By Eric Huenefeld
LOVES PARK, Ill. — It had been almost two months since Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model point leader Alex Papini had visited victory lane on a Saturday night at Rockford Speedway.
Papini, who began the season with four wins in five races, had not smelled victory at Rockford Speedway since May 18. Sure, Papini has been very consistent, finishing in the top three in every race this year, yet a return to victory lane has been elusive.
Saturday night, July 13, Papini powered forward from his fifth starting position and survived a rash of yellow flags to capture his fifth feature win of the year.
Joel Clossey and Mark Hartline led the field to green for the 30-lap main event, with Clossey jumping to the early lead. Behind Clossey, Hartline fell into the clutches of a multi-car battle for second, which included Papini. By lap seven, Papini made his way to second, and would be able to pull to the bumper of Clossey, thanks to a yellow flag.
As the field raced into turn one, an accordion of cars would send Jerry Gille into the driver’s-side window of Hartline.Gille would drive away, while Hartline was sidelined for the night. Both drivers were OK. Gille’s troubles would continue a few laps later, as on lap 10, his Chevrolet would climb the turn one wall after a tire issue on the right front. The three-time champion’s night would end after the wicked contact with the turn one wall.
Meanwhile, Papini moved past Clossey on the lap 10 restart and would never be seriously challenged again. Papini did have to hold off the advances of Jon Reynolds Jr., Mitch Garfield and Jake Gille through two more restarts during the final 20 laps. Reynolds ended the race in second, with Jake Gille third. Garfield pocketed fourth, while Tim Slater finished fifth, his first Rockford Speedway top five.
Doug Bennett continued his winning ways in the Bargain Hunter Sportsman division. Bennett, winner of three of the last four features in the division, moved past Rob Goodman just past the halfway point of the 25-lap race, en route to the triumph. Brett McCoy had another solid run, taking runner-up honors behind Bennett. Goodman settled for third, with former champion Darrell Garman taking fourth. Bobby Frisch, the evening’s fast qualifier, came home fifth.
After a rough start to his night, former Miller Lite American Short Tracker champion Kyle Lapier ended the night in far better fashion, winning the division’s 25-lap main event. Lapier, who suffered engine issues in qualifying, would have to start the main event in 10th. With six laps to go, Lapier finally completed the long trek from there to the front, muscling past Zach Rodriguez for the top spot. The win was Lapier’s third of the year, and second in three races. Rodriguez was credited with second, with point leader Nick Cina Jr. coming home in third.
It was a good week for Kyle McQuality. McQuality, who won his first-ever Rockstar Energy Drink Road Runner feature on “Wild Wednesday” earlier in the week, topped that by winning another feature, this time under the Saturday Night Lights. McQuality stormed to the lead on lap five, moving past early leader Josh DiGiovonni in turn three. McQuality was able to stay ahead of leading feature winner Arlyn Roush and the ever-consistent Terrance Robinson, en route to the checkered flag. Roush would take second, with Robinson in third. Dennis Smith Jr. captured fourth, with Joey Thomas in fifth.
Earlier in the evening, Daniel Opsahl was the winner of the Sam’s Drive-In Road Runner Challenge “Forward/Backward Race.”
Upcoming at the track
There’s something for everyone this week at Rockford Speedway, 9572 Forest Hills Road, Loves Park, Ill.
Wednesday night, July 17, at 7:07 p.m., it’s a special “Wild Wednesday,” as the Great Northern Sportsman Series will make its first-ever trip to Rockford Speedway. The series features Sportsman cars from across the region, and will include Rockford Speedway’s very best. Along with the Sportsman, you’ll see a full complement of Wild Wednesday racing, including the Road Runner Super Summer Series, Bandits, Misfits, Winged Women on Wheels and Super Cup cars, as well as One-on-One Spectacular Drags and the Wild and Crazy Figure 8 race! Every Wild Wednesday is also Dollar Beer Night. Wednesday night racing offers midweek fun for everyone, and adult admission is $9. Spectator gates open at 5:30 p.m.
Saturday night, July 20, at 7:07 p.m., the Speedway will come alive with the high-powered NASCAR Late Models, American Short Trackers, Road Runners and the Road Runner Challenge “Pizza Pie Race.” Also, for the second time in three weeks, the Illini Racing Series Midgets will bring their awesome brand of open-wheeled racing back to the Speedway. Spectator gates open at 5 p.m., time trials begin at 5:55 p.m. Adult general admission is $12, students 12-17 are $8, kids ages 6-11 are $5, and kids age 5 and younger are free.
Visit www.rockfordspeedway.com or contact the Speedway Box Office at (815) 633-1500.
From the July 17-23, 2013, issue