By Jordan Kuehne
LOVES PARK, Ill. (Sunday, October 3rd, 2010) – It’s a good thing he filed that race entry. A week after filing a delayed entry for the 45th annual National Short Track Championships’ main event, Brett ‘the Jet’ Sontag flew into the winner's circle at the legendary Rockford Speedway today, leading the final 178 laps of the Super Late Models ‘Budweiser 200’ to put his name in the record books alongside legends like Joe Shear, Mark Martin, and Steve Carlson.
A year after knocking down the turn one wall in the midst of a mid-race charge through the field, Sontag made up for that disappointing showing with an exhibition in driving skill. ‘The Jet’ survived a late challenge from his Grundy County Speedway rival, three-time NSTC winner ‘Fast’ Eddie Hoffman, to wear the wreath. The Wheaton driver put heavy pressure on Sontag after roaring back into the picture out of nowhere, coming from a lap down to second in just over 100 laps to cap off a second consecutive comeback for the ages. Hoffman’s chance for a fourth National Short Track Championship fell a few feet short as an action-packed, fast-paced race finished with a flurry of cautions that made the dash to the checkers an exhilarating experience for drivers and fans alike.
In the second big event on the final day of ‘One Great Racing Weekend’, James Swan claimed the Mid-American Stock Car Series ‘Mtn Dew 75’. Swan gracefully found his way into victory lane using the same car that had flipped over at Madison International Speedway just a week ago, inheriting the lead late and easing to the finish from there.
Rockford Speedway regular Jerry Gille jumped out front when the green flag waved on the Super Late Models ‘Budweiser 200’, leading a 26 car field to the start of the showcase event at the 45th annual National Short Track Championships at the historic high banked oval.
Fast qualifier and new track record holder Brian Johnson Jr. quickly navigated from his ninth place starting spot up to seventh by lap five, eyeing another spot as former ASA Midwest Tour champion Nathan Haseleu rode around in sixth.
Chicagoland racing veteran Brett ‘the Jet’ Sontag pressured Gille out front as he eyed the top spot in the early stages of the marathon event. Sontag tapped the left rear quarter panel of Gille on lap 22 and eased past him on the inside of turn one to assume command of the race. Gille slipped from first to fifth after getting hung out to dry on the outside. Steve Apel, Tommy Pecaro, and ‘Lightning’ Lowell Bennett comprised the remainder of the top five with 30 laps in the books.
Rich Bickle forced his way up to eighth, muscling past Michael Bilderback as Sontag worked his way through lap traffic. Apel’s second place run came to an early end on lap 38 when his controlling arm broke sending the Slinger Super Speedway regular for a hard ride along the turn two outside wall and bringing out the first caution of the 200-lap event.
Sontag shot out on the restart to a nice cushion as Bilderback and Bickle battled for seventh. Bilderback snagged the spot as Haseleu set his sights on Jerry Gille and fourth place. The former ASA Midwest Tour champ grabbed the position on the inside with 50 laps in the books, maneuvering past Gille on the inside of turn two. Gille couldn’t get on the brakes fast enough in the next turn though, sending Haseleu around and careening into the turn three concrete to force the second caution.
Several drivers couldn’t escape the carnage as a couple of wheelmen in the top ten, Dave Feiler and Jon Reynolds Jr, saw their shot at glory end early. Billy Knippenberg Jr. and Steve Campbell were also involved in the incident but both managed to return before the restart.
When the green flag waved, Lowell Bennett peeked to the inside of Tommy Pecaro as the seven-time Slinger champ sized up the second spot. Stuck on the inside however, Bennett surrendered third to Brian Johnson Jr. as teammate Michael Bilderback followed the new track record holder into fourth.
‘Fast’ Eddie Hoffman brought out the third caution with 82 laps completed after he did an involuntary donut through the backstretch grass. Hoffman barely managed to return before falling into the clutches of the leaders and going a lap down as the field quickly approached the mandatory caution around the halfway mark.
