By: Eric Huenefeld
On the Opening Night of the 52nd National Short Track Championships (NSTC) Friday at Rockford Speedway, two-time and reigning NASCAR Late Model Track Champion Michael Bilderback did his best to set the tone for “One Great Racing Weekend.”
Jumping to the lead on lap 16 of the 40 lap Weekly Warrior Late Model feature race, Bilderback stormed to victory and put himself one step closer to perhaps a bigger payday on Sunday afternoon.
With his Friday night conquest, Bilderback made himself eligible for the Stanley Steemer ‘Late Model Challenge” Bonus, paying $1500 to any driver who can win all three Late Model races at NSTC this year.
Starting in the eleventh position, Bilderback moved ahead of outside pole sitter Jake Gille on the seventeenth circuit. Following a caution at lap 20, Bilderback was able to leave his competition in the dust on the restart, paving the way to his second career NSTC victory.
Fast Qualifier Bobby Wilberg looked to be the car to beat most of the evening, and had a strong run, moving from his tenth starting position to second by lap six. Wilberg challenged Gille for the lead throughout the first 10 laps, before Bilderback was able to get past him and eventually GIlle too. Wilberg settled for second place with three-time Track Champion Jerry Gille finishing a solid third, followed by Jake Gille in fourth. Iowa teenager Brody Willett rounded out the top five.
In the Sportsman 35 lap main event, ‘Magic Shoes’ Trevor Robinson got out front early and held off all challenges on the way to his first ever win at NSTC. Robinson started outside the front row and raced to a nearly half-straightaway lead at one point in the event. Robinson appeared to be in good shape until the only yellow flag of the race flew on lap 29, bunching the field up for one last six-lap run. On the restart, Robinson did what was needed and held on for the victory. Johnny Robinson II finished the race in second, completing the second one-two sweep of the season for the Robinson team. Track champion Chad Smith came home in third, followed by Jeremy Wolff in fourth. Wolff, who started 13th, got to the track right as racing began following his five-plus hour commute from Minnesota. Cody Houseweart rounded out the top five.
The most thrilling race of the night may have been the 35 lap American Short Tracker feature, won by Nick Cina Jr. A caution-free race with furious side-by-side action throughout, included a frantic late-race rumble for the lead between Cina and race-long leader Ryan Nelson. Nelson, in pursuit of his second NSTC win, held off multiple challenges from Cina over the course of the final 15 laps, but saw the handling of his machine fall off just enough in the final three laps to lose the lead to a relentless Cina. Nelson fell to third at the checkers, with Track Champion Zach Rodriguez slipping into second with a last lap move. Five-time Track Champion George Sparkman finished fourth, followed by Aaron Rude in fifth.
Richie Schinderling finished his Roadrunner racing career in the biggest way possible, take the victory in a thrilling 25 lap Roadrunner feature event. Schinderling slipped to the lead ahead of polesitter Shawn Rickelman on lap six and held off numerous challenges from Track Champion Josh Theiring for most for most of the race, before a loose wheel cost Thiering his shot at a tenth win of 2017. Schinderling then got a late challenge from Robert Roush for the win, with Roush coming just a carlength short of first place. Rickelman was third, with Dave Lumsden Jr fourth and Justin Wagner rounding out the top five.
‘Chargin Charlie’ Frisch won his second career Hornet/Bandit Challenge, outlasting another former event winner Dave Schmidt for the top honors in the 25 lap showdown. Bandit Track Champion Kelsey Dobbs placed third, with Terry Ciano Jr and Ashley Matts rounding out the top five.