On the Opening Night of the 69th season of racing at Rockford Speedway, thrilling feature finishes were the name of the game.
Each of the four main events contested on Saturday evening included their own unique version of drama, setting the tone for what’s sure to be an unforgettable season of racing ‘under the lights.’
STANLEY STEEMER NASCAR LATE MODELS
The 30 lap feature event for the Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model division was shaping up to be a thrilling finish before the only yellow flag of the race waved with ten laps to go. When the final ten circuits concluded, not only was the race considered ‘thrilling,’ it may also be considered one of the ‘most thrilling.’
Outside pole sitter Wayne Freimund jumped to the lead from the start and was able make space between himself and the rest of the field early on. Behind Freimund, no less that six drivers battled tooth and nail for the first 20 paces. When the field sorted itself out around lap 15, new Track Record holder Michael Bilderback found himself in second position just ahead of Jon Reynolds Jr. Over the course of the next few laps, both Bilderback and Reynolds made small gains on Freimund for the lead. Then, with ten laps to go, pole sitter Adam Peschek spun on the backstretch, bringing out the only yellow flag of the race and setting up a very frantic finish.
On the restart, Reynolds failed in his attempt at the lead from the bottom of the track, giving second place back to Bilderback, who used the next six laps to stalk Freimund for the lead. With two laps remaining, Bilderback deployed to the bottom of Freimund and the two began to spar for the lead. Coming to the white flag, Bilderback and Freimund traded paint and pushed towards the bottom of the track, where Reynolds tried to drive beneath both drivers and make a bold three-wide move for the lead. While the top three washed to the bottom of the track, reigning Track Champion Jake Gille took advantage of the open outside lane and charged from fourth place to the lead. On the backstretch, Bilderback collected himself and made one last charge at Gille, getting to his bumper off of the fourth corner. Gille was sent sideways with Bilderback pushing him towards the finish line. Gille slid across the stripe in first place, with Bilderback’s bumper at his door handle and a second place finish the end result for Bilderback. Reynolds nearly nipped Bilderback for second place, instead settling for third. Alex Papini survived the last lap insanity and came home in fourth, with Pat Featherston rounding out the top five.
BARGAIN HUNTER SPORTSMAN
It was a nearly perfect night for Howie Ware.
Falling just a Heat Race win short of the ‘clean sweep,’ Ware set Fast Time in qualifying and later won the Fast Dash. When it came time for the division’s 25 lap feature event, Ware advanced from his sixth starting spot to second place by lap six and soon found himself on the heels of two-time and reigning Track Champion Brett McCoy for the top spot. The two veteran racers tussled for the lead over the next eight laps before Ware ripped the lead from McCoy for good with nine laps to go. After Ware assumed the lead, he outlasted McCoy to collect the season opening checker. Following Ware and McCoy across the line was Rick Coppernoll, who led the first seven laps of the race and notched his best Saturday night feature finish at Rockford, ending the race in third place. Sportsman rookies Chris Jones and Cody Houseweart finished the race fourth and fifth.
MILLER LITE AMERICAN SHORT TRACKERS
It seemed that no one wanted to win the 25 lap main event for the Miller Lite American Short Trackers.
Five different drivers traded the lead five different times, with two of those leaders falling out of contention while pacing the field. When the dust settled, reigning Track Champion Zach Rodriguez found himself at the front of the field and led the race’s final ten laps on his way to the opening night feature victory. The conquest was the first for Rodriguez in over three years. Rodriguez inherited the lead when David Russell fell out of the race while leading at lap 14. Russell had acquired the lead from former Track Champion Nick Cina Jr when Cina’s car came to a stop on the infield on the race’s tenth lap. Rodriguez raced to victory ahead of Bobby Frisch and Keith Pierce, who ended up second and third place, while Aaron Rude was credited with fourth and Leo Bujak rounded out the top five.
A caution-free 20 lap Roadrunner main event featured a five-car donnybrook at the front of the field which raged on from the opening lap until the checkered flag waved. When all was said and done, outside pole sitter Duane Lounsbury held off a three-wide challenge from Nick Schneider, Chris McQuality and Robert Myher and claimed the opening night honors. Myher went from fourth to second on the last lap, while Schneider ended the race in third. McQuality fell from second to fourth in the race’s last couple laps, while Richie Schinderling rounded out the top five.
-Rockford Speedway Press Release
-Photo Credit: Rockford Speedway