Johnson Jr. reined in Pecaro for second just five laps after the restart but got caught on the bottom of the track trying to make a move, costing the 2009 ARCA West champion the third position as Bilderback took his place in the top three. It wasn’t long before Pecaro ended up succumbing to both Super Seal teammates when he kissed the fourth turn retaining wall and spun across the nose of Michael Bilderback, bringing out the mandatory caution with 98 laps to go.
When the 15 minute intermission came to a close, it was Brett ‘the Jet’ leading the 19 remaining cars back to green on lap 102. Sontag quickly worked his way to a two car length cushion over Bilderback out front. Behind the leaders, ‘Fast’ Eddie Hoffman restarted the race 14th and wasted no time ascended to 11th, passing three cars in nine laps as the Wheaton driver targeted the top ten.
A fifth caution flew with 82 circuits remaining when Chris Wimmer’s broken steering sent him into the tire protecting the point near the exit to the pits. When the racing resumed with 77 laps left, Johnson Jr. gave a few nudges to his teammate as he let the young Bilderback know he was there. Just four laps later, Wayne Freimund and Billy Knippenberg Jr. made contact on the entrance to turn one, shooting Knippenberg Jr. hard into the wall and sending him back to the pits on the hook.
The restart with 65 laps remaining went the way of the leader as Sontag jetted to a three car length lead as Bilderback and Johnson Jr. tangled for second once again. Johnson Jr. got side-by-side with the young gun on lap 150 but Bilderback slammed the door shut while Brett ‘the Jet’ took advantage of the duel between teammates to extend his advantage over the field.
Outside the top five, Hoffman’s march through the field hit a feverish pitch as he overtook Steve Dobbratz, Jeremy Spoonmore, Ryan Carlson, and defending National Short Track Champion Josh Nelms in the short span of five laps, maneuvering his way up to seventh with 40 laps remaining. A few laps later, Hoffman passed his 38th car of the day, knocking State Park Speedway titlist Chris Weinkauf down to seventh as he jumped up another spot.
Johnson Jr’s patience finally expired on lap 175 as he finally took matters into his own hands, moving his teammate up the racetrack in turn three and driving underneath to snag second as Bilderback got shuffled back to fifth. ‘Lightning’ Lowell Bennett closed up to Johnson Jr’s back bumper a couple laps later as Bickle joined the battle for second.
The sixth caution of the race for a solo Erik Pierce spin made everyone on the track happy except for leader Brett Sontag, who was forced to witness his straightaway lead evaporate with 19 laps to go. The racing action got chippy with 12 laps left as Sontag checked out from the field again. Hoffman’s charge continued, this time at the expense of Michael Bilderback who was sent into the turn one outside wall by an aggressive maneuver before exiting to the pits with a flat tire.
Rich Bickle got a little too eager with six circuits left, bringing out the seventh caution when the 1990 National Short Track Champion turned Lowell Bennett around battling for third. ‘Fast’ Eddie was the main beneficiary jumping up to third and immediately challenging Johnson Jr. for second. Hoffman took the spot with four laps left as Sontag cruised to a comfortable lead.
That cushion proved to be the difference as Hoffman’s amazing run through the field fell one spot and a few laps short. Brett ‘the Jet’ Sontag soared into the history books, starting out front and finishing there, becoming the National Short Track Champion in the 45th rendition of the legendary racing weekend. Sontag celebrated with a burnout on his victory lap, becoming the second consecutive Chicagoland driver to wear the wreath after the NSTC main event.
“I got some heat in the tires and we just took of,” an ecstatic Sontag stated after the win. “This thing had good bite up off the corners and I have to thank my crew. They really helped me get this car in good shape this weekend. Jerry gave me a great battle there (for the lead). Winning a couple of Bettenhausen Memorials was a big deal but (becoming National Short Track Champion) this moves to the top of the win list.”
Taking the race by storm over the second half of the event, Hoffman went from a lap down in 14th to second over the final 98 laps weaving a memorable comeback for the second straight year. Hoffman made a remarkable 42 passes for position over the course of 200 laps, rallying through the field twice to grab his runner-up finish.
