The 39th time was the charm for Rockford Speedway’s annual Spring Classic. Clear skies, no wind and temperatures in the eighties greeted all for the historic track’s 69th season. Fans basked in the sun with or without sunscreen, enjoying what is normally a cold, windy opening day at the quarter-mile. Matriarch Jody Deery greeted all and thanked the fans for supporting the family’s track. Looking at the encroaching development surrounding the track, we are also thankful they haven’t succumbed to the rash of tracks forced to close their gates forever.
The Big 8 late models led off morning qualifying with defending champion Michael Bilderback lowering the record time on both laps. With the top fourteen locked into the main event, Jon Reynolds Jr. and rookie Kyle Chwala won the qualifying races and Mike Lloyd won the last chance race. The dashes were won by Dale Nottestad and Mitch Garfield, setting the first four rows for the 88-lap feature. Behind this duo were Jeremy Miller, Wayne Freimund, Bilderback, Jim Olson, Kyle Shear and defending track champion Jake Gille. The two dozen cars roared to life at the green flag and Garfield led the pack until Nottestad got past on lap four. Just before a dozen circuits were scored a slowed car forced the first caution of the race.
Lanes were chosen for the restart behind Nottestad, who began lapping cars before two dozen laps were complete. Miller had worked up to second place when his car suddenly slowed before thirty laps were run. One of the lapped cars got the lucky dog before the field again chose their lanes. Few want the inner groove at this oval, but moving up a couple rows is too hard to resist. The contest went past halfway with tight battles for position through the field. Bilderback saved his tires, taking his time getting to the front and passed Nottestad with 35 laps remaining. Two laps later a slowed car brought out the next yellow flag with eleven cars on the lead lap. One got his lap back as attrition had reduced the field to eighteen.
Bilderback left the others to duel side by side at the restart as the laps ticked past towards the end. Eight laps remained when a cluster of cars collided, reducing the field for the next restart. Seven laps from the end Garfield suddenly slowed, ending his top run and Bilderback had to endure another restart. The final fourteen made two more orbits when a pair spun with five laps left. Bilderback fended off Nottestad and Schumann, who began in the sixth row. Winning his first Spring Classic win since 2008, Bilderback exclaimed, “This is awesome. It’s my second one. This one means more. We built this car a couple years ago as a super late model. I’m glad we did. No matter where we go, it’s good.” Asked about the constant challenges from Nottestad, Bilderback didn’t mind racing side by side with a racer he could trust, stating, “I’m really glad we could race like that.”
Nottestad had to settle for second place, claiming, “We’ve come down here a few nights before. We’ve got a good car. I thought we had something for him (Bilderback). He’s pretty good.” Schumann was very happy with third place, stating, “It’s outstanding. Dell Raceway Park is my favorite place, but I’ll be honest, this is second. I knew we had to battle Dale (Nottestad) there. I’m very happy.” Freimund, Olson and Reynolds completed the top six.
The Mid-American Stock Car Series opened their season at Rockford with Tyler Bauknecht claiming fast time honors and rolling the die to invert the feature field by eleven cars. Cody Clubb and Scott Dunning won the heats before the 50-lap feature field was set. Jeremy Bloomberg and Rick Tackman Jr. began ahead of returning veteran Pete Hernandez, Bill Rud, Dunning, Ryan Gutknecht and his uncle Bobby Gutknecht, who blew an engine here during Saturday’s practice. Bloomberg leaped into the lead at the green flag, only to see the yellow the next lap for a spun car. The field chose their lanes for the double-file restart and Bloomberg was in charge again. Ryan Gutknecht worked his way to the front and took the point on lap sixteen. Five laps later Bauknecht’s great day ended in a trail of fluids.
The restart ended in a caution for a multi-car tangle, during which leader Gutknecht’s car erupted in flames under the hood. A fire in the air cleaner ended Gutknecht’s day, leaving nine survivors before the midway mark.
Bloomberg inherited the point for the next green flag, but Mark Pluer got past the next time around. Pluer spun after contact with Bill Prietzel, who started in the sixth row, and both had to restart at the back of the pack. Again Bloomberg was the recipient, happily leading the entire second half of the race. Surviving one more restart for a spun car, Bloomberg was closely followed by Prietzel, Ken Calhoun, Bobby Gutknecht, Rud and Pluer. Bloomberg happily told the crowd, “I’ve got to give credit to the crew. There’s a lot of faster cars,” laughingly adding, “I never went past anyone in the race, but I won. That’s one to remember.” Prietzel came over to shake Bloomberg’s hand and congratulated him, claiming, “It was interesting. Man, I wanted to pass Jeremy (Bloomberg) but I just couldn’t get past him. I’ll take second.” Calhoun, who also competed in the Super Truck field Sunday, said, “I left the car home yesterday because I was going to concentrate on the truck. That was my very first feature win ever.”
Calhoun was one of three who showed up for the truck event, winning the first 20-lap contest. Quick qualifier Chester Ace won the second contest and Michael Raskovic was the third entry. Drivers from near and far have now cleared the cobwebs from their cars and are ready for more. Sunburned fans visited their heroes shortly after four o’clock in the heat, and beverages were consumed. It’s officially the beginning of the race season.
-Story and Photo by Fay Hendricks