In the week leading up to Independence Day, Rockford Speedway (IL) underwent a transformation. Gone was the asphalt and in came dirt to cover the quarter-mile track in Loves Park, Illinois. The highlight of the week was the World of Outlaw Craftsman Sprint Car Series, where Donny Schatz went to Victory Lane. But on Saturday night, Limited Late Models, a regular division at Rockford Speedway, tested tough and hit the dirt for the Dream 33.
“It was definitely different than our normal asphalt Saturday night,” current Rockford Late Model point leader Michael Bilderback told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I’ve been lucky enough to have one dirt race experience last year. So I went into Saturday with a little bit of experience. But definitely over thought it. With how they prepped the track it definitely accompanied our asphalt cars a lot more than I would have thought.”
Among the 16 drivers were Rockford regulars like Michael Bilderback, 2015 Big 8 Champion and winner of six Late Model races at Rockford Speedway in 2015, and Jon Reynolds Jr., the 2014 track champion. The event also drew guys like four-time Big 8 champion Jeremy Miller.
While their laps around the new surface were fun, the change from asphalt to dirt wasn’t without its challenges and even with countless laps around Rockford Speedway, when it came to getting it done on the dirt, they had to learn quickly.
“The biggest challenge was figuring out what to do with gas and brake pedal; how much throttle you could give it without spinning out and same with brake pedal on entry,” said Miller. “l learned about half way through the feature finally how much to slide the car around the corner and get a good run off.”
“Keeping myself low on the racetrack was difficult,” said Bilderback, “Which is completely opposite of what we would normally do on asphalt. Typically the fast lane is the high lane around and after watching the Sprint Cars and Late Models Wednesday and Thursday I should have known I should have wanted to run the bottom, but the mentality that we get in with the asphalt cars I kept trying to go to the top and with the speeds and the way the track dried out the bottom lane proved to be the fastest.”
“I had to try to slow myself down to be smoother,” said Reynolds. I’m so used to attacking Rockford Speedway, but I couldn’t do that on the dirt.”
It was former Rockford track champion Tim Sargeant who took the checkered flag after 33 laps on the dirt. Reynolds Jr. brought home a second-place finish and Bilderback rounded out the top-five.
“It felt great finishing second,” said Reynolds Jr. “Even though we were second all night, it was different each time out. So being able to adapt and still go forward all night felt rewarding. Maybe one more caution would have made it interesting for the win.”
“Bringing home a top five was definitely a good run for us,” said Bilderback. “I messed up in qualifying so we end up starting 16th in the feature and being able to make moves and get as far up as third and to come home fifth was a great accomplishment for us.”
But no matter what place they came home, one thing was unanimous.
“I’d definitely do it again,” said Bilderback. “I’ve always been a big fan of dirt racing and still think it’s something I’ll do someday, so any chance I get I’m jumping.”
“It was a lot of fun and I would love to do it again,” said Reynolds Jr.
“I asked the sponsor, Mark from Kar Korner, when the next race was, I had a blast,” said Miller.
-By Jana Wimmer, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @JWimm22
-Photo Credit: Kim Kemperman Photo