By: Kip Ripley
As far as the climate was concerned, it was a frigid night at Rockford Speedway.
As for the action on the track, Saturday night was one of the hottest in recent memory.
Each feature event provided its own special brand of excitement, with side-by-side racing and late race drama the name of the game.
STANLEY STEEMER NASCAR LATE MODELS
2013 Rockford Speedway Track Champion Alex Papini has made his presence known early in 2018. The Rockford resident is now 2-for-2 in the Late Model division following a frantic final 8 laps of the division’s 30 lap feature.
Papini worked his way into the top three during the first 22 laps of caution-free racing. But while the two-time NASCAR State Champion made his way forward, as many as six other drivers in the twelve car starting field were making their push to challenge for the win, resulting in a full-fledged Battle Royal for the top positions.
The only caution flag of the race flew on lap 22 for Jeff Wakeman’s spun vehicle, which set up the push to the finish. Right before the yellow flag, teenager Max Kahler moved past Dennis Smith Jr to inherit the race lead. With Kahler and Smith occupying the top two spots, Papini and 2014 Track Champion Jon Reynolds Jr lined up behind them for the ensuing restart. Papini was quick to get by Smith and Reynolds soon followed. Papini then set his sights on Kahler and the duo wrestled for the top spot for the final six circuits. Coming to the white flag, Papini nosed ahead of Kahler at the line to take the lead and finished the job in turn two. The final scrape for the lead sent Kahler up the banking and opened the door for Reynolds to slip into second place.
Papini hit the line in first, with Reynolds taking home runner-up honors. Kahler settled for third, his second straight top-three finish to start the season. Smith ended up in fourth while Matt Berger rounded out the top five.
The race saw five different leaders in just 30 short laps while Papini and Reynolds charged from their 10th and 9th starting positions to take the top two positions.
BARGAIN HUNTER SPORTSMAN
The Bargain Hunter Sportsman feature saw early fireworks, followed by a race-long struggle for the win.
Terrance Robinson and Howie Ware battled hard for the lead in the race’s first six laps, before trading blows and eventually bringing out the race’s first and only yellow flag. The incident gave the lead to third-year Sportsman racer Cody Houseweart, who had the duty of holding off a small yet mighty field of challengers. Houseweart’s main challenge came from Johnny Robinson II, who eventually ripped the lead away from Houseweart on lap 12. After initially stepping out to a steady lead, Robinson heard the footsteps of Houseweart again in the race’s final five laps. Robinson held off his challenger’s late advances to capture the win, his first of the season. Houseweart finished a distant second, with 2017 Track Champion Chad Smith third. Rookie Sportsman racer Richie Schinderling placed fourth while Ware returned to action and soldiered to a fifth place finish.
MILLER LITE AMERICAN SHORT TRACKERS
Aaron Rude and his ‘Fabulous Ford Pinto’ outran opening night winner Franc Beldowski to claim victory in the 25 lap main event for the Short Trackers. Rude, who started in eighth position, got to the front on lap 10 and led the rest of the way. A mid-race yellow flag aided Beldowski, who was stuck in traffic early and fell back to eighth place. Beldowski’s furious charge came up just short though with a second place result.
Rookie Destiny Genore turned in an impressive effort which resulted in a third place finish. Todd Snow led the race’s first nine laps and finished in fourth place, while David Russel rounded out the top five.
Austin Fowler and Nick Schneider traded the lead and traded paint for most of the 20 lap Kickstart Roadrunner feature with Fowler eventually coming out on top in the tussle. Officially the duo traded the lead four times in twelve laps before Fowler claimed the top spot for good on the 16th circuit.
Schneider came across the line in second right behind Fowler, with Brett Garnhardt finishing a solid third. Justin Wagner collected fourth while Robby Robinson rounded out the top five.
Devin Opsahl won the Roadrunner Challenge ‘Forward/Backward Race.’