COVID-19 has thrown numerous sports schedules into disarray, put others on hold or simply canceled events. The Illinois Truck & Equipment Allen Crowe 100 was one of those events thought to be lost until 2021 but with the hard work of promoter Track Enterprises, the Automobile Racing Club of America and the state of Illinois, the race will go on, albeit not during the Illinois State Fair. When the announcement of the Sunday, October 4 race was made, long time participant Bill Hendren of central Illinois began getting his stock car ready for driver Ryan Unzicker. Hendren’s tenure at Springfield goes back to the mid-1970’s giving him the distinction of the longest active streak of any participant in the Allen Crowe 100.
In April 1974 a yellow and orange Dodge Charger owned by Hendren rolled onto the pavement of Pocono Raceway. Behind the wheel was central Illinois race driver Ken Rowley. Rowley and Hendren were good friends who raced together on the area's short tracks. When Hendren decided to go USAC Stock Car racing he called on Rowley as his pilot.
Their venture started auspiciously. While Bloomington, Illinois driver Steve Drake finished 12th in the Pennsylvania 500 Rowley’s car burned a piston and failed to make a lap. He was credited with 33rd. Gradually the Hendren team came together and by June posted at top ten in the Indiana Classic on the dirt mile at Indianapolis. Ken posted enough top ten finishes by the end of 1974 to be named USAC Stock Car Rookie of the year at the December banquet.
One of those finishes was a 9th in the Allen Crowe 100 at Springfield in August of 1974 with a large contingent from McLean and Woodford counties in the stands. It started a string for both Hendren and Rowley that would lead to spots in the record books for owner and driver.
Rowley and Hendren would be involved in stock car racing for the next 25 years. Bill mostly as a car owner, entrant or helping out a race team, Ken behind the wheel. Full season efforts morphed into limited schedules by the end of the 1970’s but the mile dirt tracks were always in play, especially Springfield and DuQuoin.
When ARCA took over sole sanction of the mile dirt tracks in 1985 Hendren and Rowley were among the entrants at both Springfield and DuQuoin. Not only was there a large crew presence on the infield the team could be counted on to have nearly a full section of rooters in the grandstands. When the yellow and orange 27 pulled on the track there was a lot of noise coming from the Hendren and Rowley army of followers.
Bill and Ken had some of their best runs during the ARCA years with a 3rd in the 200 miler on the DuQuoin dirt in 1984, a 4th on the old Gateway road course in 1986, a 3rd at Toledo in 1991. Two pole runs at DuQuoin including becoming the first driver to crack the 100-mile an hour barrier in a stock car on the Magic Mile. All along Bill and Ken kept trying to win the Crowe 100 at Springfield.
They came “oh so close” in 1993. Ken started 20th and began moving up in the field. Pit stop shuffles and yellow flags kept him close to the leaders and on lap 81 a roar went up from the crowd when the yellow and orange Chevrolet was posted in the top slot on the infield leaderboard.
There were a lot of crossed fingers in the Illinois State Fair grandstand at that point. Most in the large crowd were rooting for the Hendren team to enter victory lane. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Bob Keselowski found a way around Ken Rowley with three laps to go and snatched the win. On older tires Ken slipped to third, only one of three cars on the lead lap. The third was his best finish ever at Springfield.
Ken’s career ended due to health concerns after the 1998 season. By that time he had amassed a record 25 starts in the Allen Crowe 100 with all of them coming consecutively! It is a record that is not likely to be broken in the near future. In fact it would take the current driver of Bill Hendren’s ARCA machine until the year 2035 before he could tie Ken Rowley’s record. When you factor in the extra stock car races run on the Springfield Mile from 1980-1983 the total comes to 30 during Ken Rowley’s career. He started 29 of them, also a record at Springfield.
Hendren kept the team going and turned to northern Illinois veteran Bob Strait for 1999. Strait put a flashy red Chevy sponsored by Budweiser on the pole for the 1999 Allen Crowe 100. Hendren’s army had a lot of hope as the green flag fell but the engine gave up on lap 89. Strait would occupy the cockpit for the next few years and a new face would run a second car at Springfield in 2003. Driving a 4 year old Chevy and with just a race in a sportsman on the Springfield Mile to call as experience, Ryan Unzicker was just 21 when he started 20th and ran to 6th.
Unzicker returned to Hendren in 2011 and finished 20th at Springfield. Ryan kept moving up the finish pole with an 11th in 2013, a 12th in 2014 and an 8th in 2015. Ryan came close to victory lane in 2016 with a popular 3rd place finish. The team finished 5th in 2018 and 9th in 2019 giving Hendren and Unzicker 4 top 10 finishes in the last 5 Allen Crowe races at Springfield.
A new car is being prepared for the 2020 Illinois Truck & Equipment Allen Crowe 100 with the team returning to Chevrolet livery after sporting Toyota body work the last four years. The meaning of a win on the Springfield Mile for Bill Hendren and Ryan Unzicker is almost indescribable.
Their quest for victory comes at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Sunday, October 4. Grandstand ticket sales will be limited to 20% capacity in order to promote a safe atmosphere and allow for proper social distancing. In addition, face coverings will be required, temperatures will be checked upon arrival, and multiple hand washing and sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the venue.
To ensure a ticket, fans are encouraged to order online at www.trackenterprises.com. The 58th Illinois Truck & Equipment Allen Crowe 100 is slated to begin just after 2 p.m. central time and will run in addition to the Sportsman Nationals which starts at 12 p.m.
For more information, visit www.trackenterprises.com or call 217-764-3200.
Track Enterprises PR