HEMELGARN RACING IN ELITE COMPANY WITH SILVER CROWN SUCCESS
HEMELGARN RACING IN ELITE COMPANY WITH SILVER CROWN SUCCESS
By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Toledo, Ohio (September 24, 2020)………In the early 1970s, the USAC National Championship (now IndyCar) remained pretty much hand-in-hand with the dirt tracks. Once the dirt was removed from the National Championship trail following the conclusion of the 1970 season, a new series dedicated to the dirt for the Champ Cars was formed for 1971.
Several car owners remained actively involved on both circuits during the first few years of the now-named Silver Crown division with the likes of Leader Card Racers (1971), A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1972) and Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing (1973) each earning respective entrant championships with the dirt series, all of whom had previously or would go on to win the Indianapolis 500 as an entrant as well.
Now, this season, Hemelgarn Racing, with driver Justin Grant and crew chief Dennis LaCava, stands atop the USAC Silver Crown point standings entering the final two-race stretch beginning with the Sunday afternoon, October 4, Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness Rollie Beale Classic at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway with hopes in becoming one of the very select few car owners to win both an Indianapolis 500 and USAC Silver Crown season championship.
Hemelgarn captured the Indianapolis 500-mile race victory in 1996 with driver Buddy Lazier and LaCava, while Leader Card did the same thrice with Rodger Ward in 1959 & 1962, plus Bobby Unser in 1968. Foyt Enterprises got the job done with the man himself, A.J. Foyt, drinking the milk for his record-breaking fourth “500” triumph in 1977. Vel’s Parnelli Jones, meanwhile, won back-to-back with Al Unser and the Johnny Lightning Specials in 1970-71.
Additionally, Curb/Agajanian Racing, a four-time Silver Crown entrant champ between 2010-13 with both Tony Stewart and RW Motorsports, partnered with Bryan Herta Autosport for their improbable 2011 Indianapolis 500 win with Dan Wheldon, and again in 2016 with Andretti Herta Autosport and their miraculous fuel-saving strategy on the last stint to emerge victorious with driver Alexander Rossi.
Hemelgarn and Grant’s bid for a 2020 Silver Crown title could mark another rarity with a team owner winning both an IndyCar / CART championship as well as a USAC Silver Crown title. Hemelgarn and Lazier won at Phoenix and Kentucky en route to the 2000 Indy Racing League crown. Leader Card snagged the USAC National Championship in the same exact years as their Indianapolis 500 accolades with Ward in ’59 & ’62, and Bobby Unser in ‘68. Foyt did likewise with himself as the driver in 1975, then again at the advent of the IRL with drivers Scott Sharp in 1996 and Kenny Brack in 1998.
Johnny Capels, meanwhile, was on a roll throughout the decade of the 1970s, winning back-to-back USAC National Championships as the crew chief for Vel’s Parnelli and driver Joe Leonard in 1971-72. Capels followed up with a pair of USAC Champ Dirt Car titles with Vel’s Parnelli and drivers Al Unser in 1973 and Mario Andretti in 1974. Branching out on his own, Capels, a 2019 USAC Hall of Fame inductee, was the chief mechanic/car owner for Pancho Carter’s USAC Dirt Car title in 1978.
Hemelgarn’s Silver Crown team has been victorious on two occasions over the years, in 2017 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and in 2018 at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track, both of which were Justin Grant’s first two wins with the series.
While all the owners listed above have won numerous races on both circuits, perhaps lesser known is the one-time Silver Crown victory by U.E. “Pat” Patrick, who’s STP sponsored dirt car shocked the world at the 1974 Hoosier Hundred with Oklahoma’s Jackie Howerton as the driver, winning the pole and leading all 100 laps at the Indiana State Fairgrounds dirt mile, defeating the two Vel’s Parnelli cars of Al Unser and Mario Andretti in the process to tally both Patrick and Howerton’s only career series wins.
Patrick had found a high amount of success the year prior just down the street from the Indy Mile as a first-time winner in the 1973 Indianapolis 500 with Gordon Johncock in the cockpit. Patrick and Johncock hit paydirt again with a victory in the then-closest “500” finish of all-time in 1982. Patrick was back in winner’s circle again at Indy with Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989 on their way to winning the CART PPG Cup that Fall.
The Sunday afternoon, October 4, Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness “Rollie Beale Classic” features the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series plus Late Model Sportsman, Figure 8, Factory Stock and Street Stock features for the penultimate round of the 2020 season in the Glass City.
The USAC pit gate opens at 8:30am ET on raceday, front gates open at 11am, practice runs from 11:30am-12:15pm for the Silver Crown cars with Fatheadz Eyewear Qualifying at 1:05pm and opening ceremonies at 2pm, followed by the 100-lap Rollie Beale Classic.
All tickets are $25 each, and tickets will only be available online at www.toledospeedway.com. Grandstand ticketing will be limited to 1,500 with a standard admission price of $25 per person. Any remaining tickets will go on sale on race at the track box office at 11 a.m.
USAC SILVER CROWN ENTRANT CHAMPIONS:
1971: Leader Card Racers
1972: A.J. Foyt Enterprises
1973: Vel’s Parnelli Jones
1974: Vel’s Parnelli Jones
1975: Pizza Hut of St. Louis (George Middleton)
1976: Louis Seymour & Sons
1977: Dave LeFevre
1978: Johnny Capels
1979: Leader Card Racers
1980: Delrose-Holt Racing
1981: Aristocrat Products (Johnny Vance)
1982: Steve Enslow
1983: Delrose-Holt Racing
1984: Radio Hospital (Ralph DePalma)
1985: Damon Fortune
1986: Bob Hampshire
1987: Bob Hampshire
1988: Kenny Jarrett Farms
1989: Transportation Computer Systems (Junior Kurtz)
1990: Bob Consani
1991: M & L Plumbing (Fred Ede)
1992: Kenny Jarrett Farms
1993: Del McClure
1994: Gary Stanton
1995: Niebel Engines, Inc.
1996: Gary Stanton
1997: Foxco, Inc.
1998: Goetz Racing
1999: Snider/Foyt Racing
2000: Indiana Underground Construction (Terry Riggs)
2001: Paul Cook Racing
2002: East/Stewart Racing
2003: East/Stewart Racing
2004: East/Stewart Racing
2005: East/Stewart Racing
2006: Leffler/BK Racing
2007: BK Racing
2008: RW Motorsports
2009: BK Motorsports
2010: Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing
2011: Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing
2012: RW Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian Racing
2013: Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing
2014: DePalma Motorsports
2015: DePalma Motorsports
2016: DePalma Motorsports
2017: DePalma Motorsports
2018: DePalma Motorsports
2019: Klatt Enterprises