By: Eric Huenefeld
Coming into Rockford Speedway’s 50th Anniversary National Short Track Championships, the three drivers at the top of the Big 8 Late Model Series point standings were separated by just 32 points. Leaving Rockford Speedway on Saturday night, the story changed and one driver took ownership of the 2015 championship chase.
South Beloit’s Michael Bilderback had a dominant Saturday night at his home track, collecting fast time honors, then charging through the talent laden field on his way to collecting his second win of the Big 8 Late Model Series season and his first win at the National Short Track Championships.
Bilderback quickly worked his way to the front of the field, trailing only Casey Johnson for the lead by lap 25. Over the course of the next 30 laps, Johnson and Bilderback set a blistering pace at the head of the class, with the three-time Jefferson Speedway champion Johnson holding off Bilderback at nearly every corner. Finally, as the race neared halfway, Bilderback was able to work his machine to the inside of Johnson and made the move for the top spot. Once Bilderback positioned his vehicle at the front of the field, he was rarely challenged again.
Following Bilderback’s winning pass, the race saw it’s longest green flag run at nearly 50 laps. In the process, drivers like J Herbst and Alex Papini made their trek towards the top five. Herbst, who started 15th after racing his way into the 108 lap feature via a qualifying race, climbed as high as third, while Papini, who was involved in an early race incident in the third corner, raced from the back of the field to end up in third.
When the checkered flag flew, it was Bilderback who held off all comers in a five-lap sprint to the finish following a late-race yellow flag. Johnson held on to second place while Papini scratched ahead of Herbst for the third position on the last lap. Four-time Big 8 Series champion Jeremy Miller made his first series start of 2015 and came home in fifth.
Bilderback put plenty of daylight between himself and his nearest competition in the Big 8 Late Model Series point standings with just one more race to go in the 2015 season. Austin Nason, who came into the race second in points, just 20 off of Bilderback back’s lead, fell back late in the 108 lap race and settled for seventh in the final order, while Bobby Wilberg, who entered the race in third place in the standings, fell out of the race and was scored 19th in the final rundown.
In other action Saturday night…
Oak Creek Wisconsin’s Ryan Gutkneckt won a caution-free 50 lap Mid American Stock Car Series feature. The win was Gutkneckt’s first win in the Series and the first for his family at Rockford Speedway after over 20 years of trying. Former Rockford winners and former Mid-Am champions Lyle Nowak and Mark Pluer came home second and third, respectively.
Patrick Bruns topped off a dominant season in the Illini Racing Series Midgets, winning the 30 lap championship feature over his teammate Max Pozsgai. Bruns was officially crowned the IRS champion for the fourth time in his career while also winning his third NSTC crown.
Mendota’s Matt Ramer held off a furious charge from Pat ‘Hacksaw’ Heaney to win the 20 lap Vintage Racers of Illinois feature race.