By: Eric Huenefeld
The 2017 Big 8 Late Model season was an unforgettable one for Michael Bilderback.
The 26-year-old racer from South Beloit Illinois posted four victories in eight races on the way to a 114-point victory in the standings over four-time Series champion Jeremy Miller. The championship was a third consecutive Big 8 Late Model Series crown for Bilderback, an unprecedented feat in the history of the 12-year-old series.
Bilderback started the season strong at Rockford’s Spring Classic in April, setting the track record and following it up with a commanding win in the 88-lap feature event. During the season, Bilderback also picked up wins at State Park Speedway in July, at Wisconsin International Raceway in August and at Rockford in September during the National Short Track Championships. Bilderback’s September Rockford win was enough to clinch the Series championship with one race remaining in the season.
Bilderback’s final 2017 stats include four wins (giving him 12 all-time, tied for the most in Series history), two fast times and seven top five finishes in eight starts. The only non-top five came at Oktoberfest, where Bilderback broke a wheel in practice, severely damaging his car. Jumping into Jon Reynolds Jr’s car, Bilderback started 24th and finished 9th in the caution-free 68 lap feature race. During 2017, Bilderback’s average feature finish was an incredible 2.875.
Finishing second in points was Miller, the Rockford Illinois resident who was the nearest foil to Bilderback’s championship chase in 2017. Miller collected more fast times than anyone during 2017 with three (Madison, Kaukauna and Rockford NSTC) while also earning four top-fives and six top-tens. Miller’s undoing came late in the season, with a 17th place result at Elko and a 20th at Rockford. Miller’s win during the ‘Salute to America’ at Madison in June was his 12th career Big 8 Series win, which currently ties him with Bilderback for the all-time Series wins lead.
Teenager Brody Willett had a breakout year during the 2017 Big 8 Late Model season, finishing a solid third in final points. The Alburnett Iowa youngster collected top ten finishes in seven of the eight races in 2017, including four top five runs at Madison, State Park, Rockford and LaCrosse. Willett ended the year strong, battling back from an early incident at Rockford to come home fifth and leading half of the finale at LaCrosse before earning his first podium finish (third place) in the 68 lapper at Oktoberfest.
Farmington Minnesota’s Ryan Kamish finished fourth place in his first full go with the Big 8 Late Model Series. Kamish collected two top five finishes (Hawkeye Downs and WIR) and four top tens during 2017. Muskego Wisconsin’s Jake Zellmer rounded out the top five in 2017 Big 8 Late Model Series points, polishing off a stellar year which saw him earn three top tens in the Series (State Park, WIR and Rockford NSTC) while also collecting two weekly feature wins this summer.
Richfield Wisconsin’s Jerry Mueller finished the season sixth in points, with a best finish of sixth at WIR in August, while Hartford Wisconsin’s Jake Vanoskey finished in seventh place. South Beloit Illinois native Tim Sargent ended the season eighth, followed by Tyler Hromadka in ninth and John Baumeister Jr in tenth.
Eight drivers attended every Big 8 Series event in 2017 (Bilderback, Miller, Willett, Kamish, Zellmer, Mueller, Vanoskey and Hromadka), while four drivers were able to start each feature (Bilderback, Miller, Willett and Kamish). A total of 91 cars garnered points at Big 8 Series races in 2017, with an average of 26 cars entering each event.