With two laps to go in the season-opening Late Model race at Illinois’ Rockford Speedway on Saturday night, three drivers came together fighting for the win. Two of those drivers went spinning across the finish line. In most cases there would be yelling, cursing and fighting, and then eventually it would spill onto social media and continue there. But not in this case.
“Yeah, we were mad at the moment, but an hour after the races were over we were all sitting in the beer garden and talking and laughing and having a drink,” said Michael Bilderback, who finished second. “It’s really good to have a good group of racers like that where you know that if you lean on them they’ll lean on you back.”
Lean on each other is exactly what they did. Bilderback, Wayne Freimund and eventual winner Jake Gille battled together for much of the final 10 laps of the 30-lap feature with all three drivers laying a fender to each another at some point during the closing stages.
As the laps wound down it was Freimund leading over Bilderback. Gille ran in the fourth spot, content with that position.
“We were just hanging out in fourth and couldn’t really even try to compete with those guys,” Gille told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I was just going to save my tires for next week and finish fourth. They ran up the track, and when Wayne came back down the track it looked like they just got stuck and a hole just opened up for me.”
With three laps to go Bilderback got a run on Freimund off of turn two. He dove to the inside as they went into turn three. They ran side-by-side for the next lap until they came off turn four coming to the white flag.
Bilderback came up the track as Freimund came down. The two cars slammed each other and seemed to stick to each other like glue. As they went down the frontstretch the eight-wheeled conglomerate veered towards the infield and started to slow. That’s when Gille drove by on the outside.
“I couldn’t believe how much they slowed down,” Gille said. “I was probably four or five car lengths back coming out of turn four. I couldn’t believe how much they slowed down. By the I got to them I just drove into turn one as hard as I could to stay up high and away from them.”
As Gille took the lead, Bilderback and Freimund finally separated. Freimund continued to slow. He was out of it. But Bilderback managed to stay to the inside of Gille down the backstretch.
The new lead pair ran next to each other through the final two corners before hard contact was made on the exit of the final turn.
“Coming out of two I saw I had pretty good position on Mike, so three and four was kind of a normal deal until we got hooked together,” Gille said. “Then we got to the finish.”
With the checkered flag in sight, Bilderback and Gille spun to the infield with Gille somehow taking the win in a finish that brought every fan in attendance to their feet.
“A wild finish is definitely the way to describe that,” said Bilderback. “Maybe it was a little too crazy for the first night of the season here.”
“That was definitely the wildest finish I’ve ever been in,” Gille said. “It was pretty good for the fans and we had a good crowd so that was cool.”
And the best part is that there were no hard feelings after this one. Even Freimund, the man who was leading with two laps to go, wasn’t angry.
“I feel it was just good hard racing,” Freimund said. “Me and Mikey have nothing against each other. We talk all the time. We just touched and everything went downhill from there. It wasn’t anything intentional or anything like that.”
Now it’s on the drivers to match that wild and crazy finish every week to keep packing the Rockford Speedway grandstands. But can it be matched?
“We probably set the bar pretty high here,” said Bilderback. “But hopefully we can match it in a little nicer fashion.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: James Ambruoso/Finish Line Photos