By: Eric Huenefeld
On a sweltering September evening, five track champions were crowned at Rockford Speedway. On Whelen Engineering's 'Night of Champions' Saturday night, the operative number was three. Three drivers celebrated their first ever track championship, while two other champions were tops in their divisions for the third time.
Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Models
The summer of 2013 may be better known as 'The Summer of 39' at Rockford Speedway, as 24 year old Alex Papini and his #39 team left little doubt in claiming top honors in the Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model division. Papini, a former Late Model Rookie of the Year and Roadrunner Track Champion, held the points lead from Opening Night in April all the way to the final checkered flag in September. Papini amassed nine wins at Rockford Speedway in 2013, eight of which were on Saturday nights. Papini's other Rockford win came as he topped the 'Best Weekly Warriors in the Country' during the 36th annual Spring Classic in April. Papini was exceptionally consistent during the 2013 season, finishing in the top five in all 18 feature races. His championship at age 24 makes him the youngest driver to win his first Late Model Track Championship at Rockford since Joe Shear.
Three-time track champion Jerry Gille finished the 2013 campaign second place in final NASCAR Late Model points. Jerry Gille nabbed two feature wins, while capturing a division leading 11 fast times. 'Driver X' Jon Reynolds Jr finished the season third while collecting four feature wins. Jake Gille finished a career-best fourth in the Late Model point standings. Jake Gille was a two-time Late Model feature winner and along with a great season on track, Jake and wife Amber welcomed a baby girl into the world in July. Beloit's Joel Clossey, in his first full season of racing in 15 years, made his first season of Late Model racing at Rockford Speedway a good one. Clossey finished fifth in the final standings while also capturing the title of NASCAR Late Model Rookie of the Year.
Bargain Hunter Sportsman
Brodhead Wisconsin driver Doug Bennett topped the season long points chase in the Bargain Hunter Sportsman division. Bennett, who started the season with tough luck and sub par finishes, made a strong push as the calendar turned towards summertime. Bennett won four features in the span of eight weeks, pushing him to the top of the standings by the Fourth of July. Bennett's Sportsman Championship was his third career and second consecutive. Bennett tied Fred Nason for second on the all-time list with his third title and trails only Scott Lawver, a five-time Sportsman titlist at Rockford Speedway.
Belvidere's Brett McCoy started strong and stayed consistent throughout 2013, netting a runner up finish in the final Sportsman tallies. McCoy was a winner in two of the first four Sportsman features of 2013 and never fell below the third position in points. Daryl Gerke, a multi-time track champion at the former 141 Speedway in Wisconsin, made the long haul from East Central Wisconsin worth it, finishing third in points. Gerke was unable to return to victory lane in 2013, but was relentless in his pursuit of checkered flags and fast times. The hard work and long hours of work and travel paid off for the Wisconsinite in the form of a 'podium finish' in points. 2012 Sportsman Rookie of the Year Johnny Robinson II came home fourth in the final Sportsman standings, amassing two feature wins. Howie Ware rounded out the top five in Sportsman points while capturing two feature wins.
Miller Lite American Short Trackers
There were times in 2013 where Miller Lite American Short Track Champion Nick Cina Jr seemed untouchable. Cina won three of the first four Short Tracker features and garnered fast qualifier honors 14 out of 15 nights during the season. These numbers, along with 15 top five's in 15 starts, were enough to net Cina the 2013 Track Championship in the division. The championship was Cina'a first in the Short Tracker division, where he was also the Rookie of the Year eight years ago.
If not for a slow start to 2013, perhaps Kyle Lapier would have given Cina a run for his Short Tracker crown. Despite losing out to Cina by 71 points, Lapier was the driver to watch in the late stages of this season. The 2010 Short Tracker champion won a division-leading seven features in 2013, including the last four features consecutively. Another former Short Tracker Rookie of the Year, Zach Rodriguez, finished third in the final points. Rodriguez never got to victory lane yet was very consistent in his run to a top three finish. 'The Boogeyman' Jason Bragg notched his first feature win in nearly two years this season, along with a second win later in the year on the way to a fourth place points standing. 'The Professor' Nick Letsinger came close multiple times to a first ever feature win in the Short Trackers. Despite not getting to victory lane, Letsinger ended the regular season a career-best fifth in points.
Rockstar Energy Drink Roadrunners
Woodstock's Arlyn Roush joined his brother Robert as a Track Champion in the Rockstar Energy Drink Roadrunner division. Arlyn Roush led the division with five feature wins while accumulating 15 top fives in 19 starts. Thanks to his great season, Arlyn Roush also stands a chance to be the top driver in the US and Canada in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series Finalist Program in Division IV. If he is able to hold onto the top spot in Division IV, Arlyn would join his brother Robert in earning that honor (Robert was the Division IV titlist in 2010).
Dennis Smith Jr nipped Terrance Robinson for second in Roadrunner points. 'DJ' won four features on Saturday nights, while nabbing 14 top fives in 19 starts. Robinson, a former Roadrunner Track Champion, was a two-time feature winner and like Roush finished in the top five 15 out of 19 times. Shawn Rickelman was fourth in Roadrunner points, thanks to consistent runs throughout the year. Rickelman also is a contender in the Gilley's Cool 5 points, which will be decided at National Short Track Championships.
Sam's Drive In Roadrunner Challenge
Jason Van Hise finished fifth in Roadrunner point standings, a two-time Saturday night feature winner. Van Hise currently leads the Gilley's Cool 5 points heading into National Short Track Championships in September. The Loves Park native also captured the Sam's Drive In Roadrunner Challenge Championship Saturday night. Van Hise won eight of the Challenge races, including Saturday night's 'Outhouse Race.' Van Hise's Roadrunner Challenge title was his third overall and second consecutive.
This article was posted to the website on September 10th, 2013
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