By: Kip Ripley
After waiting a full week due to weather, the Rockford Speedway finally opened its 70th Anniversary season with Opening Night this past Saturday. The night featured great weather and terrific action and five divisions of racers entertaining fans in attendance. When the dust settled on the busy season opener, some familiar faces found their way to victory lane, accomplishing that feat in a variance of ways.
STANLEY STEEMER NASCAR LATE MODELS
Wayne Freimund, a two-time feature winner in 2016, started the new year off in grand fashion, collecting the win in the 30 lap NASCAR Late Model feature, holding off several challenges and surviving a race full of twists and turns. Freimund started the race from outside the front row and battled during the race’s first six laps with polesitter Dennis Smith Jr for the lead. The top six cars battled side-by-side during the first six laps before the yellow flag flew for Jon Reynolds Jr’s stopped vehicle. Reynolds would rejoin the field at the tail and begin his charge back to the front. Over the course of the next five laps, Matt Berger and Michael Bilderback busted to the front of the field and began a tight battle for the lead. On the eleventh lap, Bilderback and Berger collected outside of turn four, sending Berger spinning and bringing out the yellow flag. The incident sent both drivers to the back of the pack. On the ensuing restart, three-time Track Champion Jerry Gille took the lead and seemed to be on-track for a season opening win. Yet Gille’s chance to win ended with six laps to go, as his vehicle coasted to the infield, handing the lead back to Freimund, who went on to score the victory. Reynolds charged back to take second place, while Smith finished a career-best third. Berger and Bilderback charged back too, finishing fourth and fifth respectively. Reynolds also set the new Late Model Track Record in qualifying earlier in the evening.
MILLER LITE AMERICAN SHORT TRACKERS
Two-time and reigning Track Champion Nick Cina Jr returned to a familiar spot on Saturday night, as the Belvidere native collected the victory in the 25 lap Short Tracker main event. Cina was in the middle of a tight pack of cars battling for the lead in the first half of the race, a pack which broke apart on lap 13, when Keith Pierce slowed at the front of the field and was the contacted, creating a scatter of race cars behind him. Just three vehicles were impacted in the incident, including Pierce who led the first 13 laps, along with Todd Snow and Franc Beldowski. When the race resumed, Cina sprinted ahead of the cars that remained on track and cruised to the win. Second-year racer Kyle Voss finished a career-best second and was followed by 2015 Track Champion Zach Rodriguez in third. Shannon Stotlz soldiered to a fourth place finish, while David Russell rounded out the top five.
It was quite a debut for Duane Lounsbury in the Bandit division, as the Beloit resident set fast time and won the opening night feature for the four cylinder division. Lounsbury took the lead of the 20 lap race near the halfway point of the race and held off a late race charge from Destiny Genore on his way to victory lane. Genore finished a close second, with Terry Ciano third, Dan Schmeissing fourth and Bart Brockmann fifth.
Josh Thiering took the lead on lap 8 of the 20 lap Roadrunner feature and outran Kevin Memoli for the win in a caution-free event. Thiering and Memoli were followed by Richie Schinderling in third, Robert Roush in fourth and Adam Cartwright in fifth.
WINGED WOMEN ON WHEELS
Cassy Frisch led the 12 lap Winged Women feature from start to finish, outrunning Destiny Genore for the win.