By: Eric Huenefeld
Over a span of fifty days early in the 2014 season, the only driver to win a Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model feature at Rockford Speedway was Alex Papini.
After that early season six-race winning streak, forty days passed before the 2013 Late Model Track Champion returned to victory lane.
Saturday night, in the third round of the Gilley’s Cool 5 presented by Cintas, Papini went back to victory lane, capturing his seventh win of the season in dominant fashion. The Machesney Park resident stormed from mid-pack to the front of the field in short order, besting ‘Driver X’ Jon Reynolds Jr by a straightaway en route to the win.
The field of eleven came to green with ‘Insane Wayne’ Freimund and rookie Dana Czach leading the way. Czach jumped to the head of the class, with Jake Gille and Papini following him forward. Gille took his shot at Czach first, but was quickly was accosted by Papini for the runner up spot. Papini swooped into second on lap three and by lap five inherited the lead. As Papini settled into the top spot, Reynolds made his move forward, challenging Gille for third then quickly moving past Czach for second. Soon after Reynolds made his way to the runner-up spot, Ricky Bilderback made his push for the front. Bilderback, shooting for his third consecutive win, placed his car in third by the tenth lap.
As Reynolds and Bilderback settled into second and third, Papini continued to pull away. When the final flag flew, it was Papini with the full front stretch separating himself from second place Reynolds. Bilderback finished the caution-free 30 lapper in third. Three-time track champion Jerry Gille, making his first start at Rockford Speedway since a wild wreck July 12, finished the race in fourth. Outside pole-sitter Czach collected his second straight top five, finishing in fifth.
The battle for victory in the 25 lap Bargain Hunter Sportsman feature race was hotly contested, with Whitelaw Wisconsin’s Daryl Gerke making the right moves at the right times on the way to his first Sportsman win since last September’s National Short Track Championships. Gerke started the race in eighth position and patiently picked his way forward through the race’s early stages. Meanwhile, Sportsman rookie Jason Bragg looked poised to collect his first ever win in the division as the Machesney Park racer vaulted from his outside front row position to the lead at the onset of the race. Bragg kept a couple car lengths between he and fellow Sportsman rookie Nick Letsinger through the race’s first half.
A yellow flag on lap 17 stacked the field up and set the stage for the thrilling race to the checkers. Gerke wasted little time in moving from third place to the lead on the restart, wrestling the top spot away from Bragg with six laps to go. Bragg lost the lead and then, after a yellow flag with six to go, lost his chance to finish the race after issues with his gearbox. After the final restart, Gerke raced to the win, with point leader Brett McCoy coming home in second. McCoy, who started the race in ninth position, took advantage of the late race yellows, advancing his positions via calculated moves on the ‘cone restarts.’ Howie Ware finished the race in third, with Letsinger fourth and Johnny Robinson II fifth.
Miller Lite American Short Tracker point leader Kelly Evink is getting hot at the right time. Evink made his second consecutive trip to victory lane Saturday night, after fighting off Steve Rubeck for the win. Evink and Rubeck shadowed each other during the race’s top spot through the first nine laps, with Evink finally inheriting the lead on the tenth lap. When the checkers flew, a ten car length advantage separated first place Evink from second place Rubeck. Nick Cina Jr fought from deep in the field to take third place in the non-stop feature race. Brad Henrey had one of his better runs of the year, finishing the race in fourth place. David Russell rounded out the top five and in the process turned in his best run of the year.
‘Bullet’ Bobby Frisch again visited victory lane in the Kickstart Roadrunner division, as the two-time Roadrunner champion collected his fourth Saturday night feature win of 2014. Frisch made the winning move late in going, passing Jeff ‘Ace’ Allendorf with five laps to go in the 20 lap main event. Three-time winner Dennis Smith Jr finished the race in second position, working past Allendorf for the runner up position with two laps to go. Allendorf settled for third, with Austin Fowler fourth and Kyle McQuality fifth.