By: Kip Ripley
A solid crowd turned out Saturday night at Rockford Speedway and were greeted with outstanding weather and a thrilling night of short track racing.
Side-by-side action and close finishes were the name of the game on this night, with each feature race providing its own unique sort of drama.
STANLEY STEEMER NASCAR LATE MODELS
Two-time and reigning NASCAR Late Model track champion Michael Bilderback returned to action on Saturday evening and made his presence known. After qualifying second, Bilderback accepted the $400 Gerber Collision and Glass Ultimate Challenge and was slotted in the 11th and final starting spot in the 30 lap Late Model main event. When the dust settled, it was Bilderback standing tall in victory lane with his fifteenth feature win since 2015 after taking the lead late in the race following a thrilling duel with ‘Driver X’ Jon Reynolds Jr.
Dennis Smith Jr paced the field early, taking the early lead from polesitter Jeff Wakeman. As Smith slipped out to the early advantage, the rest of the field began to wage war. The first yellow flag flew on lap 7, bringing the balance of the field back to Smith’s bumper. Five laps after the initial restart, Reynolds swung into the lead and by the race’s halfway point, Bilderback was in second place.
The final yellow of the race flew on lap 17 and set the stage for the epic finish, which not only included Reynolds and Bilderback but also Alex Papini, in pursuit of his third straight win. On the restart, Reynolds was able to give himself a small yet short lived cushion. Bilderback soon chased down the leader and over the course of the final ten laps, the two racers put on a terrific side-by-side race with Papini right on their bumpers.
With three laps remaining, Bilderback was able to nose ahead for the lead, taking the top spot for himself with two laps to go. When the checkered flag flew, it was Bilderback beating Reynolds to the line by two carlengths. Bilderback not only claimed the $400 Ultimate Challenge Bonus, but also an additional $100 bonus courtesy of L&B Coin and Collectables.
Reynolds and Papini both continued their solid starts to the year. Reynolds started the race eighth and finished second for a second straight week, while Papini went from seventh to third and also was the evening’s fast qualifier. Smith came home in fourth for a second straight week while Jake Gille rounded out the top five.
MILLER LITE AMERICAN SHORT TRACKERS
Franc Beldowski finished of an impressive night on an impressive note, sweeping the evening in the Miller Lite American Short Tracker division thanks in part to a last lap, last corner pass for the win.
Beldowski started the evening by claiming his second fast qualifier award of the year and then won the CoLin Metals Fast Dash. Beldowski would later go on to win his heat race, setting himself up for the clean sweep and a possible $100 bonus from Rosebud Transportation if he could complete the sweep.
Beldowski’s quest for the broom would not be easy, starting the race from the eighth spot while also trying to contest with last week’s feature winner Aaron Rude. Rude, who started ninth, got to the front first, passing Destiny Genore for the lead on lap seven. As the race neared halfway, Beldowski found the front and began to challenge Rude for the lead. Things got serious in the last five laps of the race, when the drivers swapped the lead officially three times in five laps and unofficially once every corner. Rude led by a bumper at the white flag, but pushed his Ford Pinto just a little too high in the first and second corner, giving Beldowski a glimmer of hope. The two drivers raced through turns three and four with Beldowski taking the lead and the win at the finish line by half a car length.
The victory was Beldowski’s second of the season, while Rude turned in a second straight solid finish after a rough opening night. Todd Snow was the big winner late in the race, using the final restart to move himself from eighth to third. The third place finish was Snow’s best career result in the Short Tracker division. Genore, a Rookie of the Year contender, ended the race a solid fourth place, while Steve Dickson rounded out the top five.
Chad Lounsbury threw the monkey off his back in emphatic fashion, winning the caution-free 20 lap Roadrunner feature by over a straightaway. While Lounsbury sailed off into the night, wild battles raged for second and fourth. Nick Schneider held off a furious charge from Opening Night winner Arlyn Roush to claim second place, while Roush settled for third. Justin Wagner had to withstand a three-wide tussle for fourth position, holding off Kevin Memoli and Robby Robinson.
ILLINI RACING SERIES MIDGETS
Joliet’s Scott Koerner led flag-to-flag in the 15 lap Midget feature while holding off a persistent challenge from Tom Eyman in route to the win. Eyman settled for second while Doug Orseske claimed third.