“I put myself in a tough spot there after the knucklehead driver bounced it off the wall,” Hoffman admitted in the post-race interview. “The crew got me back out there and busted their butts to get things back together after we busted the trailing arm bracket but I did it just like last year charging back to the front (last year to finish third). We need a 300 lapper here again so I can get up there in time. The car just got hooked up as good as it has been at the end there and with 50 laps to go, there’s no points in saving the tires so I just went for it.”
Chris Weinkauf, fresh off a title at the new State Park Speedway, found his way onto the podium after Josh Nelms was disqualified during post-race inspection. Weinkauf’s third place finish came after the Wisconsin driver rode around in the top ten for most of the day avoiding trouble. Rockford Speedway veteran Ryan Carlson escaped trouble to finish fourth, following Nelms and Weinkauf to the front in the late stages after hanging around the middle of the pack for much of the day. Rio, Wisconsin hotshoe Steve Dobbratz kept his nose clean and came on strong at the end to garner a top five with his fifth place effort.
Jeremy Spoonmore finished sixth before hopping right into his Mid-American Stock Car Series ride and pulling double duty while Steve Campbell rallied to end up seventh after an early race incident left the Chicagoland driver without a right side door panel. Behind Campbell, Lowell Bennett and Brian Johnson Jr. finished eighth and ninth respectively after their separate late race dustups. Erik Pierce scored a top ten after starting the day without a ticket to the big dance, advancing through the last chance race to finish tenth in the main event.
SWAN SOARS TO SECOND MID-AMERICAN NSTC WIN
(Story from MASCS writer Matt Panure)
James Swan is no longer an unlucky ducky. Just one week after flipping in a violent wreck at Madison International Speedway, Swan caught the breaks to secure his first Mid-American Stock Car Series National Short Track Championship win at Rockford Speedway since 2001.
Swan restarted in the preferred outside line on two consecutive restarts and avoided collecting the leader Jimmy Becker when his steering column broke while pacing the field on lap 33.
“Everything happened the way it needed to today,” Swan said. “It was just the exact opposite of the way the rest of the year has gone. I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right breaks and the car was good. That was all I could ask for.”
The win was hard-earned by Swan and his Brian Holtz owned team. A march to the checkered flag began last week when the team unloaded after the wreck at Madison and assessed the damage to Swan’s Monte Carlo.
“Jake (Finney) hit me in just the right spot,” Swan said, alluding to last week’s melee. “It bent the frame a little, but all the suspension and mounting points were still good. We did a lot of work this week and had a great weekend.”
Added to his second-place finish in Saturday’s Big 8 Late Model 108-lap feature, Swan lived Rockford’s “one great racing weekend” mantra for the NSTCs. “To win today was just phenomenal,” he said. “I never expected it and I’m happy as heck."
With the heavy lifting of repairs behind him, Swan’s workload picked up again when the green flag fell. Starting in the seventh spot Swan had to find ways around two-time Rockford winner Lyle Nowak and Spring Classic winner Mark Pluer.
As Becker paced the field from his outside-pole starting spot, Swan swung into the top five by the fifth circuit. The field spaced out and set a steady pace through the first 30 circuits with the top five breaking away. The complexion of the race began to change on lap 33 when Becker reeled in lapped traffic.
Just as Becker hit two-by-two lapped cars, Ron Vandemeier and Troy Shear Jr. made contact on the front straight. Vandemeier spun and brought out the first of seven cautions.
The restart pitted Becker against a second row with Bobby Gutknecht on the inside line and Mark Pluer on the outside. Pluer got the edge over Gutknecht and brought Swan along for the ride on the top side into third. Another caution on lap 36 set up Swan in perfect position to challenge Becker.
A caution right after the drop of the green for a three-car incident stalled Swan’s charge on Becker. He was granted a second chance on the restart and towed Lyle Nowak into the third spot behind Becker by the halfway point.
Challenging Becker over the next three circuits, Swan surveyed the dreaded inside groove. As Swan swung to the inside exiting turn four coming to lap 39, Becker suddenly slowed and veered toward the infield, almost collecting Swan. A steering shaft failure took Becker out of contention, but he would rejoin the tail of the field after the caution period.
