By: Eric Huenefeld
In the closing laps of Saturday night’s Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model feature at Rockford Speedway, it appeared ‘The Streak’ may be in danger.
Late Model point leader Alex Papini, who came into the night on a five race winning streak, seemed poised to pocket his sixth trophy of 2014 on Kar Korner Trailer Race Night. However, as the 30 lap main event sped towards its climax, Papini’s mirror filled up with fast company.
Three time track champion Jerry Gille, who started the feature event from the seventh position, powered to second place with ten laps to go and within a matter of laps tracked down the leader Papini. Despite Gille’s hard charge, his effort was too little too late, as Papini charged across the finish line first for a sixth consecutive week. Gille added to his recent stretch of solid runs with the second place effort. Seven-time track champion Ricky Bilderback was third, followed by Austin Nason in fourth. John Beinlich finished his first race of the year in fifth place.
Over 20 years ago, Steve Rubeck’s career started in the Miller Lite American Short Tracker division. After running Late Model events at Rockford and across the region over the last several years, Rubeck has returned to Rockford this season in the very same division he began his racing odyssey. Saturday night, Rubeck returned to victory lane in the four-cylinder division, surviving an epic four-way slug-fest for the win.
Rubeck started the race on the front row along with Ryan Nelson and over the next 25 laps of uninterrupted racing, the two racers rarely strayed from side-by-side racing. While Rubeck and Nelson toiled, Short Tracker aces Nick Cina Jr and Kelly Evink waged their own war for third. Soon enough, the four cars found themselves side-by-side and nose-to-tail at the front, engaging in a high-speed game of chess. Rubeck eventually separated himself from the pack with three laps to go, allowing Evink room to make a move for second on Nelson with a lap and a half remaining. When the checker flag waved, Rubeck was first to the line, followed by Evink. Nelson held onto third, his best American Short Tracker finish, ahead of last year’s track champion Cina. Five-time track champion George Sparkman rounded out the top five.
Byron’s Pat Featherston has started the 2014 Bargain Hunter Sportsman season strong. Five top fives and two feature wins has propelled the third-year racer to the point lead in the Sportsman class. Featherston captured win number two Saturday night, nabbing the lead from Chad Smith one lap shy of halfway in the 25 lap feature event. Featherston, who started the race from seventh spot, coasted to victory, winning by almost a straightaway. Howie Ware finished in second, just ahead of three-time feature winner Brett McCoy, who made a late-race charge to collect third spot. Smith, one of five drivers to lead the thrilling affair, came home in fourth, with fast qualifier Daryl Gerke rounding out the top five.
Two-time Kickstart Roadrunner champion ‘Bullet’ Bobby Frisch is starting find his groove again. The Beloit native raced from fifteenth on the grid to the front of a 28 car field of Roadrunners in just 15 laps on his way to a second straight win in the division. Austin Fowler finished the race in second, his best career Roadrunner feature finish. Gene Marocco came across the line in third, followed by Robert Myher and Alex Chabucos. The 20 lap race included one red flag, after a scary incident in turn three, which saw Dan Sander’s vehicle become airborne. Sander’s vehicle made contact with billboards bottom-side first and then made contact with the racing surface roof-side first. Sander emerged from his car injury free.
Jeff Fandrich was the ‘King of Carnage’ in the ‘Original Trailer Race of Destruction,’ topping a modern-day record 26 entrants in the rolling demo derby, which kept the near capacity crowd on its feet from start to finish.