The years have come and gone. But since 1966, one thing remains true: if you can win the National Short Track Championship (NSTC) at Rockford Speedway, you’ll go down in history as one of the best.
When the race began in 1966, the event was a gathering of the top Late Model racers from Wisconsin and the hottest racers in the Chicagoland area. As the years went by, drivers from across the country ventured to Rockford Speedway each fall, to test their skills against the very best while also testing one of the trickiest short tracks in America.
Racers from 24 states and Canada have made the trip to Rockford through the years, from as far west as California and Washington and as far east as Rhode Island. From points south like Texas and Florida to points north & west like Colorado and Ontario, racers have all ventured to northern Illinois looking for that piece of short track racing glory. Junior Hanley won the 1981 version of ‘One Great Racing Weekend,’ taking the lead from fellow Canadian Randy Slack and holding off Rockford Speedway ace Joe Shear for the win. In 1989, Garrett Evans nearly made the 27 hour trip from Washington pay off, finishing second in the 300 lap race to Tim Fedewa.
Fedewa’s win in ’89 was a breakthrough win for the Michigan racer, much like 1977 was a breakthrough year for Mark Martin. Just 18 years old in 1977, the Batesville Arkansas native captured what was his biggest win to date on Rockford’s ‘high banks’ 37 years ago. The win put Martin on the map and if you talk to Martin today, he still happily reflects on his big win at Rockford.
It takes a special driver to win multiple National Short Track Championships. Legendary racers Joe Shear and Steve Carlson share the record for most NSTC victories, with eight a piece. Only four other drivers have won the event more than once. Eddie Hoffman won his fourth NSTC just last season. Dick Trickle won the event three times, including the first NSTC in 1966. Rich Bickle claimed his second NSTC win in 2012, twenty-two years after his first, while Jeremy Lepak won back-to-back NSTC’s in 2006 and 2007.
Equally impressive are the drivers who have conquered Rockford just once. Ramo Stott, a two time ARCA Series and USAC champion, won the 1969 version of the event. Mike Miller, the Wisconsin transplant and Minnesota native, won his only NSTC in 1973. Jim Sauter, the two-time ARTGO champion and former All American 400 winner, tasted victory at Rockford in 1980. Mike Alexander, a former NASCAR National Champion, took the trophy back to Tennessee in 1986. Drivers like Wayne Stallsworth, Bill Retallick, Tim Fedewa and Josh Nelms have all claimed their biggest wins of their careers at NSTC.
Will a driver like Hoffman continue to add to his legacy this year? Can Steve Rubeck, the 2002 NSTC winner, become just the seventh repeat winner of the 200 lap event? Will 2014 be the year Michael Bilderback wins his first NSTC and becomes just the fifth driver (joining Shear, Trickle, Hoffman and Al Schill) to win Rockford’s ‘Late Model Triple Crown?’ Or will Slinger Speedway champion Steve Apel, Big 8 Series kingpin Casey Johnson, four-time Mid American champion James Swan, three-time Slinger Speedway champion Brad “JJ’ Mueller or seven-time Rockford champion Ricky Bilderback break through and win their first NSTC? Can a surprise winner slip into victory lane? The drama and intrigue of National Short Track Championships never gets old and continues to make the race one-of-a-kind.
The 49th Annual National Short Track Championships take place Friday September 26 through Sunday September 28, featuring 14 divisions of racing at Rockford Speedway. The Super Late Models again return to NSTC Saturday and Sunday September 27 and 28, with qualifying and preliminaries taking place Saturday evening and the 200 lap National Short Track Championship taking the green Sunday afternoon.
For more information on Rockford Speedway and the 49th Annual National Short Track Championships, please visit www.rockfordspeedway.com or please call 815-633-1500.
– Rockford Speedway Press Release
Photo Credit: Rockford Speedway