Twelve laps after Swan led Nowak and Gutknecht back to green the caution was displayed for a Dave McCalla spin, giving Nowak another chance to hold pace with Swan. Over the final two restarts Swan continued to prove too strong to be challenged.
As Swan and Nowak logged laps up front, Tyler Bauknecht continued his ascent through the field. Mid-American’s leading rookie contender swiped the third spot from Gutknecht on lap 50, and gave several challenges to Nowak in the waning laps. While challenging Nowak, Bauknecht also had to deal with the advances of Kyle Shear who raced his way into the top four from his 11th-place starting spot.
Although the spots were heavily disputed over the final ten circuits, the top four remained the same behind Swan as the checkered was displayed. Brian Back made a last-lap pass of Bobby Gutknecht to round out the top five.
Swan was not the only driver to rebound from a rough Madison go. Nowak fared better than Swan with a top ten last week, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t work to be done on his Monte Carlo, as well. But perhaps a trip to Rockford was a good remedy.
“We had a long week in the garage after crashing at Madison last Saturday,” Nowak said. “I love the (Rockford Speedway) facility and the racetrack, but I was kind of nervous today. The car was good, but I was worried about getting caught up in a wreck or having a DNF because it’s pretty easy to do that here.”
Staying out of trouble and securing a second-place finish, Nowak built a 79-point lead over Brian Back. Should Nowak snag his 25 appearance points and five heat race points at La Crosse next week, he will clinch the 2010 MASCS championship, his first to be added to the list of 16 career championships.
“I wanted to try to put us in a really good spot at Rockford. In the past we have struggled a little bit at La Crosse and I didn’t want to have to worry about that,” Nowak said. “We’ve raced for a lot of championships in past years. To be able to compete with the level of competition that’s in the Mid-American Stock Car Series…I’m just thrilled.”
Rockford Speedway Results
45th Annual National Short Track Championships Day 3 of 3
Super Late Models ****UNOFFICIAL****
'Budweiser 200' -- 1. Brett Sontag, Joliet; 2. Eddie Hoffman, Wheaton; 3. Chris Weinkauf, Merrill, Wis; 4. Ryan Carlson, Loves Park; 5. Steve Dobbratz, Rio, Wis; 6. Jeremy Spoonmore, Somonauk; 7. Stevie Campbell, Lisle; 8. Lowell Bennett, Neenah, Wis; 9. Brian Johnson, Jr., Machesney Park; 10. Erik Pierce, Lake in the Hills; 11. Tommy Pecaro, Markesan, Wis; 12. Wayne Freimund, Elkhorn, Wis; 13. Michael Bilderback, South Beloit; 14. Rich Bickle, Janesville, Wis; 15. Robert Maynor, Colgate, Wis; 16. Jon Reynolds, Jr., Rockford; 17. Billy Knippenberg, Jr, Plainfield; 18. Chris Wimmer, Wausau, Wis; 19. Jack Kalwasinski, Dyer, Ind.; 20. Jerry Gille, Roscoe; 21. Nathan Haseleu, Pardeeville, Wis; 22. Dave Feiler, Sun Prairie, Wis; 23. Steve Apel, Colgate, Wis; 24. Jeff Weinfurter, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis; 25. Eddie May, Crystal Lake; 26. Josh Nelms, Lockport.
Last Chance "A" 01 -- 1. Josh Nelms, Lockport; 2. Jack Kalwasinski, Dyer, Ind.; 3. Jeff Weinfurter, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis; 4. Erik Pierce, Lake in the Hills; 5. Wayne Freimund, Elkhorn, Wis; 6. Robert Maynor, Colgate, Wis; 7. Trevor Tichy, Oswego.
Heat 01 -- 1. Chris Weinkauf, Merrill, Wis; 2. Ryan Carlson, Loves Park; 3. Josh Nelms, Lockport; 4. Jeff Weinfurter, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis; 5. Trevor Tichy, Oswego; 6. Chris Purdy, Milton, Wis; 7. Curt Tillman, Roscoe.
