This weekend marks the 50th running of the National Short Track Championships at Rockford Speedway. Over the past five decades, it has become one of the most prestigious events in the Midwest and includes winners like Joe Shear, Dick Trickle, Steve Carlson and Eddie Hoffman.
“Rockford has a history that goes unmatched,” 2009 National Short Track Champion Josh Nelms told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “The past winners of this race shows that Rockford is the place to be and for the 50th year the atmosphere is unreal.
“What makes NSTC so special is its home,” says 2014 Rockford Speedway tack champion Jon Reynolds Jr. “It’s our Daytona 500 week and like the 500 it’s so hard to win for even the best SLM drivers around.”
Nelms and Reynolds Jr. and just two drivers who choose to try their hand in more than one race throughout the course of the weekend. Alex Papini, Reynolds Jr and Jake Gille will pilot both a Limited Late and a Super Late Model, while Josh Nelms goes for the trifecta and enters the Limited Late Model, Super Late Model and Mid-American Stock Car Series events.
“I have to remember to move my gear over helmet, hans, gloves, etc,” says Nelms. “I was actually surprised jumping into different cars didn’t throw my timing off on the track. I don’t see an advantage. Each car has different tires, horsepower and brakes. It does help that I’ll know track conditions for each car when I go out.”
“Racing in both Late Model classes is a juggle,” says Reynolds Jr. “Mainly through practice lading to qualifying. What you have to control is getting in the Limited Late Model after being in the Super Late Model. You have half the tire and you are used to the entry speed of the Super Late Model, it’s really easy to over drive the Limited Late Model. The track changes all weekend so staying in a car helps me keep up with the changes, plus running 108 laps on Saturday makes the 200 on Sunday easier physically.”
No matter how many races drivers buckle in for, one thing that is certain is that bringing home a National Short Track Championship title is something special. Nelms won the event back in 2009 and searches for a second trophy this year.
“2009 was my biggest win,” says Nelms. “To look at my name on the wall and see whom I accompany is impressive. I’ve seen guys wreck out early. I’ve qualified 18th and won it and just rode and saved tires. You have to be there at the end to have a chance. I have a great sponsor in Lisa Thomas Salon and thanks to TK racing and my crew chief John Signore we hope to get it done again this year.”
While Nelms has a Super Late Model title to his name, Reynolds Jr. still searches for one. He’s taken the checkered flag in four National Short Track Championship Limited Late Model events, but a win on Sunday has eluded the driver known as ‘Driver X’.
“Our new Lefthander is really turning,” says Reynolds Jr. “Our engine is fresh from JAMR and we have a solid crew. But it’s so tough to get to lap 125. You look at the four Late Model drivers here at Rockford, who, over the years have won 24 track championships here and have tried to win the NSTC Super Late Model race and none have been able to. That’s how hard it is and what drives me to accomplish the feat.”
The three-day event kicks off Friday with the Sportsman division highlighting the night. Saturday, Limited Late Models steal the show as the Big 8 Series comes to town along with the Mid-American Stock Car Series. Then Sunday, it’s the 200-lap Super Late model event to crown the 2015 National Short Track Champion.
-By Jana Wimmer, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @JWimm22
-Photo credit: Rockford Speedway