Ballou Going Dirt Silver Crown Racing With Hans Lein


Robert Ballou (Josh James Artwork photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – Wisconsin-based team owner Hans Lein has tabbed Robert Ballou as the driver of his familiar No. 97 for the seven dirt races on the USAC Silver Crown Series schedule this year.

From Rocklin, Calif., Ballou has long been known for his success in the AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series, serving as both driver and owner and earning 37 feature victories – as well as the 2015 USAC national sprint car championship – along the way.

However, Ballou’s experience in USAC Silver Crown Champ Car racing is more limited. He’s made just 16 Silver Crown starts over 12 years from 2010 to 2021, with a career-best of second at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway in 2012.

That doesn’t mean Ballou hasn’t been painfully close to victory in a Silver Crown car. He led 80 of the 100 laps at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds ‘Magic Mile’ before his fuel tank ran dry from the top spot.

The heartbreaker still lives in Ballou’s mind, but he feels that his new opportunity with Lein provides him with the best opportunity of his career to check a Silver Crown win off of his USAC to-do list.

“If I couldn’t get into a car that was capable [of winning] or build my own, then I wasn’t ever going to do it again,” Ballou said regarding his Silver Crown comeback after a three-year hiatus. “I truly believe that this car is more than capable. With Greg Nelson being the crew chief, his resume speaks for itself.

“Hans (Lein) has had unbelievable racecars for about 40 years now. I think we should jell pretty well.”

The back-and-yellow, Lein-owned No. 97 is a two-time Silver Crown winner with multi-time sprint car champion Tyler Courtney, first at the 2017 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora and then again in the 2019 Hoosier Hundred at the now-defunct Indiana State Fairgrounds dirt mile.

Last year, California young gun Mitchel Moles wheeled the entry, earning the pole at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway but failing to crack the winner’s circle.

For Ballou, who regularly works on his own sprint cars, this Silver Crown effort will be a change in mindset and workload for him. With Lein’s shop based in Wisconsin, Ballou will be roughly 300 miles away in Tipton, Ind., and unable to lay his own hands on the racecar nearly as often.

“It’s hard,” Ballou acknowledged of focusing solely on driving. “Ricky Thornton Jr. got asked that question a couple weeks ago, when he drove the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports midget at the Chili Bowl. He’s pretty hands on. He mounted his seat and asked them if they needed any help, and they said, ‘No, we’ve got it,’ so he got in his car and went home. He wasn’t sure what to do. It’s a similar situation here.

“This car is based in Wisconsin, so it’s not like I can go help out even if I wanted to. But Greg [Nelson, crew chief] doesn’t really need any help. He’s unbelievable,” Ballou added. “He builds a really nice racecar, and Hans gives him all the funding to make the thing fast.

“From there, it’s left up to the driver to do his job.”

The seven dirt tracks on the Silver Crown schedule range from a half-mile to two one-mile dirt ovals, larger tracks that tend to suit Ballou’s driving style. He has 16 career USAC national sprint car wins on half miles, seventh all-time in that category.

A driver who ran winged sprint cars against the deep California field in his younger years, Ballou cited keeping one’s car straight and momentum wound up as key skills that will aid him in his continued pursuit of Silver Crown success.

“I can only assume it’s just because I used to keep the car so straight,” Ballou said of his success on bigger dirt tracks. “I learned how to drive off the right front in a winged sprint car. It’s comforting to roll in straight and lean on the right front. As far as speed, you really don’t notice it, in a lot of respects.”

Ballou compares present-day Silver Crown racing to an extended sprint car feature over 50 to 100 miles.

He believes that will suit him just fine as he gears up to chase trophies this season.

“It’s a totally different type of racing nowadays; it’s gone more toward sprint car racing,” Ballou noted. “You used to run around for 80 laps, then get after it. It’s a sprint dang near the whole time, so a lot plays into it.”

Ballou’s first USAC Silver Crown Series race with Hans Lein and the No. 97 team will be at the Belleville (Kan.) High Banks on May 17-18.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.