Heat 02 -- 1. Eddie Hoffman, Wheaton; 2. Billy Knippenberg, Jr, Plainfield; 3. Jack Kalwasinski, Dyer, Ind.; 4. Erik Pierce, Lake in the Hills; 5. Wayne Freimund, Elkhorn, Wis; 6. Robert Maynor, Colgate, Wis.
Heat 03 -- 1. Brett Sontag, Joliet; 2. Tommy Pecaro, Markesan, Wis; 3. Eddie May, Crystal Lake; 4. Lowell Bennett, Neenah, Wis; 5. Brian Johnson, Jr., Machesney Park; 6. Chris Wimmer, Wausau, Wis; 7. Steve Dobbratz, Rio, Wis; 8. Jeremy Spoonmore, Somonauk.
Heat 04 -- 1. Jerry Gille, Roscoe; 2. Steve Apel, Colgate, Wis; 3. Stevie Campbell, Lisle; 4. Nathan Haseleu, Pardeeville, Wis; 5. Rich Bickle, Janesville, Wis; 6. Michael Bilderback, South Beloit; 7. Jon Reynolds, Jr., Rockford; 8. Dave Feiler, Sun Prairie, Wis.
Time Trial -- 1. Brian Johnson, Jr., Machesney Park; 2. Michael Bilderback, South Beloit; 3. Steve Dobbratz, Rio, Wis; 4. Jon Reynolds, Jr., Rockford; 5. Lowell Bennett, Neenah, Wis; 6. Rich Bickle, Janesville, Wis; 7. Chris Wimmer, Wausau, Wis; 8. Dave Feiler, Sun Prairie, Wis; 9. Eddie May, Crystal Lake; 10. Stevie Campbell, Lisle; 11. Jeremy Spoonmore, Somonauk; 12. Nathan Haseleu, Pardeeville, Wis; 13. Brett Sontag, Joliet; 14. Jerry Gille, Roscoe; 15. Tommy Pecaro, Markesan, Wis; 16. Steve Apel, Colgate, Wis; 17. Ryan Carlson, Loves Park; 18. Billy Knippenberg, Jr, Plainfield; 19. Josh Nelms, Lockport; 20. Eddie Hoffman, Wheaton; 21. Chris Weinkauf, Merrill, Wis; 22. Robert Maynor, Colgate, Wis; 23. Curt Tillman, Roscoe; 24. Wayne Freimund, Elkhorn, Wis; 25. Chris Purdy, Milton, Wis; 26. Jack Kalwasinski, Dyer, Ind.; 27. Jeff Weinfurter, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis; 28. Erik Pierce, Lake in the Hills; 29. Trevor Tichy,
Oswego; 30. Mike Held, West Bend, Wis.
Mid-American Stock Car Series
MTN Dew 75-lap Feature
1. James Swan, Genoa City, Wis.; 2. Lyle Nowak, Wausau, Wis.; 3. Tyler Bauknecht, Reedsville, Wis.; 4. Kyle Shear, Roscoe, Ill.; 5. Brian Back, Rudolph, Wis.; 6. Bill Prietzel, Richfield, Wis.; 7. Daryl Gerke, Whitelaw, Wis.; 8. Adam Bendzick, Apple Valley, Minn.; 9. Jeremy Spoonmore, Somonauk, Ill.; 10. Bobby Gutknecht, Oak Creek, Wis.
20-lap Last Chance
1. David McCalla, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Transfer); 2. Crystal Wood, Denmark, Wis. (Transfer); 3. Ron Vandemeier, Joliet, Ill. (Transfer); 4. Kevin Damrow, Manitowoc, Wis.; 5. Rick Tackman, Waukesha, Wis.
Heat Race Winners: Paige Decker, Eagle River, Wis.; Frank Slabeneck Jr., Palos Place, Ill.; Tackman
Fast Qualifier: Spoonmore – 14.172 seconds
This article was posted to the website on October 3rd, 2010
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