By: Eric Huenefeld
With the heartbreak of finishing one point shy of the 2008 Big 8 Late Model Series championship still fresh in his mind, Michael Bilderback was on a mission Saturday at the LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway.
Armed with confidence after a dominant performance the week prior at Rockford Speedway, along with a 55 point cushion on his nearest pursuer, Bilderback left no doubt at the 46th Oktoberfest Race Weekend, qualifying 3rd fastest out of a season-high 45 qualifiers and later racing from a tenth starting spot to a second place finish in the 68 lap Big 8 Series Championship Feature.
Bilderback, along with two-time Series champion Casey Johnson, worked through the field together from their fifth-row starting spots, finding the top five very early in the event. The 28-car starting field clicked off 53 consecutive laps of green flag racing before the first of three caution flags flew in the race’s final 15 laps. Throughout the final 15 circuits, Johnson and Bilderback, along with fast qualifier Ty Majeski, challenged race-long leader J Herbst. Despite their best attempts, neither driver could break free to challenge Herbst, who seemed to collect his first Big 8 Series win. However, Herbst’s win was disallowed after his race car failed Post Race Inspection.
The post-race shake up awarded the win to Johnson, giving the three-time Jefferson Speedway champion his ninth career Big 8 Series win and his first conquest on the tour in just three starts this season. Bilderback ended up moving into the second position, while Majeski, who competed in his first Big 8 event since 2011, was credited with third. Tim Sargent and Rich Schumann Jr finished the 68 laps in fourth and fifth respectively.
Bilderback’s final margin of victory in the 2015 Big 8 point standings was 105 points over his nearest competitor Austin Nason. The final day of the season was the toughest for Nason, who experienced issues with his vehicle during final practice, which forced him to jump into Jeremy Miller’s machine for the rest of the night. With no laps prior to qualifying aboard Miller’s mount, Nason qualified in the top ten, but found fewer successes after that and ended the 68 lap race in 16th place, his worst finish of the 2015 season.
In his championship run, Bilderback finished no worse than sixth in any Big 8 race during the 2015 season and through eight races sported an amazing average finish of third place. Along with six wins at his home track Rockford Speedway, Bilderback was a two-time Big 8 winner in 2015, with a memorable sideways slide to win at Wausau ahead of Herbst and the aforementioned dominant win at Rockford during the 50th Anniversary National Short Track Championships.
Nason was the only other driver besides Bilderback to win multiple times on the 2015 tour, collecting his wins at Madison in late June and at Elko in September. Despite the rough final day of the season, Nason still ended up second in the final points rundown, 32 markers ahead of Bobby Wilberg, who won the first race of the season in April at Rockford. Wilberg passed more cars than anyone in the 68 lap feature at LaCrosse, starting the race from 25th position and finishing in ninth.
Iowa State University freshman and Minnesota native Michael Ostdiek made an impressive late-season push to fourth in the Big 8 Late Model Series standings. Ostdiek, a three-time feature winner at Elko Speedway this summer, collected his first three Big 8 Series top-fives this season at Madison, Kaukauna and Elko. Fellow Minnesotan Cole Anderson not only finished the season fifth in Big 8 Series standings, but also won the 2015 Big 8 Late Model Series Rookie of the Year Award. Anderson edged out Wayne Freimund for fifth place in the Big 8 standings by just a single point.
The Big 8 Late Model Series now looks forward to it’s twelfth season in 2016, which again opens at Rockford Speedway in April as part of the 39th Annual Spring Classic. The preliminary 2016 Big 8 Late Model Series schedule will be available around January 1st. For more information on the Big 8 Late Model Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet, please visit big8series.com or please call 815-633-1500.
Big 8 Late Model Series
Final 2015 Point Standings (Top 10)
1. 2 Michael Bilderback 851 (2 wins)
2. 14 Austin Nason 746 (2 wins)
3. 28 Bobby Wilberg 714 (1 win)
4. 18 Michael Ostdiek 651
5. 97 Cole Anderson 564 ®
6. 95 Wayne Freimund 563
7. X Jon Reynolds Jr 557 (1 win)
8. 5 Dave Edwards 464
9. 5 Casey Johnson 420 (1 win)
10. 45 Michael Bachaus 397