By: Eric Huenefeld
On a perfect Fall-like evening at Rockford Speedway, five NASCAR championships were decided as part of Whelen Engineering’s ‘Night of Champions’ Saturday night. With a great crowd looking on, some of the season’s most dramatic racing unfolded. When the final checkered flag flew, three new Rockford Speedway track champions were crowned, while two drivers were fortunate enough to add additional track championships to their collection.
STANLEY STEEMER NASCAR LATE MODELS
25-year old Michael Bilderback became one of the youngest Track Champions in the history of Rockford Speedway, claiming his first Rockford Speedway championship in dominant fashion. The South Beloit resident outdistanced his competition by an impressive 104 points, while winning four Late Model features and setting fast time on ten different occasions. Along with all of that, Bilderback lowered the NASCAR Late Model track record to a 13.516 on May 28.
Despite a rough end to 2016, former track champion ‘Driver X’ Jon Reynolds Jr still was able to finish the season second in the championship standings. Reynolds, a three-time feature winner during 2016, also set fast time on three separate occasions. Last year’s track champion, Jake Gille, ended his season third in points while collecting two feature wins, including an unforgettable win on Opening Night. Adam Peschek ended the season with five top-five finishes in the final six races while also collecting his first-ever Rockford Speedway feature win in that stretch. That run was enough to push Peschek to fourth in the final standings while also giving the Oconomowoc Wisconsin driver the 2016 NASCAR Illinois State Rookie of the Year title. ‘Insane Wayne’ Freimund collected two feature wins during 2016 and ended the season fifth in Late Model points.
Despite not racing the last two events of 2016, Kelly Evink was awarded the Rockford Speedway Late Model Rookie of the Year. Evink finished the season seventh in Late Model point standings.
BARGAIN HUNTER SPORTSMAN
For the third straight year and the sixth time in his career, Brett McCoy is a Rockford Speedway track champion. McCoy, who took control of the points at mid-season, cruised to a 35 point victory in the race for the Sportsman title. McCoy was consistent as ever in his championship campaign, with two wins while never qualifying worse than third on any race night. Chris Jones not only captured the Rookie of the Year crown in the Sportsman class, but also finished his first season in the class with a runner up in points. Jones capped off his impressive Freshman effort with his third feature win of the year, one of three drivers to win three features during 2016. The other two drivers to capture three wins, Howie Ware and Chad Smith, finished the year third and fourth in points respectively. Smith collected more fast times than anyone else in the division throughout the year, taking top honors in qualifying six times. Cody Houseweart rounded out the top five in point standings, making it two rookies in the top five of Sportsman points.
MILLER LITE AMERICAN SHORT TRACKERS
The most dramatic point chase one “Night of Champions” took place in the Miller Lite American Short Tracker class. The two-man race for gold between Nick Cina Jr and Zach Rodriguez began with Cina leading the points by just four heading into “Night of Champions.” To add more drama, both drivers experienced mechanical issues throughout the night. Cina was plagued by carburetor issues, while transmission issues in Rodriguez’s car forced him into the seat of Bobby Frisch’s machine. Rodriguez made the most of his borrowed ride, setting fast time to start the night and cutting the deficit to three points by feature time. With Cina’s car sputtering, Rodriguez aggressively pursued every position, taking the point lead from Cina on-track with under ten laps to go. As Rodriguez pushed for second place with five laps to go, he made contact with Leo Bujak and ended up taking both cars to the wall and sent his machine airborne. Repairs were made, but Rodriguez’s chances for a second straight championship were gone.
Cina ended the race with a top-three finish despite an ill car and it was enough to give him a nine-point win in the championship chase. The championship was the second for Cina, who also took the top honors in the division in 2013. Rodriguez accepted second place in final points despite winning five features during the season, more than any driver in any division at Rockford Speedway. Aaron Rude came home in third place in Short Tracker points, picking up two wins in his ‘fabulous Ford Pinto.’
Keith Pierce ended his season in fine fashion, winning his first Short Tracker feature since July 4, 2012 on “Night of Champions.” The win also put Pierce fourth in points. Despite the incident with Rodriguez late in the race, Bujak came home fifth in points while also claiming his first Short Tracker feature win back in June.
Woodstock’s Kyle Voss finished the season seventh in points and was named the American Short Tracker Rookie of the Year.
The closest point battle ended up being the race for the Roadrunner championship, with Chris McQuality edging out Josh Thiering by just 8 points. McQuality used consistency to earn his first ever Rockford Speedway championship, winning one feature all season yet was always among the front runners by race’s end. McQuality’s toughest race may have been his last race, as he ran seventh late in the 20 lap feature, while Theiring threatened for the lead. McQuality made a late push though and came home with a sixth place run, while Thiering could only get to third.
The battle for the feature win on “Night of Champions” ended up deciding third and fourth place in Roadrunner points, as Adam Cartwright made a last-lap move on John Featherston for the win. Cartwright found himself with his fourth win on the year and a third place finish in the points, while Featherston ended the race second and ended the year fourth place in points. Duane Lounsbury came home fifth in Roadrunner points while Austin Fowler ended the season sixth. The top six in Roadrunner points ended 2016 separated by a mere 30 points.
SAM’S DRIVE IN ROADRUNNER CHALLENGE
Jeff Allendorf claimed his first championship in 18 years of racing, as he won the season long points in the Sam’s Drive In Roadrunner Challenge. John Featherston finished second in Challenge points, with Adam Cartwright third.