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Little 500 race still making memories


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It seems like only yesterday when I made my way to Mount Auburn in 1993 to interview Glen Niebel, owner of Niebel Engines in Edinburgh, who was entering the Little 500 in a quest for his fifth win in the Memorial Day weekend classic.

Bob Frey was taking a break from managing his Wickenberg, Ariz., funeral home to race in the Little 500, as well. Before the race, he said, “I wouldn’t come this far to race for anyone else. Glen’s cars rewarded a driver who could use momentum to maintain the quickest lap times.”

Niebel, who owned both the Silver Crown car and sprint car that Tony Stewart drove to USAC championships in 1995, and Frey were seeking their fifth Little 500 win together. Frey had taken a couple of years off to get his funeral home built and running. His new wife didn’t much like Frey’s return to the cockpit, but the siren scent of methanol was too strong for him to resist.

That was probably the last time Frey actually drove a race car. Now he won’t even go to a race. He said, “It’s like that racecar is the most beautiful woman in the world, and all you can do is look.”

Niebel, who died in 1999, and Frey raced to a second-place finish and ended a career at Anderson Speedway with 12 races, nine of which were in cockpit of the famed Niebel yellow No. 20. He had 12 wins, including four consecutive (1987-1990). In addition to the wins, Frey had eight top fives and nine top 10s.

Shortly after his death, Glen was elected to the Little 500 Hall of Fame. They also started running the Glen Niebel Memorial.

Next year will see a change in the sanctioning of that race because USAC stopped scheduling sprint car races on pavement due to short car counts. However, there were plenty of cars left whose owners wanted to take them racing. Without USAC’s extensive travel and extensive rules, these car owners are able to run successfully. Hopefully, that will make the race more successful than ever.

The 2013 race will be run April 14. The Kenyon Midgets will be the support series.

Silver Crown tests

A couple of years ago, the United States Auto Club introduced a Silver Crown car to compete on NASCAR superspeedways. However, they had trouble getting teams to replace cars that they believed to be perfectly good to run a few races even if those races paid well. Consequently, they parked the few new racecars that were actually built. Eventually, they returned to the old design race cars, competing on tracks such as Lucas Oil Raceway, Toledo Speedway, etc.

There are still NASCAR tracks that need races where the Silver Crown cars can compete successfully, such as Iowa Speedway, Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, etc. Gateway Motorsports Park at Madison, Ill. (near St Louis) is a 1.25-mile paved oval, and it conducted Silver Crown races between 1971 and 2001. Drivers scoring wins during that period were Pat Abold, J.J. Yeley, Ryan Newman, Tracy Hines and Dave Steele.

USAC and Gateway apparently are considering a return of the series to Gateway and recently conducted a test involving teams from Darryl Guiducci’s 6R Racing and Steve Weirich’s RW Motorsports. The drivers involved were Kody Swanson of Kingsburg, Calif., Taylor Ferns of Shelby Township, Mich., Bobby Santos III of Franklin, Mass., and Jerry Coons, Jr. of Tucson, Ariz.

During the testing, speeds reached 141.764 mph, compared to a track record of 143.967 set by Dave Steele in 2001. Santos won two pavement races this season at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Following the test, USAC Silver Crown director James Spink said, “We were pleased with the results of the test and the enthusiasm exhibited by Gateway management and the teams involved. We look forward to future involvement at Gateway and the excitement generated by a possible 2013 series appearance.”

A Gateway date probably would be welcomed by the entrants for exposure generated for their sponsors. In addition, the tracks location near Tri-City Speedway at Pontoon Beach (Granite City) would permit them to race sprints and/or midgets at Tri-City on the same road trip.

Correction

One of our eagle-eyed readers caught me in an error a couple of weeks ago. I stated that Lewis Hamilton was American. He is, of course, actually British.

Tim McKinney is an auto racing columist for The Republic.

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