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By: Eric Huenefeld

Victory did not come easy for Alex Papini Saturday night at Rockford Speedway.

Papini, who started eighth in the 30 lap Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model feature event, powered past three-time track champion Jerry Gille late in the race on his way to the victory on Tractor Town Kids Night. 

Gille quickly jumped to the head of the pack in the main event, disposing of outside polesitter ‘Insane’ Wayne Freimund on the second lap. Gille then built a comfortable lead in the race’s first 10 laps. Behind him, the balance of the field battled for position. Papini fought through a group of contenders than included seven-time track champion Ricky Bilderback, points leader Jake Gille and ‘Driver X’ Jon Reynolds Jr, the evenings fast qualifier. By lap seven, Papini found himself in the runner up spot, leaving the rest of the field to fend for themselves as he made tracks towards the front.

Papini’s process of cutting down Gille’s lead took time, but just past the race’s midway point, the battle was on. Gille was able to keep comfy gap between he and Papini until five laps to go, when Papini caught Gille and eventually powered to the point in turn three. Despite a couple late challenges from Gille, Papini was able to hold off those advances on his way to the victory, the second straight Late Model win for the Machesney Park native. 

Jerry Gille’s efforts were good enough for a runner up finish, with his nephew Jake Gille finished third and maintained his early season points lead. Bilderback settled for fourth place, with Reynolds rounding out the top five. 

Five-time Miller Lite American Short Tracker division champion George Sparkman ended a long day the right way, winning the divisions 25 lap feature event. Sparkman’s frustrations began early, as the Loves Park resident battled engine issues during practice. The issues were enough to force Sparkman to miss his spot in the qualifying order, allowing him just one timed lap. Sparkman was still fast enough to make the Stateline Staffing Services Fast Dash, but again found engine issues after preliminaries. 

Meanwhile, before the green flag could fly for the 25 lap American Short Tracker feature event, defending track champion Nick Cina Jr encountered trouble. Cina’s racecar slid to a stop on the front stretch during pace laps for the main event. The sudden stop was caused by a transmission issue which sidelined Cina for the night. This opened the door for opening night winner Kelly Evink to have a big night. Evink wasted little time getting to the head of the pack, taking the lead early on in the race, with Sparkman charging hard behind him. 

Then, with nine laps to go, Evink suddenly spun in turn two, bringing out the yellow flag. Evink was sent pit side for repairs and returned to the track at the back of the field for the ensuing restart. This situation left Sparkman, who started the race eleventh, in the race lead. Sparkman stayed in front of Tom Gille over the final nine laps and held on for the victory, his first win of 2014. Sparkman admitted in victory lane that by race’s end, his car was running on less than four cylinders. Behind Sparkman and Gille, it was Evink who finished third, after a frantic charge from the back of the field. Rookie Jason Halbrader finished a career best fourth, with Dave Lee rounding out the top five.  

Dennis Smith Jr found himself back in victory lane for the second time this season, after claiming victory in the Kickstart Roadrunner 20 lap feature event. Smith took advantage of a second row starting spot and made his way to the lead before halfway. However, the road to victory wasn’t easy for Smith. A caution flag with three laps left put ‘Bullet’ Bobby Frisch and ‘Ironman’ Ricky Nielson on Smith’s bumper, setting up a thrilling dash to the finish between the three drivers. Smith held off all late race challenges, with Frisch finishing second and Nielson third. Kyle McQuality, who skipped his Senior Prom at Stillman Valley High School to race Saturday evening, finished in fourth. Last week’s Roadrunner feature winner Shawn Rickelman rounded out the top five.  

NASCAR American Short Trackers

A-Main 01 — 1. George Sparkman, Loves Park; 2. Tom Gille, Winnebago; 3. Kelly Evink, Machesney Park; 4. Jason Halbrader (r), Machesney Park; 5. Dave Lee, Rockford; 6. Brad Henrey, Rockford; 7. Keith Pierce, Machesney Park; 8. Artt Higbee, Rockford; 9. Leo Bujak, III, Spring Grove; 10. Steve Rubeck, Rockford; 11. Corey Snow (r), Loves Park; 12. Nick Cina, Jr, Belvidere; 13. Jason Dull, Machesney Park.

Heat 01 — 1. Jason Halbrader (r), Machesney Park; 2. Corey Snow (r), Loves Park; 3. Artt Higbee, Rockford; 4. Dave Lee, Rockford; 5. George Sparkman, Loves Park; 6. Jason Dull, Machesney Park.

Heat 02 — 1. Tom Gille, Winnebago; 2. Nick Cina, Jr, Belvidere; 3. Kelly Evink, Machesney Park; 4. Brad Henrey, Rockford; 5. Leo Bujak, III, Spring Grove.

Time Trial — 1. Nick Cina, Jr, Belvidere; 2. Tom Gille, Winnebago; 3. Kelly Evink, Machesney Park; 4. Brad Henrey, Rockford; 5. Steve Rubeck, Rockford; 6. Leo Bujak, III, Spring Grove; 7. Jason Halbrader (r), Machesney Park; 8. Corey Snow (r), Loves Park; 9. Artt Higbee, Rockford; 10. Dave Lee, Rockford; 11. Jason Dull, Machesney Park.

