By: Eric Huenefeld
As the Big 8 Late Model Series makes its traditional stop at Rockford Speedway on “Short Track Saturday Night,” all eyes will be on Michael Bilderback.
Along with being one of the most dominant Big 8 drivers over the course of the last three racing seasons, Bilderback is on the verge of making history. If the South Beloit resident can hold onto the Big 8 Series point lead and end the season as Big 8 Late Model Series champion, he would become the first driver in series history to win three consecutive championships.
This summer, the 26-year-old became the first driver since 2008-2009 to win back-to-back Rockford Speedway track championships. A four-time winner on Saturday nights in 2017, Bilderback won three features in a span of four weeks to help pad his point lead on his way to the title. Since 2015, Bilderback has captured 22 Big 8 Late Model-style feature wins.
But there will be a mountain of contenders looking to challenge Bilderback and take the win on Saturday night. Two of the leading contenders to challenge the champion are Jeremy Miller and Jon Reynolds Jr. Miller, a four-time Big 8 Late Model Series champion, has collected one Big 8 win in 2017 (Madison in July) and has been the closest pursuer to Bilderback all season long. Miller is not only looking for a 13th career Big 8 Series win, but is also looking for his first Rockford win since September of 2007. On the other hand, Reynolds is trying to add to history, looking for an unprecedented 5th Big 8 Series victory at Rockford during NSTC. A Big 8 win at Rockford would also tie Reynolds with Miller for most Big 8 Series wins all-time.
Seven-time Rockford Speedway track champion Bobby Wilberg returns to NSTC this weekend, looking for his fourth career win at National Short Track Championships. Rockford is the site of Wilberg’s only Big 8 Late Model Series win, back in 2015 at Spring Classic. This summer was another successful year on-track for Wilberg, who pocketed the track championship at Madison International Speedway. Speaking of track champions converging on Rockford Speedway, multi-time Jefferson Speedway champion Dale Nottestad is set to return to NSTC this weekend, looking for his first win in the 108 lap race. Nottestad, like Wilberg, is a former Big 8 winner at Rockford during Spring Classic.
Three-time Rockford Speedway track champion Jerry Gille has entered this Saturday night’s Big 8 Late Model Series race at NSTC, along with his nephew and 2015 Rockford Speedway track champion Jake Gille, who famously saw a solid run in last year’s 108 lap race end with a harrowing wreck in Turn 3. In limited action during 2017, Gille has been consistent as usual, with a pair of top five finishes.
2013 Rockford Speedway track champion Alex Papini, who was a top five finisher at Spring Classic back in April and a feature winner at Rockford in June, also returns this weekend at NSTC. Other contenders Saturday night include two-time National Short Track Champion Steve Rubeck, Iowa’s Brody Willett, Minnesota’s Ryan Kamish, Wisconsin’s Jake Zellmer, former ‘Rockford Rules 200’ winner Tom Gille along with former Rockford Speedway Rookie of the Year Mitch Garfield.
The 52nd Annual National Short Track Championships take place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday September 29, 30 and October 1 at Rockford Speedway. Friday’s “Opening Night” features five divisions and gets going at a NEW start time of 6 PM. “Short Track Saturday Night” takes the green at 5 PM and includes a 108 lap Big 8 Late Model Series race plus Super Late Model preliminaries, Great Northern Sportsman Series and Northern Vintage Racers. “Championship Sunday” goes green at 12:30 PM and is headlined by the 200 lap National Short Track Championship and is accompanied by the Mid American Stock Car Series and American Super Cups.
For more information on the 52nd Annual National Short Track Championships or to order tickets in advance, please call 815-633-1500 or visit rockfordspeedway.com.