By: Eric Huenefeld
Through the years, “big events” have come and gone. But for 40 years, Spring Classic has stood tall.
Ever since it’s inception at the beginning of 1978, this season-opening special event has signaled a new racing season for fans and drivers alike in the upper Midwest.
And in the Spring of 1980, Spring Classic found the facility that became its home, Rockford Speedway. Ever since then the beginning of the upper Midwest racing season truly hasn’t began until the Rockford Speedway and Spring Classic said so.
One thing that both the first Spring Classic and this year’s 40th installment have in common are the lateness for which they are scheduled. Although two Spring Classics have been run later in the year (1997 in June & 2002 in October, both due to weather), the 1978 and 2017 installments are the two Spring Classics originally scheduled latest. The inaugural event was contested on April 30 at Grundy County Speedway, with Dick Trickle collecting one of his four Spring Classic wins (more on that later). This year’s Spring Classic, set for April 23, is scheduled later due to the unusually late Easter holiday in 2017.
Following the first ever Spring Classic at Grundy County in 1978, the event shifted north to Capitol Super Speedway (now Madison International Speedway) in April of 1979, with Tom Reffner topping Trickle in a 50 lap sprint. The following year, the event shifted to Rockford Speedway for good, with the late Larry Detjens capturing the 80 lap main event.
From 1980 to 1990, Spring Classic’s were contested in distances equal to the year in which they were ran, meaning the the 1981 race was 81 laps, 1982’s race was 82 laps and so on. Another theme of the 80’s was dominance by three particular drivers; Joe Shear, Al Schill and Dick Trickle. From 1981 to 1989, Shear, Schill and Trickle were the only three men to pocket wins in the season opening affair. Shear garnered his Spring Classic wins in 1981, 86, 88 & 89, while Trickle was top dog in 1983, 84 & 87. Schill won his two Spring Classics in 1982 and 1985.
Speaking of multi-time winners, nine drivers have won two-or-more Spring Classics in their racing careers. Steve Carlson leads the all-time list with six Spring Classic wins (bagging six of seven Spring Classics from 1998-2004), Trickle & Shear have won four each, while Schill, Scott Hansen, Kevin Cywinski, Steve Rubeck, Mike Beyer and Michael Bilderback have won two Spring Classics each. Bilderback can join rarefied air with Carlson, Shear and Trickle this weekend if he can win his third Spring Classic, making him just one of four men to win the event three or more times. With a win, Bilderback would also become the all-time leading Big 8 Spring Classic winner, as both he and Beyer are the only two drivers to win multiple Big 8 Spring Classic races.
The Big 8 Late Model Series’ inclusion at Spring Classic began in the year 2005 as an under-card to the final NASCAR Midwest Series race held at Rockford Speedway. Beyer won that 58 lap event, then came back one year later and won the Big 8 portion of Spring Classic in 2006. In 2008, the Big 8 Late Model Series became the featured attraction of Spring Classic, with Michael Bilderback winning his first Big 8 Series race and in the process becoming the youngest Spring Classic winner of all time. Also in 2008, the Big 8 Spring Classic was extended from 58 laps to 108 laps. In 2015, the race was shorted to 88 laps, a call back to the event’s heyday back in the 80’s.
What history will be made this Sunday? Can Bilderback continue his recent Big 8 and Spring Classic dominance? Can someone like Casey Johnson or Jon Reynolds Jr become just the tenth driver to win multiple Spring Classics? Or will a new name be etched into history as a winner of Rockford Speedway’s Spring Classic? You better “BE THERE” this Sunday afternoon to find out!
The 40th Anniversary Spring Classic is set for this Sunday afternoon April 23 at Rockford Speedway (9572 Forest Hills Road, Loves Park IL). Spectator Gates open at 11 AM, with Qualifications set to begin at 11:30 and the first green flag at 1 PM. The afternoon racing card includes the Big 8 Late Model Series, the Quest Industrial Mid American Stock Car Series and the INEX Legends. Adult admission is $20, while Children ages 6-11 are $6 and Kids 5 & under are FREE!
For more information, please visit rockfordspeedway.com, big8series.com or call 815-633-1500.