After eleven years of waiting, a one hour rain delay was nothing for Bobby Wilberg.
One of the most notable and consistent drivers in the history of the Big 8 Late Model Series presented Gandrud Chevrolet, Wilberg had never visited victory lane in a Big 8 Series event. That changed Sunday afternoon during the 38th Annual Spring Classic, when Wilberg bested 25 other competitors in the 88 lap season-opening race at Rockford Speedway.
Wilberg, who raced inside the top five all day long, slipped past two-time Big 8 Series champion Casey Johnson with 15 laps to go, following contact entering turn one which sent Johnson towards the turn one wall, ending Johnson’s quest for victory and his race.
Johnson, winner of the most recent Big 8 Series event at Rockford last September, started the race from the front row alongside polesitter Rich Schumann Jr. When the green flag dropped, Johnson tip-toed into lead ahead of Schumann and 2014 Rockford Speedway champion Jon Reynolds Jr. As the top three tried to pull away, mayhem ensued behind them as Austin Nason and Michael Bachaus came together in turn three. The contact sent Bachaus sideways, collecting Kyle Shear and forcing evasive action out of the eighteen drivers behind them. When the smoke cleared, eleven cars became collected in the melee, including several cars who started the event in the middle of the pack. Despite the large sum of cars involved, most drivers were able to drive away from the scene, with about half of those involved rejoining the field following work in the pit area.
When the race resumed, Johnson was able to clear the field and ride alone at the front. The battle for second heated up, with Wilberg and Jake Gille eventually driving past both Reynolds and Schumann. Shortly after the restart, Schumann’s car began to slow, and the former Dells Raceway Park champion drove his car to the pit area and ended his day. Following Schumann’s departure, the longest green-flag run of the day began with a 31 lap jaunt which saw the top three of Johnson, Wilberg and Gille separating themselves from the field. Over the course of the race’s next 60 laps, Wilberg and Gille would trade second position numerous times. Both racers also were able to take their best shot at Johnson, with the Edgerton Wisconsin native able to hold off each and every challenge.
As the race wore on, raindrops began to trickle from the sky. The race was finally yellow flagged for weather with 20 laps to go and after several minutes of circling the track trying to stay ahead of the weather, the field was sent to pit road. Over the course of the next hour, light rain tapered on and off but after a sizable wait, the field of Late Models was summoned back to the track to complete the final 20 laps.
When the race resumed, Johnson lead Gille and Wilberg to green. Wilberg got the best of Gille on the bottom groove and set his sights on Johnson. The two racers then became bumper to bumper, with Wilberg delivering a bump to Johnson entering turn one on the 73rd lap. Johnson’s car wobbled and ended up smacking the outside wall with the right rear. The impact disabled the rear end of Johnson’s machine, ending the former race leader’s day one lap later.
After the caution flew, Johnson’s machine stopped in turn two. Johnson emerged from the vehicle visibly displeased with the situation and the abrupt end to his day. When the action picked back up, it was Wilberg ahead of Gille, with Reynolds restarting on the bottom of the track in third. Reynolds and Gille raced hard for second over the final laps, leading to Wilberg’s escape to the checkered flag. Jake Gille ended the race in second place, his best ever Big 8 Series finish. Reynolds’ steady effort was rewarded with a third place finish. Michael Bachaus fought back from his second lap misfortune to finish the race in fourth place, while Elkhorn Wisconsin’s Wayne Freimund rounded out the top five.
Wilberg was also the afternoon’s Fast Qualifier, turning a lap of 13.808 in Quartermaster Time Trials. 2014 Big 8 Series Rookie of the Year Collin Olson was the Powersource Power Mover of the Race, advancing fifteen positions from 24th to 9th over the course of 88 laps.
The next race for the Big 8 Late Model Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet is scheduled for Friday night June 5 at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids Iowa, the first ever trip for the Series to the Hawkeye State.
Big 8 Late Model Series Spring Classic
Rockford (IL) Speedway
1. Bobby Wilberg Beloit WI
2. Jacob Gille Machesney Park
3. Jon Reynolds Jr Rockford
4. Michael Bachaus Columbia City, IN
5. Wayne Freimund Elkhorn WI
6. Michael Bilderback South Beloit
7. Dana Czach Wauconda
8. Josh Nelms Lockport
9. Collin Olson Maplewood MN
10. Duke Long West Bend WI
11. Dave Edwards Salem WI
12. Casey Johnson Edgerton WI
13. Austin Nason Roscoe
14. John Beinlich Prairie View
15. Cole Anderson (R) Northfield MN
16. Tony Brutti Dyer IN
17. Michael Ostdiek Lakeville, MN
18. Tory Adams Madison WI
19. Alex Papini Machesney Park
20. Adam Peschek Oconomowoc WI
21. Rich Schumann Jr Portage WI
22. Kyle Shear Roscoe
23. Mike Lloyd Davis
24. J. Herbst West Salem WI
25. Adam Bendzick (R), Elko MN
26. Michael Clapper Dane WI