Trophy Dash 01 — 1. Kelly Evink, Machesney Park; 2. Nick Cina, Jr, Belvidere; 3. Tom Gille, Winnebago; 4. Brad Henrey, Rockford; 5. Leo Bujak, III, Spring Grove; 6. Steve Rubeck, Rockford.

NASCAR Late Models

A-Main 01 — 1. Alex Papini, Machesney Park; 2. Jerry Gille, Roscoe; 3. Jacob Gille, Machesney Park; 4. Ricky Bilderback, Roscoe; 5. Jon Reynolds, Jr., Rockford; 6. Wayne Freimund, Elkhorn, Wis; 7. Eric Connell, Fort Atkinson, Wis; 8. Mark Hartline, Gilberts; 9. Chris McKay (r), Streamwood; 10. Dana Czach, Wauconda.

Heat 01 — 1. Mark Hartline, Gilberts; 2. Dana Czach, Wauconda; 3. Eric Connell, Fort Atkinson, Wis; 4. Chris McKay (r), Streamwood; 5. Wayne Freimund, Elkhorn, Wis.

Heat 02 — 1. Jacob Gille, Machesney Park; 2. Ricky Bilderback, Roscoe; 3. Jerry Gille, Roscoe; 4. Alex Papini, Machesney Park; 5. Jon Reynolds, Jr., Rockford.

Time Trial — 1. Jon Reynolds, Jr., Rockford; 2. Ricky Bilderback, Roscoe; 3. Alex Papini, Machesney Park; 4. Jacob Gille, Machesney Park; 5. Jerry Gille, Roscoe; 6. Dana Czach, Wauconda; 7. Wayne Freimund, Elkhorn, Wis; 8. Mark Hartline, Gilberts; 9. Eric Connell, Fort Atkinson, Wis; 10. Chris McKay (r), Streamwood.

Trophy Dash 01 — 1. Jon Reynolds, Jr., Rockford; 2. Jerry Gille, Roscoe; 3. Alex Papini, Machesney Park; 4. Jacob Gille, Machesney Park; 5. Ricky Bilderback, Roscoe; 6. Dana Czach, Wauconda.

NASCAR Road Runners

A-Main 01 — 1. Dennis Smith, Jr, South Beloit; 2. Bobby Frisch, Beloit, Wis; 3. Ricky Nielsen, Rockford; 4. Kyle McQuality, Stillman Valley; 5. Shawn Rickelman, Rockton; 6. Alex Chabucos, Machesney Park; 7. James Gregory, Winnebago; 8. Ryan Ostenson, Beloit, Wis; 9. Dan Sander, South Beloit; 10. Daniel Opsahl, Rockford; 11. Jeff Allendorf, Belvidere; 12. Gene Marocco, Machesney Park; 13. Chad Lounsbury, Beloit, Wis; 14. Daniel Gaddini, South Beloit; 15. Rod Dobbs, Fond Du Lac, Wis; 16. Kevin Memoli, Geneva; 17. Autumn Rudeen, Loves Park; 18. Steven Dover, Rockford; 19. Trevor Robinson, South Beloit; 20. Terrance Robinson, Beloit, Wis; 21. Adam Cartwright, Loves

Heat 01 — 1. Alex Chabucos, Machesney Park; 2. Jeff Allendorf, Belvidere; 3. Steven Dover, Rockford; 4. Dan Sander, South Beloit; 5. Kevin Memoli, Geneva; 6. Daniel Gaddini, South Beloit; 7. Rod Dobbs, Fond Du Lac, Wis.

Heat 02 — 1. Gene Marocco, Machesney Park; 2. Dennis Smith, Jr, South Beloit; 3. Terrance Robinson, Beloit, Wis; 4. Chad Lounsbury, Beloit, Wis; 5. James Gregory, Winnebago; 6. Daniel Opsahl, Rockford; 7. Autumn Rudeen, Loves Park.

Heat 03 — 1. Bobby Frisch, Beloit, Wis; 2. Ricky Nielsen, Rockford; 3. Trevor Robinson, South Beloit; 4. Shawn Rickelman, Rockton; 5. Adam Cartwright, Loves Park; 6. Kyle McQuality, Stillman Valley; 7. Ryan Ostenson, Beloit, Wis. Challenge 01 — 1. Trevor Robinson, South Beloit; 2. Daniel Opsahl, Rockford; 3. Ricky Nielsen, Rockford; 4. Ryan Ostenson, Beloit, Wis; 5. Steven Dover, Rockford.

Trophy Dash 01 — 1. Kyle McQuality, Stillman Valley; 2. Adam Cartwright, Loves Park; 3. Bobby Frisch, Beloit, Wis; 4. Shawn Rickelman, Rockton; 5. Ricky Nielsen, Rockford; 6. Trevor Robinson, South Beloit.

About Rockford Speedway

Since the inaugural season in 1948, the high-banked quarter mile oval has been tabbed as “Mid-America’s Finest Racetrack.” Rich in racing tradition, this reputation has been well earned through hosting major events like the granddaddy of all short track post season events, the National Short Track Championships. More

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