By: Eric Huenefeld
With so many championships and major race victories scattered throughout the Entry List for the 52nd National Short Track Championships, some might find it odd to call this year’s race a ‘wide open’ affair.
But with all that experience and all those wins, just a total of three past champions are represented in this season’s field, meaning it’s indeed ‘open season’ for several entrants as they vie for the honor of ‘wearing the wreath’ on Sunday.
One past NSTC champion with the most to prove this weekend may be “Driver X” Jon Reynolds Jr. A winner of the 50th Anniversary event and runner up in the 48th edition, the Loves Park resident looked to be the man to beat in last year’s 200 lap race, leading nearly half the event until mechanical gremlins forced his car pitside and ended his run at two in a row. This season, Reynolds is one of three drivers vying for the $1500 Stanley Steemer ‘Late Model Challenge’ bonus. If one driver can win all three Late Model races this weekend, they’ll head home with over $10,000 in prize money.
Michael Bilderback is another driver gunning for the Late Model Challenge bonus, while also eyeing up his first ever win in the 200 lap race. Bilderback came closest to victory at NSTC in the 2010 edition of the event and is still looking to become one of just a handful of people to win the Spring Classic, All Star 100 and National Short Track Championship 200 in their career. As the winningest Big 8 Late Model Series driver in the last three years, Bilderback looks to use that momentum to carry him to victory on Sunday.
With second place finishes in his last two Super Late Model races at Rockford Speedway, Austin Nason is ready to take the next step and collect the largest win in his young career. A runner up to Casey Johnson in last year’s 200 lap race, Nason almost all the laps of this summer’s All Star 100 before Ty Majeski stole the win in the late laps. A win by Nason would make him the second youngest NSTC 200 champion, behind only Mark Martin.
A strong contingent from the state of Wisconsin is eyeing victory this weekend at NSTC, led by the likes of Dennis Prunty and Rich Bickle. Prunty, a former Slinger Nationals and Dixieland 250 champion, is one of the toughest Super Late Model competitors in the Midwest and has his eyes firmly planted on leaving Rockford with the money and the trophy. Bickle, the two-time National Short Track Champion and five-time Snowball Derby champion, is always tough at Rockford and is looking to become just one of five drivers to win the National Short Track Championships three or more times.
Brad ‘JJ’ Mueller was a top five finisher last year and has been close in years past, but has yet to taste victory at Rockford Speedway. In a career that has seen three Slinger Speedway championships as well as multiple successes in Dirt Late Model racing, an NSTC conquest for Mueller would be a career-topper. Young Wisconsinite Alex Prunty has made quite an impact in a short time behind the wheel of a Super Late Model, running as high as second is last year’s NSTC, then following that with two feature wins this year, a runner up at Slinger Nationals as well as a third place finish in the final standings at the ‘Worlds Fastest Quarter Mile‘ this summer.
Other contenders gunning for glory this weekend at National Short Track Championships include 2009 race winner Josh Nelms, multi-time podium finisher and track record holder Brian Johnson Jr, 15-year-old Grant Greisbach and multi-time Mid American champion and 2017 Midwest Truck Series champion James Swan.
The 52nd Annual National Short Track Championships take place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday September 29, 30 and October 1 at Rockford Speedway. Friday’s “Opening Night” features five divisions and gets going at a NEW start time of 6 PM. “Short Track Saturday Night” takes the green at 5 PM and includes a 108 lap Big 8 Late Model Series race plus Super Late Model preliminaries, Great Northern Sportsman Series and Northern Vintage Racers. “Championship Sunday” goes green at 12:30 PM and is headlined by the 200 lap National Short Track Championship and is accompanied by the Mid-American Stock Car Series and American Super Cups.
For more information on the 52nd Annual National Short Track Championships or to order tickets in advance, please call 815-633-1500 or visit rockfordspeedway.com.