Headed into Whelen Engineering’s ‘Night of Champions,’ the closest championship chase at Rockford Speedway resided in the Late Model division, where Jake Gille led Michael Bilderback by a slim margin of ten points. The night began perfectly for Gille, as the Winnebago resident picked up his first fast qualifying honor of the year, extending his lead over Bilderback by a point in the process. By the time the 30 lap feature rolled around, Bilderback has cut the gap back to nine, after winning his heat while Gille finished third. But the final 30 lap chase for the championship ended in somewhat anti-climatic fashion, as Bilderback was collected in a lap three incident off of the second corner. The incident, a result of Toby Rott’s vehicle getting loose off the second corner, put Bilderback’s vehicle into the backstretch wall. Extensive damage was done to both cars in the accident, with Bilderback’s machine needing the help of a tow truck to exit the track.
With this startling development, Gille was afforded the opportunity to simply race the rest of the 27 laps, instead of racing to protect his point lead. Over the course of the race’s final laps, Gille waged an exciting battle with John Beinlich for second place, ultimately settling for third. When the checkered flag flew, it was former track champion Alex Papini ending the season where he started the season on Opening Night, as the Machesney Park resident claimed his second Rockford Speedway victory of the year in dominant fashion.
The final totals in the Late Model division show Gille as a 31 point winner over Bilderback. Gille ended the 2015 season with four wins while never finishing worse than fourth in fifteen races this season. The track championship is the first for Gille. Bilderback finished 2015 as the leading feature winner with seven conquests while also setting a division leading ten fast times. 2014 champion ‘Driver X’ Jon Reynolds Jr finished third in the standings, while ‘Insane’ Wayne Freimund finished just behind him in the fourth. NASCAR Late Model Rookie of the Year Daryl Gerke finished fifth in overall points as well.
BARGAIN HUNTER SPORTSMAN
Belvidere’s Brett McCoy locked up his second consecutive Bargain Hunter Sportsman track championship on Saturday night, beating out his nearest competition by 31 points. McCoy led the division in feature wins this season (3), while holding the point lead most of the year. The track championship was McCoy’s fifth Rockford Speedway title, between the Sportsman and American Short Track divisions. Howie Ware, who won the 25 lap championship feature Saturday night, edged out Matt Lundberg for second in Sportsman points, with just three markers separating the two drivers at season’s end. Nick Letsinger, the only other driver besides McCoy to win multiple Sportsman features in 2015, collected fourth in the final standings, while teenager Deanna Chandler, who one week ago collected her first ever Sportsman feature victory, rounded out the top five.
Another teenager, Kodee Busekros, locked up the Sportsman Rookie of the Year award on Saturday, topping Jeff Watson by 35 points for the honor
MILLER LITE AMERICAN SHORT TRACKERS
Despite not winning a feature race all season, consistency helped Rockton’s Zach Rodriguez to his first ever American Short Tracker championship. Rodriguez played it cool on Saturday night, doing what was needed to maintain his solid point lead en route to claiming the division’s highest honor. Rodriguez had a terrific seat for what was one of the races of the year at Rockford Speedway during the 25 lap Short Tracker championship feature. Six cars raced side-by-side at the front during the race’s first 20 laps, with Bobby Frisch finally muscling past Keith Pierce to take the lead with five laps to go. Soon after that, Kelly Evink blasted from fifth to second and challenged Frisch for the lead. Evink used some muscle to get past Frisch late in the going and proceeded to race to his seventh victory of 2015. With the win and late race maneuvering, Evink, the 2014 Short Tracker champion, edged Frisch for second place in the standings by just three points. 2013 division champion Nick Cina Jr finished fourth in the final standings, while David Russell finished a career-best fifth in points.
Todd Snow was awarded the 2015 Short Tracker Rookie of the Year award and finished eleventh in the final standings.
Dennis Smith Jr authored the most dominant season of anyone in the Roadrunner division, as the South Beloit resident won seven times in the last nine races on his way to the 2015 Roadrunner championship. Smith won the championship by an impressive 76 points, topping Austin Fowler. Despite a rough finish to the season, Fowler was still able to hold off Robert Myher for second place in the final standings by a single point. Chris McQuality ended the season fourth in points, while 75-year old Gene Marocco rounded out the top five.
SAM’S DRIVE IN ROADRUNNER CHALLENGE
Stillman Valley’s Kyle McQuality added a second championship to his list this season, as the youngster claimed the Sam’s Drive In Roadrunner Challenge championship. Earlier this year, McQuality was crowned the 2015 Roadrunner Super Summer Series champion.
-Rockford Speedway Press Release. Photo Credit: Rockford Speedway photo