By: Russell Wheeler Jr.
The 2012 racing season came to a close Sunday at the Rockford Speedway with the running of the 21st Bahama Bracket Nationals. Despite Mother Nature pushing the festivities back two weeks, the same action that racers and fans continue to expect at this one-of-a-kind event was the main attraction. Nearly 170 drivers tried their luck at beating the clock and each other, and many of the 50 lap features came down to the last couple circuits.
The "A" Bracket at Bahama Bracket Nationals has always been an interesting mix of cars and drivers from across the mid west. It's asphalt Late Models, dirt Late Models, Sportsman, Mid Americans and Modifieds all competing in the same race with the same goal. On this Sunday, with all those challengers and all their different forms of automobiles, it was two drivers with Rockford ties and names synonymous with the Rockford Speedway who would duel for the victory.
Winnebago's Tom Gille was the weekend's fast qualifier and showed his muscle Saturday night by winning his heat race from a last place starting spot. Alex Papini was competing in the "A" bracket for the first time ever. Alex's father, the late Al Papini, was a bracket racing master. After sitting in the stands watching the last several Bahama Bracket Nationals, Papini and his crew were determined to add their name to the winners list.
The determination of Papini showed early, as he would storm to the front of the race in the first 15 laps. Gille, who started much further back in the field, would have his work cut out for him in his long climb to the front. In the races' final circuits, Gille would get to Papini's bumper several times. The two would play a game of high-speed chess, before Gille would go back to Papini's bumper with three laps to go heading into turn one. The veteran Gille guided Papini's car into the corner, enough to send Papini up the hill and back to second spot.
Two corners later, Papini would return the favor on Gille, sending the leader up the track in the same fashion and giving himself the lead. Papini would keep a steady lead over the final two laps and would hold on to the lead, winning his first ever Bahama Bracket feature. Gille would settle for second, followed by Indiana's John Marshall, Wisconsin's Mark Pluer and Mid Am Spring Classic winner Ryan Ferrell. Post-race, Papini would do celebratory burn-outs on the front stretch and in turns one and two, a salute to his father. Papini would also dedicate the win to Mike Forrester, a long-time fixture in the Rockford Speedway pits who lost his battle with cancer earlier in the week.
In the "AA" Bracket, Thornton's Eddie Wolf was one of the fastest cars. This fact was no surprise, considering Wolf, a long-time bracket racer, is always in the mix at the yearly event. But mechanical problems, break outs or a crowded track have always kept Wolf out of victory lane. On this day, Wolf would be dealt a tough card, starting in the 18th spot. But this time, Wolf would be able to patiently move through the field and avoid break outs, break downs and accidents. And with a hard-charging Dave McCalla closing in late, Wolf was able to close the deal and take the win. The Iowa driver McCalla, who started 20th, would settle for second, his best ever Rockford finish. Rockford regular Rob Goodman would cap of a strong 50 lapper with a third place finish while multi-time Bahama Bracket winner Scott Lawver finished fourth. Blue Island's Chris Woodall charged from 24th spot to finish fifth.
The "AAA" Bracket feature was more like racing on Superspeedways, with three-wide pack racing through most of the event. At the front of the field, it was Adam Cartwright leading most of the race from the high lane, with Jimmy Robinson challenging from the bottom lane. Behind those two, the action was three-wide and wild.
With two laps to go and the pack now surrounding the lead duo, Robinson would have a braking issue going into corner number one. That issue would send Robinson's car up the track and into Cartwright, knocking Cartwright out of the lead but also knocking Robinson out of his rhythm. When the white flag flew, the race was a full-fledged 16 second free for all. Jim Tate Jr and Bobbie Jean Wall suddenly found themselves near the head of train. The two new lead cars would collide coming out of turn four, sailing down the track and opening the door for Robinson who would scoot to the checkered flag first. Tate would take second and Wall would finish third. It was a second straight heart-breaker for Wall, who lost the "AAA" feature in 2011 by inches to Rick Wilson. Wilson would end up fifth on this day. Crestwood's Jeremy Cole made a late race charge and finished fourth in the 50 lapper.
After the wild affair, Robinson made the decision to "take the trip" instead of the money. With that decision, Robinson booked a trip for two to the Bahamas and officially sent himself "South for the winter."
In the "AAAA" Bracket 50 lapper, it was "Mr Excitement" Rodger Stephenson and his 6 cylinder stealing the show and taking home the victory. Stephenson would hold off the late race advances from Iowa driver Jeff Jeras to capture the win. Jeras would settle for second, Cory Brewer took third. Brewer was followed by John Remsik and Jake Gille, the Rockford Late Model driver who had his Bracket fun in the AAAA class and nabbed a top five finish.
For the first time ever, the four-cylinder brackets were split into three brackets, the "B", "BB" and "BBB". Despite having only ten cars, the "B" Bracket was one of the more thrilling finishes of the day. Wisconsin's Kyle Stark held the lead for most of the race, with some of Rockford's finest chasing him. Belvidere's Nick Cina Jr pursued Stark on the bottom for most of the event, while five-time speedway champion George Sparkman would stalk them both. With only two laps to go, Stark's car would begin to falter and Cina would pounce. Stark would fall back to third as Cina stormed away to victory. Sparkman would take second.
Watertown, Wisconsin driver Nick Schmidt would storm to the front of the "BB" Bracket feature and ran to victory. Behind him, the battling was fierce, as Steve McBride and Taylor Dawson would wrestle for second late in the going, with the former Rockford Speedway champion McBride besting the young Dawson for the runner up spot.
In the first ever "BBB" feature, it was "ladies first". After holding an early lead, Jeremia Ryckecky would give up the lead to teenager Destiny Robinson. Robinson ran away from the field until breaking out near the races midway point. Rychecky would again inherit the lead for a short time, but only a lap or so later, he again would lose the lead to another female. Jocelyn Davenport would pass Rychecky, the 2012 Hornet champion and sail away to victory. Ricky Wilson would make a late push for the win, but settled for second behind Davenport. Don Exline would take home third and Rychecky would settle for fourth.
This article was posted to the website on November 1st, 2012
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