By: Eric Huenefeld
On Friday night at State Park Speedway, Michael Bilderback returned to Big 8 Late Model Series victory lane for the first time since 2008. And for the first time in Big 8 Late Model Series history, the winning car arrived in victory lane on a wrecker.
Bilderback slid across the line inches ahead of runner up J Herbst following a frantic 12 lap sprint, the after the checkered flag waved, Bilderback’s sideways vehicle was struck on the entrance of turn one as the thundering herd of racecars charged across the line.
The build-up to the grand finale was just as exciting on this night, as twenty-two Big 8 Late Models took to the track for the 58 lap feature. Big 8 Series Rookie of the Year point leader Cole Anderson led the field to green, with local favorite Lyle Nowak on his outside. The front two raced side-by-side for the first handful of circuits, with Anderson leading lap one and Nowak slipping ahead on the second lap. By the fifth circuit, Nowak claimed the lead for himself, yet within a the span of a lap, saw pressure for the lead in the form of two-time Big 8 Series champion Casey Johnson. Within another lap, Johnson breezed into the race lead and set sail from the rest of the field.
Behind Johnson, the action was intense as Bilderback and Herbst picked their way to the front. The road forward was much smoother and quicker for Bilderback, as the South Beloit Illinois native found himself in second place by lap 17. Herbst, who started ninth, fell to eleventh early in the race, but began his charge around lap 12. While Herbst raced forward, Bilderback assumed second place and began to chip away at the lead of Johnson. Just as Bilderback began to make gains on Johnson in lapped traffic, both drivers encountered a scare which would produce the first caution flag of the race. As Johnson and Bilderback entered the third corner on the twenty-third lap, they saw Adam Peschek and Michael Clapper enter a tight space together. The two cars touched doors and slowed up, then were contacted by a quickly closing Mondell Peters. All three cars were able to continue on, but the contact popped the hood off of Peters’ Chevrolet, sending it skyward and eventually onto the race track, bringing out the yellow flag.
The stoppage allowed Bilderback to restart on the bumper of Johnson, and it also allowed Herbst a chance to close in on the rest of the field. When racing resumed, Johnson and Bilderback jumped away, while Herbst went to work on the rest of the field. As the race approached halfway, Bilderback was able to make his move to the inside of Johnson and by lap 30, Bilderback assumed the lead. Just as it seemed Bilderback may disappear from the rest of the front runners, the final yellow flag of the race appeared as a breakage on Evan Call’s #43 car sent him spinning in the third corner.
On the final restart with twenty one laps to go, Herbst began his assault up front, getting past Nowak and Austin Nason for fourth and third respectively. Herbst then set his sights on Johnson for second place, finally claiming the runner up position with 12 laps to go. With a six car length deficit, it was now or never for the two-time LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway champion Herbst. In a matter of six laps, Bilderback and Herbst were bumper-to-bumper, with Herbst taking a peek to the inside of Bilderback on lap 53 for the race lead. As the West Salem Wisconsin native made his move on the bottom of turn four, Bilderback stood his ground, sending Herbst into the infield dirt. Herbst shook off the dust and made one last run at Bilderback, and this time climbed to the outside of the track to move past Bilderback as the white flag waved. When the duo exited the fourth corner and headed for the finish, Bilderback lost traction and spun sideways, but was able to slide across the finish line merely inches ahead of Herbst. As Bilderback’s car sat sideways at the end of the front stretch, the rest of the field took evasive action, with Wausau’s Todd Handrick unable to stop his car short of collecting Bilderback. Both cars received heavy damage, with Bilderback arriving in victory lane on foot as his car arrived moments later with the help of a tow truck.
The win was Bilderback’s third career Big 8 Late Model Series victory and fourth Late Model win overall in 2015. The runner up finish for J Herbst was his second straight podium finish in Big 8 competition, following his runner up finish at Hawkeye Downs back in June. Earlier in the evening, Herbst also collected his first Quartermaster Quick Time Award, setting the new Big 8 Late Model Series Track Record at State Park Speedway with a lap of 14.622. Johnson, making his first Big 8 Series start since Rockford in April, finished in third place and in the process collected his twenty-fifth career Big 8 Series top-five.
Austin Nason continued his recent trend of strong runs with the Big 8 Late Model Series, following up his Madison win with a fourth place finish at Wausau. Outside pole-sitter Lyle Nowak stayed inside the top five all night and was rewarded with a fifth place finish, which was the first ever top-five finish in Big 8 Series competition for the former Mid-American Stock Car Series champion.
Bobby Wilberg, who came into the race as the Big 8 Late Model Series point leader, made the best of a bad night. After a poor qualifying effort, Wilberg was regulated to the Qualifying Race, where the veteran took the lead early and went on to victory. The win put Wilberg in the fifteenth starting postion for the main event and despite a slow start, Wilberg eventually picked up steam and ended the race in the eighth position. Wilberg was one of three drivers, along with Bilderback and Herbst, who advanced seven positions in the 58 lapper.
Following Bilderback’s victory and Wilberg’s off night, the two drivers are now in a tie atop the Big 8 Late Model Series point standing as the ‘Best Weekly Warriors in the Country’ begin the second half of their eight-race slate Tuesday night August 4 at Wisconsin International Raceway for the running of the Gandrud Chevrolet ‘Dixieland Delight’ 38 lap feature.
BIG 8 LATE MODEL SERIES
‘Larry Detjens Memorial 58’
State Park Speedway (Wausau, WI)
Friday July 24, 2015
1. Michael Bilderback South Beloit, IL
2. J. Herbst West Salem, WI
3. Casey Johnson Edgerton, WI
4. Austin Nason Roscoe, IL
5. Lyle Nowak Wausau, WI
6. Tim Sargent South Beloit IL
7. Brent Edmunds Monticello, WI
8. Bobby Wilberg Beloit, WI
9. Michael Ostdiek Lakeville, MN
10. Cole Anderson (R) Northfield, MN
11. Dave Edwards Salem, WI
12. Wayne Freimund Elkhorn, WI
13. Justin Mondeik Gleason, WI
14. JeffNowak Weston, WI
15. Jon Reynolds Jr Rockford, IL
16. Adam Peschek Oconomowoc, WI
17. Eric Connell Fort Atkinson, WI
18. Todd Handrick Wausau, WI
19. Mondell Peters Weston, WI
20. Evan Call Weston, WI
21.Michael Bachaus Milton, WI
22. Michael Clapper Dane, WI
Preliminary Winners: Wilberg, Anderson, Nowak
Fast Qualifier: Herbst (14.622- NTR)
Entries: 22 Big 8 Series Late Models