On a day when temperatures reached 90-plus degrees, the name of the game for the ARCA Midwest Tour All-Star 100 was survival. At the end of the night, it was veteran racer and Wisconsin native Casey Johnson proving to be the fittest as he stood in victory lane at the Illinois bullring.
Three red flags and multiple parts failures left only eight of the race’s 22 starters running at the halfway point.
It started when early-race leader Jake Gille fell off the pace on the backstretch and several cars piled in as he was trying to get off the track for the first red flag of the race with six laps complete.
The second red flag would come out on lap 20 after Ryan Farrell hit the wall in turn four and his car caught on fire on the frontstretch and left a long line of fluid on the racing surface. Amazingly, he would make it back on track before the end of the race, finishing 60 laps down in 15th.
Fast qualifier Austin Nason had worked from his 11th starting spot to the lead by lap 25, but would give up the lead after breaking the rear end just before halfway. With the incidents that followed, his team fixed the issue and recovered for a top-10 finish despite being 10 laps down.
The biggest incident of the night came on a lap 44 restart after Paul Shafer Jr. bounced off the wall at the exit of turn four and slid down the frontstretch, taking Justin Mondiek, Brad Kossow, and Carson Kvapil with him. Kossow and Kvapil recovered for top-three finishes, while Mondiek eventually finished sixth.
Casey Johnson managed to survive it all and recover from a flat tire just before halfway to pick up his second ARCA Midwest Tour win of the season. He muscled the lead away from Rich Bickle Jr. just after halfway and hung on to the lead throughout the rest of the race for his third career Midwest Tour win.
“It was the typical Rockford race, it was a battle of attrition,” Johnson told Speed51.com. “Half the battle’s keeping the fenders on and not wrecking. It usually plays out where a lot of cars fall out, so that was kind of our plan early on even though we had track position. We had a flat tire and came in and changed the left rear tire. We didn’t lose a whole lot of track position but we had a good enough car where we needed to be. We made a couple moves and the rest is history.”
After a late-race caution involving Bickle and John Beale, Johnson had to fend off a hard-charging Kvapil over the final 11 laps. He survived multiple bump-and-run attempts and pulled away from the 16-year-old in the final two laps.
“I don’t know if the stagger closed up or what but we just got awful tight on that last restart,” Johnson stated. “I think he rolled to my bumper but I could still get off the corner a little bit better than him, so we were able to just hang on.”
Kvapil’s race didn’t go off as planned after a car in front of him did not have a good start. He used the multiple yellows to move his way to the front. After how the race played out, the second-place finish almost felt like a win to the North Carolina driver.
“I thought we would start out better but the guy in front of me didn’t get a very good start and we dropped back to ninth or tenth,” Kvapil said. “There were some wrecks and we got caught up in a few of them, but we were able to come back and finish second and I thought that was pretty good for what we’ve been through today.”
The final yellow of the race came out with 11 laps remaining after Kvapil gave Bickle the bumper for second and Bickle and Beale made contact out of turn four. Bickle was sent nose-first into the outside wall and John Beale spun down the frontstretch and backed it into the turns one and two wall. Kvapil did not want to use the bumper to make the pass, but felt like it was the only way he was not going to get passed by fourth-place running Beale.
“I had to go, I really don’t like roughing people up to pass them but I kind of had to,” he said. “The guy behind me was going to pass me if I didn’t pass Bickle, so I had to go and give it a shot.”
After running in the top three and staying out of trouble for most of the race, Bickle was unhappy with how the finish played out. The five-time Snowball Derby champion had warnings to pass to a few other competitors, but ultimately chalked it up to racing at Rockford.
“I couldn’t get into the corner very good and the No. 35 car (Kvapil) couldn’t pass me so he just blasted me in the a– and got me sideways in the corner then he just drove under me,” Bickle said. “I’m not sure he left there because he used me for eight-wheel brakes all the way through the corner. Then I come off the corner and I was up there in all the crap on my tires and the No.5 car (Beale) thought he was pass me and he just caught me in the left front and we both went in the fence. Sometimes people have too much money to go racing and not enough experience yet, it’s just frustrating.”
“I didn’t have hardly any brakes for the last twenty-five, thirty laps and I was just going to ride it out and finish second, but I guess sometimes running third isn’t good enough to get taken out of the race,” he continued. “I’m a pretty old dog and I don’t forget a whole lot. The No. 47 (Johnson) knocked the shit out of me getting by me so he’s got one coming, the No.35’s got one coming, and the No.5 kid, I’m not sure, he wrecks everybody all the time because he drives over his head so that doesn’t matter. He said I right reared him but if I would’ve right reared him, I would’ve went into the infield and I wouldn’t have hurt my car, he stuck me in the fence. Just one of them nights, racing at Rockford, baby.”
While fireworks flew on and above the track, race-winner Casey Johnson accomplished something only four other drivers have ever done in the history of the Rockford Speedway. He has now won all three major Super Late Model shows at the quarter-mile bullring, the Spring Classic, All-Star 100, and National Short Track Championship. He was honored to have joined exclusive company.
“Oh it’s awesome, I don’t get here but for the specials, but I absolutely love this place,” he said. “Just the way it races, you got to get up on the wheel every lap. It’s an absolute blast and supposedly there’s only four other guys that have done it, so it means a lot to me.”
Brad Kossow recovered from the lap 44 incident and several trips down pit road to finish third as the last car on the lead lap in his Midwest Tour debut. Rockford Speedway regular Max Kahler finished fourth in his Super Late Model debut, while John DeAngelis Jr. recovered from a hard hit in the turns one and two wall to round out the top five.
The ARCA Midwest Tour has nearly a month off before they head to State Park Speedway in Wausau, Wisconsin for their make-up race that was originally schedule to take place in May. The event will be completed as part of the Larry Detjens Memorial.
Full results, photos and more from Saturday’s race can be found by visiting Speed51’s Race Day Now coverage.
A full video replay of the All-Star 100 can be viewed now on the Speed51 Network.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com National Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com