It’s narrow. It’s demanding. It’s exciting. The Southern Illinois Center stands as one of the most unique tracks on the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series presented by Toyota schedule, and it opens the 2023 season Friday and Saturday, March 10-11.
The temporary 1/6-mile dirt track set up inside the Southern Illinois Center, on the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds, stands as one of the smallest venues in Midget racing. With minimal banking and narrow straights, the configuration presents one of the toughest challenges on the circuit.
Despite its challenging nature, several Xtreme Outlaw full-timers have made the journey out to the Land of Lincoln to compete in the building in years past and are ready to do it again this weekend. This time, it’s for points in the Series standings, and is the crucial first step toward the ultimate goal of capturing the Series championship.
Inaugural Series champion Zach Daum, and veteran racers Kyle Jones and Chance Crum head to the Center looking for their first wins in the building and took time to describe their past experiences racing on the slender course and the entire indoor racing season.
Indoor racing is, in general, not something many other racing disciplines get to partake in. Do you enjoy the indoor racing element in Midgets?
Daum: It’s just a different form of racing. Obviously, the Chili Bowl is a very big deal and gets a lot of publicity, and Du Quoin is nothing like the Chili Bowl. But indoor racing is normally a little bit more physical and… you could give two shoots less about the guy you’re racing. Not as much respect gets shown. It’s just a little bit different. You’re kinda excited to get there, and you’re really happy to be leaving once you’re done with it.
Jones: Now that I’ve run the Chili Bowl so much and places like Du Quoin – we’ve ran some little indoor races down in Texas a few times that have really small tracks – it’s helped a lot. I enjoy it nowadays.
Crum: It’s pretty cool, whether it be Chili Bowl or Du Quoin, racing indoors is definitely fun. It’s definitely going to be cold, but it makes for some fun racing at times when we wouldn’t otherwise be able to race. Things like this put on a good show and attract a lot of cars. I know we’ve got a lot of cars for this weekend – a lot of good ones, so I’m excited.
How would you describe your past experiences racing indoors at the Center?
Daum: We’ve been okay there. It’s one of them places where your results are dictated by a lot of other peoples’ luck. It’s real easy to get caught-up in other people’s messes there; there’s no room to get away from them. At Du Quoin, anybody can be fast. You don’t need a big motor. You can have a Badger or a D2 motor and be fast enough to be competitive.
It’s a deal that’s all its own. You’ve got to put yourself in a position to not get caught-up in accidents and hope no bad luck happens to you either.
Jones: Past experiences have been pretty good. [Du Quoin] was probably the smallest track I’ve ever been on in a Midget, so going there – with a new team and a new car that I ran with at the time – was tough just to get ahold of it right then. It was a one-day show back then, so it was like as soon as you get on the track, you better know what you’re doing and how your car is gonna handle, because you don’t have much time to get ready for it.
Going now with the 7U Trifecta Motorsports guys, we have a really good package for running indoor stuff, coming off Chili Bowl and other small-track stuff. With the good runs we had at Port City and I-44 and places like that, I’m ecstatic. I think we should have a good run.
Crum: It’s been good so far. We’ve had a lot of good luck there, so that’s been nice. Our last couple races there, we’ve got a third and a second, so we’re pretty happy with the luck we’ve had there. It’s definitely a fun track. With the tight-quarters racing, you need things to go your way.
What makes the Center different from other indoor venues you’ve raced?
Daum: The size is so much smaller than anywhere else we race at. It’s so much narrower; just everything about it is smaller. The corners are tighter, the straightaways are narrower. Once you get into the middle of the corner, it’s actually really wide, but you can’t run there because the way the walls are squared-off. It’s not a circle, so it never really builds a cushion like you would see at most racetracks.
Jones: To me, Du Quoin is really flat. Chili Bowl has got some banking, but Du Quoin is real flat. In years prior, the inside berm at Du Quoin – from watching past videos and my previous experiences there – it’s kinda different every time you go there. Sometimes it’s real flat and [almost] non-existent. Sometimes, it’s built-up a little like Chili Bowl’s a little bit. And sometimes, it’s like a mountain – six-foot high staring at you when you’re running around the bottom.
Crum: It’s definitely the smallest track we race at in Midgets. I’ve never raced there in a Micro, but for the Midgets, it’s definitely the smallest track we race at on the schedule, so that makes it pretty unique. It’s really tight corners, really tight straightaways, so it’s really close-quarters racing. Even smaller than the Chili Bowl. It makes for a lot of side-by-side action.
How do you approach racing the track, knowing its close quarters and narrow straights, compared to a typical outdoor track?
Daum: The biggest deal when going into Du Quoin is just being able to keep your head on top of your shoulders. It’s real easy to get mad there. It’s real easy to get frustrated. You know somebody’s gonna run into you. You know somebody’s gonna hit you. You just know it’s gonna happen. Just try to keep your anger level at a minimum. It’s hard to do.
I know I’ve gotten pissed-off there before. I think me and [Bryan] Clauson actually crashed each other out of transfer spots, ended up both getting parked in a qualifier race one year.
Jones: I pretty much tackle it like I do Chili Bowl. Pretty much, go out there and try the make the most of your Heat Race. It all starts off on the Heat Race. If you don’t have a good Heat Race, you’re gonna be plugged back. Depending on how you did in Qualifying, with Xtreme, that does help, but your Heat Race is everything.
[You’ve got to] stay out of trouble, for one, but you’ve also got to pass cars. You’ve got to be aggressive, you’ve gotta pass cars, because if you just stay stagnant – fifth-to-fifth – that isn’t gonna cut it.
Crum: Points early in Qualifying and Heat Races is always important, but I think here, it’s especially important. You wanna put yourself in a good position to start toward the front of the Feature, because track position is hard to come by. With so many good cars and such a tight track, it gets hard to pass.
How do you like your chances this weekend?
Daum: I really don’t. We’ve been okay, but never won a race there. But, we had never won a race at Port City, either [until last year]. We’ve got a brand-new car, brand-new motor – everything’s a brand-new package to me. We’re gonna feel it out early in the night, and hopefully, we put ourselves in a good enough position that we can make something happen.
Jones: At first, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. Whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen, so you’ve got to start looking forward to it. Not only that, but start figuring out ways to get better, or start preparing yourself to make the most out of your time there.
Crum: Overall, I feel really good about our team. As far as our chances this weekend, I think it’s gonna come down to having the kind of good luck we need. There’s going to be so many good cars and it’s going to be really difficult, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. That’s why we go; we love the competition.
Tickets for the 2023 Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series presented by Toyota season opener at Southern Illinois Center are available at the gate on race day. If you can’t be at the track, catch all the action live on DIRTVision.