(Photo: Kim Kemperman)
By: Eric Huenefeld
Loves Park Motorsports Night at the Rockford Speedway was presented in part by the number ‘five.’
Saturday night’s racing event marked the first race in this season’s Gilley’s ‘Cool 5′ series. The evening also marked the continuation of defending Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model track champion Alex Papini’s impressive winning streak, which stretched to five consecutive wins.
Starting from the seventh position in the 30 lap sprint, Papini used his speed and a timely caution to climb to the front of the field. By lap 12, Papini challenged outside pole sitter Wayne Freimund for the race lead. Within a lap and a half, Papini wrestled the lead away from Freimund and assumed the top spot. Behind Papini, the battling was intense for second and third, as three-time track champion Jerry Gille and ‘Driver X’ Jon Reynolds Jr waged a hard-fought battle for the runner up position. After several laps of back and forth racing, Reynolds nabbed second spot from Gille.
Papini went unchallenged to the checkered flag, with Reynolds five car lengths behind in second place and Gille third. Veteran racer Mike Beyer turned in a solid run in his first race this season, taking fourth place following a hectic late-race battle with seven-time track champion Ricky Bilderback and Wayne Freimund. Freimund stole fifth from Bilderback in the race’s final laps.
Belvidere’s Brett McCoy is making his presence known this season in the Bargain Hunter Sportsman division. Saturday night, McCoy captured his third feature win in four tries, outrunning Pat Featherston for the trophy in the divisions 25 lap feature race. McCoy started the race on the pole, but lost his bid for the lead at the start from fellow front-row starter Daryl Gerke. Gerke paced the race’s first eight laps, but by lap six McCoy was primed to make a move for the race lead. Two laps later, McCoy was able to get by Gerke and put his machine at the front of the field.
The race featured one scary incident, as teenager Deanna Chandler’s engine let go, causing her to lose control of her racer in turn three. As the engine expired and Chandler began to slide towards the wall, her open-wheeled machine erupted into flames, with Chandler’s car becoming a fireball as it hurdled toward the turn three wall. Chandler’s car was harmed, but the young female driver was able to exit her car under her own power and was okay.
The red flag and ensuing restart brought the field close to the bumper of McCoy, but no one was able to make a move for his race lead in the final 14 laps. McCoy cruised to the win, with Featherston turning in another solid run in second place, followed by Howie Ware in third. Nick Letsinger came home fourth, his best ever Sportsman feature finish, while Johnny Robinson II rounded out the top five.
2013 Miller Lite American Short Tracker champion Nick Cina Jr returned to victory lane Saturday night, taking top honors in the division’s 25 lap feature event. Cina inherited the lead following an incident just past the race’s halfway point which included then-race leader Kelly Evink. Just prior to the incident, Evink and Cina were locked in a side-by-side battle for the top spot. As the two drivers exited the second turn, contact was made, forcing Evink sideways. Cina slowed to let Evink recover and both drivers continued on. But as the two entered the next corner, Evink closed quickly on Artt Higbee and was unable to avoid contact. The contact sent Evink spinning and brought out the yellow flag.
As Cina inherited the lead, Evink restarted at the back of the field. Within 5 laps, Evink charged back into the top five, passing eight cars in rapid fashion. Before race’s end, Evink climbed back to second place, trailing Cina by five car lengths at the checkers. Behind Cina and Evink, George Sparkman followed up back-to-back victories with a third place finish, while Zach Rodriguez finished fourth. Keith Pierce was the race’s hard charger, climbing from his 14th starting spot to finish fifth.
“Bullet” Bobby Frisch pocketed his first Kickstart Roadrunner feature win of 2014 in impressive fashion, moving through the majority of traffic three-wide on his way to the front of the field in the 20 lap affair. Frisch grabbed the lead from Robert Myher on lap 13 and never looked back on his way to victory. Dennis Smith Jr made the climb from 12th place to second place by race’s end, with Myher right behind him in third. Dan Sander finished fourth, with ‘Magic Shoes’ Trevor Robinson fifth.