By: Eric Huenefeld
The countdown is on until the beginning of another exciting season of short track racing in the Midwest.
The first major short track race in the region takes the green flag next Sunday afternoon April 12, as the 38th Annual Spring Classic takes to the track at Rockford Speedway. For the eighth consecutive year, the Big 8 Late Model Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet headline Spring Classic, with an 88 lap feature the afternoon’s main attraction.
Some of the best race car drivers in the region have already filed their entries for the season opening affair, along with young up and comers hungry to make their name known at Spring Classic.
Leading the way is two time and reigning Big 8 Series champion Casey Johnson, also is a former Spring Classic winner. Last year, Johnson led the Series with four victories, including a thrilling last-lap win during ‘Short Track Saturday Night’ at the 49th National Short Track Championships. Johnson got the best of a three-way ‘green-white-checker’ sprint to the finish, squeaking past Dale Nottestad and Austin Nason for the win in the grueling 108 lap race.
Nason, the teenager from Roscoe Illinois, is looking to start 2015 the way he and his team ended 2014. Last year, Nason won his first ever Big 8 Series race at Slinger Super Speedway in July, then won two of the final three series races, at Elko (MN) Speedway’s ‘Thunderstruck’ and at the season-ending Oktoberfest Race Weekend at LaCrosse (WI) Fairgrounds Speedway. Nason’s late season push last season propelled him to second in final Big 8 points. That momentum carried into February of this year, as Nason won a feature at New Smyrna (FL) Speedway during the prestigious World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing.
Former Spring Classic winner and Rockford area favorite Michael Bilderback has filed his entry for Spring Classic. Bilderback, who became the youngest driver ever to win Spring Classic back in 2008, will pilot a second car out of the garage of Wisconsin’s Adam Peschek, who has also entered Spring Classic following his first Big 8 Series top five at Rockford last September at National Short Track Championships. Another Rockford area favorite, Kyle Shear, returns to his home track to take part in this year’s Spring Classic. Shear has challenged for big wins before at Rockford, including a third place finish in the 2012 Spring Classic and a top five finish in last summer’s ‘Star Spangled 76.’
A surprise entry for Rockford Speedway’s Spring Classic is Lockport Illinois driver Josh Nelms. Nelms, the 2009 National Short Track Champion, will drive a Late Model fielded by Crystal Lake Illinois’ Erik Pierce, who plans to run the Mid-American Series race at Rockford on April 12. Along with being a former winner of Rockford’s famed 200 lap Super Late Model race, Nelms is a former Rockford Late Model Rookie of the Year and has even won an enduro at the high banked quarter mile.
Other strong contenders who have entered Spring Classic include two-time LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway champion J Herbst and former Dells Raceway Park champion Rich Schumann Jr. Herbst, the West Salem Wisconsin resident, had his best season ever with the Big 8 Series last year, surging to sixth in final 2014 points. Schumann, meanwhile, has had strong showings in sporadic Big 8 appearances in recent years but has also run into hard luck. Will one of these top drivers find victory lane at Rockford on April 12?
Several youthful challengers have also filed their entries for Spring Classic. Included in that group is 2014 Rockford Speedway Rookie of the Year Dana Czach, along with 2014 Big 8 Late Model Series Rookie of the Year Collin Olson. Lakeville Minnesota teenager Michael Ostdiek, a former Quarter Midget and Legend Champion, has also declared for Spring Classic and plans to chase the entire Big 8 schedule in 2015.
The 38th Annual Spring Classic is set for Sunday afternoon, April 12 at Rockford Speedway. Gates open at 11 AM, with Qualifying at 11:30 AM and the first race at 1 PM. Joining the Big 8 Late Model Series on the season-opening card is the Mid American Stock Car Series, which opens their season for the 23rd consecutive year at Rockford with a 50 lap main event. The American Ethanol Super Trucks also make their first ever trip to Rockford Speedway April 12, contesting Twin 25 lap features.
For more information on Rockford Speedway and the 38th Annual Spring Classic, please call 815-633-1500 or visit www.rockfordspeedway.com. For more information on the Big 8 Late Model Series, please visit www.big8series.com.