In the long, storied history of the USAC Silver Crown Champ Cars, three drivers have made more starts than any other: Brian Tyler, Russ Gamester and Dave Darland. All three intend to extend their record at this Saturday’s “Bettenhausen 100″ at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
Tyler, Gamester and Darland stand above all other drivers with 191, 190 and 189 Silver Crown starts, respectively. Quite impressive considering the fact that there have been just 409 races run since the series inception in 1971, meaning that this trio have appeared at nearly half of all the series events ever run. Only USAC Director of Communications Dick Jordan has more Silver Crown appearances than these three at 407.
It’s a true testament to the drive and desire these three greats possess after piling up start-after-start wins and championships in a variety of series. The fire still burns within each of them to compete at the highest level in USAC’s premier division where they remain ultra-competitive to this day as they return to Springfield where each have reached the pinnacle.
Tyler, a Mount Pleasant, North Carolina resident, has the most starts at 191 and his 17 career series wins are third all-time. A full-time competitor for many years, Tyler competes on the classic one-mile dirt ovals of Springfield, Du Quoin and Indy each year and is always a thrill to witness with his numerous back-to-the-front performances, with Springfield wins coming from starting positions of 21st (2004), 16th (2005) and 14th (2011).
The two-time USAC National Sprint Car champion made his Springfield debut in 1997 behind the wheel of the TOMAX Racing No. 73 (14th place finish) and has since then gathered a total of 15 starts at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. On Saturday, Tyler will drive the No. 12, owned by Robert Galas, a mechanic on the car owned by the Delrose-Holt team that won the 1983 Springfield race with driver Gary Bettenhausen.
Peru, Indiana’s Russ Gamester has made 23 USAC Silver Crown starts at Springfield, more than any other active driver. The 1989 USAC National Midget champion made his “Bettenhausen 100″ debut that very same year, finishing 24th at the controls of the Mataka Brothers’ brightly-colored No. 3N1.
Since that day 28 years ago, Gamester has racked up a single win in 1998 among his six overall victories with the series. Like Tyler, Gamester aims to make his first start of the season in his GRP No. 51 at Springfield where, in the late 1990s/early 2000s, he was a perennial front runner: 2nd in 1997, 1st in 1998, 4th in 1999 and 3rd in 2001.
With most any statistic in USAC’s record book, more than likely the name Dave Darland will be on the tip of your tongue. Earlier this year, the Lincoln, Indiana native was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. There’s no question that, one day, he will be inducted into the National Midget Hall of Fame and if there ever becomes a Silver Crown Hall of Fame, Darland may very well be a first-ballot inductee with 14 wins (tied for 6th all-time) and a championship in 1997.
Darland made his first Springfield start in 1991, finishing 33rd in Frank Faurote’s No. 99. From 1996 through 2004, the USAC Triple Crown champ hit his stride in Galen Fox’s No. 56, finishing in the top-6 in nine straight years, including 100-mile victories in 1997, 1999 and 2003. A second-place finish in the 1998 race to Gamester was the only thing that prevented him from becoming just the second driver to win the “Bettenhausen 100″ three years in a row (Chuck Gurney in 1989-90-91).
One-hundred-mile races at Springfield come down those who can manage their equipment throughout the afternoon, yet maintain the pace to be up front and strike when the time arrives. Brian Tyler, Russ Gamester and Dave Darland have been masters of their trade for nearly three-decades now. When Saturday rolls around and one of these three are in the hunt, there’s a good chance they might be able to get the job done. After all, we’ve seen each of them get the job done time and time again.
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