By: Eric Huenefeld
Jerry Reed sang it. Alex Papini is living it.
The old song goes “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.” It’s a phrase that perfectly describes the defending Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model track champion so far in 2014.
For a fourth consecutive week, the Machesney Park racer parked his Chevrolet in victory lane after storming through the field and claiming another 30 lap feature event at Rockford Speedway on Speedway Auto Mall ‘Salute to Military Night’ on Saturday. Papini made the charge from eighth place on this night, working past Jake Gille with six laps to go en route to the checkered flag.
Gille wrestled the lead from pole sitter Mark Hartline on lap three and settled into the top spot for several laps to follow. Behind him, the battle featured Papini, on a mission to get to the front yet again. Working past the likes of Jon Reynolds Jr, Wayne Friemund and Jerry Gille, Papini found himself in second spot just after halfway. At this point, Jake Gille’s lead was comfortable, but not insurmountable. Papini made small gains each lap, finally closing to the leaders back bumper with eight laps to go. After two laps of hard side-by-side racing, Papini maneuvered past Jake Gille with six laps to go. Papini was not yet out of the woods, as second place Gille mounted a challenge with two laps remaining, getting to Papini’s bumper, but never closer than that.
The victory was Papini’s 16th Late Model win in 13 months, while the second place finish was Jake Gille’s fourth top five in five races. Three-time track champion Jerry Gille finished third, followed by Jon Reynolds Jr in fourth and Wayne Freimund in fifth.
The Miller Lite American Short Tracker feature was one for the ages. Fifteen cars battled for 25 caution-free laps and when the dust settled, only a few feet separated the winner from his top challenger.
Five-time track champion George Sparkman captured his second straight victory in the four-cylinder division, narrowly holding off defending track champion Nick Cina Jr for the win. Sparkman started the 25 lapper in eleventh place, racing to the lead by lap 15. Behind him, Cina and opening night feature winner Kelly Evink were charging hard. Both drivers fought past former race leader Tom Gille and set their sights on Sparkman with time running out in the race. Cina stepped to the inside of Sparkman with three laps left to go and the two raced three-wide through lapped traffic on the way to the checkered flag. Sparkman held off Cina by half a car length at the line for the win. Evink came home third, with Gille fourth and Jason Dull fifth.
Stillman Valley’s Kyle McQuality was the top dog in the Kickstart Roadrunners Saturday night, racing past Dan Sander to take the lead of the 20 lap feature at the race’s halfway point, then holding off Sander for the win. The victory was McQuality’s third career Roadrunner feature win. Sander finished a season best second and was followed by Dennis Smith Jr, who jumped into the Roadrunner point lead thanks to a third place finish. Last week’s feature winner Trevor Robinson collected a fourth place finish, while Ricky Nielson came home fifth.
Aaron Willis Jr claimed victory in the 25 lap Illini Racing Series Midget feature, which featured a wild last lap. Willis took advantage of a late-race breakage on race leader and defending Illini Midget champion Patrick Bruns, then held off Scott Koerner for the trophy.
Mick Ellis won the 25 lap American Super Cup Series feature, holding off Brian Baldyga and Erle Hoth for the top honors. The race included a scary accident with 7 laps remaining, when Fast Qualifer Tony Rendina flipped his vehicle exiting turn four. Rendina was ok, but his required car needed the assistance of the flat bed to exit the track.