrounds on August 17; Illinois’ Du Quoin State Fairgrounds on August 31 and Ohio’s Eldora Speedway on September 20-21.
All those dirt tracks range in size from a half-mile to a full mile, which are right in Ballou’s wheelhouse. His 16 career USAC Sprint Car wins on half-miles rank seventh all-time. Despite the larger characteristics of a Silver Crown car in comparison to a USAC Sprint Car, it’s a trait on the “big tracks” he cites from the early years of his career running a winged sprint car that taught him to keep the car straight and keep the momentum up at venues like California’s Calistoga Speedway. It’s an applicable skill that he feels translates to running a Silver Crown at the larger places he’ll face in 2024.
“I can only assume it’s just because I used to keep the car so straight,” Ballou stated. “I learned how to drive off the right front in a wing sprint car. It’s comforting to roll in straight and lean on the right front. As far as speed, you really don’t notice it, if you will.”
Ballou is amped at the prospect of crossing a USAC Silver Crown win off the list in 2024. He’s won 37 times in USAC National Sprint Car competition, which ranks 12th all-time. With how he feels USAC Silver Crown racing has morphed over the years into a full-out, elongated sprint car race over 50-100 miles, that fits right with the Mad Man’s style.
“It’s a totally different type of racing nowadays; it’s gone more toward sprint car racing,” Ballou said of today’s Silver Crown racing style. “You used to run around for 80 laps, then get after it. It’s a sprint dang near the whole time, so a lot plays into it.”
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