INDIANAPOLIS – After playing the role of runner-up in other USAC point battles, Tracy Hines finally came through by winning the Coors Light Silver Bullet Series title in 2000.
Hines, the National Midget runner-up in 1996 and 1997 and the National Sprint Car runner-up in 1999, proved to be one of the most consistent drivers of the 2000 season, as he also finished in the top-five of the Stoops Freightliner National Sprint Car and MCI Worldcom National Midget points.
“The Silver Bullet Series was our major goal this season,” Hines revealed. “I didn’t have a midget ride and I knew we’d be a contender in the sprint cars, but I figured the Silver Bullets would be the best shot of the three as far as a championship.”
It might have been the best shot of the three, but it was certainly not easy. Hines was part of a fantastic three-way battle that also included eventual runner-up Dave Darland and Brian Tyler.
However, Hines signaled his status as a favorite early in the season when he scored back-to-back wins at Nazareth and Gateway.
Tyler, the early point leader, lost ground when the series hit the dirt later in the year, while Darland surged into the lead. Hines gained momentum heading toward the end of the year because he and his team enjoyed great consistency both on the dirt and pavement.
When Darland led with only two races remaining following a victory at the Cal Expo State Fairgrounds in Sacramento, Calif., Hines wasn’t too stressed about the task at hand.
“I wasn’t too worried toward the end of the year because our dirt program picked up so much,” Hines explained. “I figured if we could run as well on the dirt as we had on the pavement, we’d be in contention.”
Hines cut deeply into Darland’s lead at the penultimate event in Irwindale, but it was more of a triumph than some may have noticed. Hines had struggled at Irwindale in 1999 but came back with numerous changes to the car this year.
The calculated gamble worked for Hines, who is no stranger to crafting setups on a car. He and his team headed to the final race of the season at Memphis trailing Darland by only five points.
Hines and his team went on to finish second to Brian Tyler at Memphis, and he won the title by only 29 points. It finally put all the close calls behind him.
“I think the biggest thing is that it pretty much puts a close to all the if’s, should’s, would’s and could’s of the past few years,” Hines noted.
Hines was quick to thank Terry Riggs and the entire crew that worked on the car, including Jim McQueen, who helped engineer the team’s impressive run on the dirt. Finally, M&M Automotive provided what Tracy described as “great motors.”
Darland finished 15th at the Memphis finale to take the runner-up spot in the standings ahead of Tyler, who claimed victories in the series opener and closer at Walt Disney World and Memphis, respectively.
Fourteen races at 13 tracks comprised the series schedule, with 10 drivers tasting victory.
The series kicked off with a flourish after rain at Walt Disney World Speedway forced a 43-car starting field – the largest in series history.
Additional highlights of the season included Brad Noffsinger’s then-ultimate series track record of 143.930 mph at Gateway Int’l Raceway, car owner Ralph Potter’s first series triumph with Jay Drake at Knoxville Raceway and Jack Hewitt’s 23rd and final Silver Crown win at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
The Knoxville race marked a return for the series to the track for the first time in 19 years.
Kasey Kahne’s wire-to-wire victory in his first visit to the DuQuoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds helped him collect the Oliver Trucking USAC Silver Crown Rookie of the Year award.
Meanwhile, John Heydenreich claimed Most Improved Driver honors with eight top-10 finishes in 14 starts.