By Eric Huenefeld
LOVES PARK, Ill. — Recent weeks have not been very kind to three-time Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model champion Jerry Gille.
June 29, during the “Star Spangled 76” 76-lap feature event, Gille’s night ended after a wild ride along the billboards in turn one. Two weeks later, Gille found trouble not once, but twice during the course of a 30-lap feature. First, he was involved in an accordion-style wreck that put both him and Mark Hartline into the wall. A few laps later, Gille’s night ended for good after exploding a right-front tire and making hard contact with the concrete retaining wall.
The contact from the second incident last weekend was enough to require Gille and his crew to re-stub the front of their Chevrolet. Long hours of work in hot weather made for a busy and taxing week for Gille and crew, but when the checkered flag flew on this eventful week (Saturday, July 20), Gille and company were able to stand tall in victory lane as winners of the 30-lap Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model feature race on Behr Recycling Night at Rockford Speedway.
Joel Clossey and “Driver X,” Jon Reynolds Jr., led the field to green, with Reynolds taking the early advantage in the main event. Gille would move into second spot, with points leader Alex Papini moving into third. Papini and Gille would soon get side-by-side, with Papini securing second within two laps. Papini then set sail for Reynolds, and would get underneath Reynolds for the lead. The two drivers furiously raced in close quarters for six laps, with Gille right on their heels. Then, on lap 10, Papini’s car would slide entering turn three. Papini would lose control, as would Reynolds, and both cars looped around in front of the pack in turn four. Gille narrowly missed contact with both. The yellow flag flew for the double spin, and Gille inherited the lead.
The battle for the Saturday night trophy became a family affair, with Jerry Gille trying to outrun his nephew Jake Gille for the win. Jake would close to Jerry’s bumper numerous times, yet was never able to muscle underneath Jerry for the lead. Jerry Gille hit the line first to the checkered flag, netting his first Late Model feature win since April 27. Jake Gille followed his uncle across the line in second spot. Reynolds surged back through the field to take third, with Clossey fourth and Papini fifth. The fifth-place run for Papini marked the first time in 2013 the points leader had finished outside the top three in a feature race at Rockford Speedway.
Jason Bragg and crew had a long night at the track themselves. Bragg, previously a feature winner this season in the Miller Lite American Short Tracker class, started the night about as bad as any driver can. During practice, Bragg lost a transmission in his racer. This development could have stopped the night before it started for Bragg, but a fellow competitor lent a helping hand and gave Bragg a chance to keep racing. Points leader Nick Cina Jr. loaned a transmission to Bragg after the incident, and Bragg’s crew went to work looking to make his car race-ready. Despite not getting a qualifying lap and starting at the back of the 25-lap Short Tracker feature, Bragg ended the night in victory lane, and claimed his second win of the season.
Bragg would have gladly taken third on the eventful evening, but with six laps remaining, Cina and 2010 Short Tracker champion Kyle Lapier tangled going for the lead in turn two. As a result of the contact and spin, both drivers were sent to the tail, with Bragg inheriting the lead. Four-time Short Tracker champion Brett McCoy, racing in the division for the first time this year, sat second after the incident. McCoy, currently in the hunt for a Bargain Hunter Sportsman championship, was seeking his third win of the year in his second division. Despite being able to stay with Bragg, McCoy could never make a serious challenge at Bragg for the lead and settled for second place. Lapier charged forward after the yellow and moved back to third spot at the checkers. Nick Letsiger has a season-best fourth-place finish, while Cina survived in fifth.
Dennis Smith Jr. made a hard charge through the field in the 20-lap Rockstar Energy Drink Road Runner feature, climbing from his 12th-place starting spot en route to his third Road Runner feature win of 2013. Smith overtook 73-year-old Gene Marocco for the lead on lap 11, and held off several advances by Marocco in the final laps. Terrance Robinson had another solid run, moving from 14th starting spot to third in the final running order. Arlyn Roush finished fourth, with Kyle McQuality rounding out the top five. Roush also claimed victory in the evening’s Sam’s Drive In Road Runner Challenge, the “Pizza Pie Race.”
Aaron Willis Jr. had a good night at Rockford Speedway, taking fast time and feature-winner honors for the traveling Illini Racing Series Midget division. Willis would out-distance point leaders Patrick Bruns and Lamont Critchett for the win.
Upcoming at the track
Experience affordable family fun at Rockford Speedway, 9572 Forest Hills Road, Loves Park, Ill.
Wednesday night, July 24, at 7:07 p.m., it’s the 44th Annual Loves Park Police Association Duane Higar Memorial Police and Businessmen Grudge Racing Night of Thrills. Witness a full night of action-packed events including the Wild Highway Race, Media All-Star Event, Ladies Night Out Powder Puff, 30-lap Monza Feature and Demo Derby. All tickets for the event are $5, kids 5 and younger will be admitted free. Gates open at 5:30 p.m., with the first race starting at 7:07 p.m.
Saturday night, July 27, at 7:07 p.m., will be an action-packed night at the speedway, with Round III of the Cool 5 Series. Competing on track will be the NASCAR Late Models, Sportsman, American Short Trackers and Road Runners, along with the Road Runner Challenge “Driver/Fan Water Balloon Toss.” 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 24-30, 2013, issue