Rockford Speedway: A magnificent seven for Papini

Alex Papini of Machesney Park, Ill., takes a victory lap after an impressive drive to the front to win the Stanley Steemer Late Model 30-lap feature. (Photo by Jim Ambruoso, courtesy of Rockford Speedway

By Eric Huenefeld

LOVES PARK, Ill. — The largest crowd of the season filed into Rockford Speedway for Kar Korner’s World Famous Figure 8 Trailer Race Night Saturday, Aug. 3, and witnessed what other crowds have witnessed in the Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model division throughout the season. The throng of racing fans and thrill-seekers were witness to yet another winning performance by points leader Alex Papini.

Papini, starting from the sixth position in the 30-lap Late Model main event, inherited the lead on lap nine and held off three-time track champion Jerry Gille for his seventh win of the season.

Mike Beyer and Austin Nason started from the front as the Late Model field took the green flag. Beyer was able to jump ahead of Nason on the first lap, settling into the lead. Behind Beyer, Papini went to work, advancing into the top three in the race’s first five laps. Papini stepped past former Late Model Rookie of the Year Mitch Garfield for second on lap six, then set his sights on Beyer. Papini found the leader a lap-and-a-half later, taking advantage of a wobble by Beyer and moving to the top spot. As Papini inherited the lead, Beyer and Garfield would begin to battle for second. On the following lap, both cars came together on the front stretch, with Garfield spinning at the start/finish line and bringing out the caution flag.

Both Beyer and Garfield were sent to the back, and Papini soon saw defending track champion Gille in his mirror on the ensuing restart. Papini and Gille jumped away from the field on the restart, with Gille seeing a couple of opportunities near the race’s halfway point to make a move on Papini. Soon, though, Papini was gone, putting three-plus car lengths between him and Gille. Papini hit the line in first, winning his seventh Saturday night feature and eighth Late Model race of 2013. Jerry Gille finished second, with nephew Jake Gille third. Nason finished the 30 laps in fourth, and Beyer fought back to a fifth-place finish.

The action was fast and furious in the Bargain Hunter Sportsman division, with a pack of nine cars battling at the front of the field in the first half of the division’s 25-lap feature event. At the front of the field, it was Chad Smith leading the side-by-side battle. Smith, returning to action this year after a six-season absence from the division, wrestled the lead away from pole-sitter Pat Featherston on lap four. Smith soon found company up front in the form of Kris Nilson. Nilson, on the bottom side of the speedway, closed in on Smith. For several laps, Smith and Nilson went side-by-side, with the balance of the field following suit behind them. Then, shortly after halfway, the train would derail, as Nilson slipped entering turn one, spinning and sending the rest of the lead pack searching for a quick exit route. Despite the high chances for carnage, no cars received major damage. However, the yellow flag would still fly.

Jeff Fanrich was the lone survivor of the Kar Korner World Famous Figure 8 Trailer Race. (Photo by Jim Ambruoso, courtesy of Rockford Speedway)

On the ensuing restart, Smith would see points leader Doug Bennett on his tail. Bennett wasted little time going for the lead, slipping past Smith with five laps left to go. Bennett hit the line in first, holding on for his division-leading fourth win of the season. Johnny Robinson II had a solid run, finishing the race in second spot, with Smith taking third, his best feature finish in 2013. Bobby Frisch collected a fourth-place finish, while Daryl Gerke came home fifth.

Great racing and wild happenings ruled the 25-lap Miller Lite American Short Tracker feature, and when the dust settled on the four-cylinder circus, Kyle Lapier stood in victory lane for the fourth time this season. Lapier started in seventh position, having to work his way through the field. Early on, David Russell controlled the tempo of the race, leading, thanks to a front-row starting position and furious side-by-side action behind him. By lap five, Nick Letsinger would move into second spot and began efforts to reel in Russell. Letsinger snatched the lead from Russell on lap seven, and began his quest for a first-ever Short Tracker feature win. Letsinger built a steady lead, aided by the continual side-by-side action behind him.

As the race approached five to go, the excitement escalated. Second-place Scotty Hoeft led a pack of cars battling for that runner-up spot, which included Lapier and points leader Nick Cina Jr. As the group battled, the group also made slow gains on Letsinger. It appeared if the group soon did not break up, Letsinger would be able to hold on for the victory. But as that group made its way into turn three on lap 20, Hoeft went hard toward the turn three wall. The yellow flag flew, and the debate began. Did Hoeft receive contact from Lapier? Did Hoeft break something on the suspension upon entry to the corner? The end result was an end to Hoeft’s night, followed by Hoeft hurling his helmet twice at Lapier’s car in disgust.

Lapier restarted the race in second and with two laps to go, was finally able to clear Letsinger. Lapier hit the line in first, receiving a mixed reaction from the crowd in victory lane. Cina turned in another solid run, taking second place. Despite not winning the race, Letsinger still turned in a solid third-place run. Leo Bujak finished fourth, his best career Short Tracker feature finish, while Keith Pierce rounded out the top five.

The always-consistent Terrance Robinson found himself in victory lane once again, taking the win in the 20-lap Rockstar Energy Drink Road Runner feature event. Robinson, who started the race in 14th position, climbed to the top of the mountain on lap 12, slipping ahead of two-time feature winner Kyle McQuality for the lead. Following Robinson to the checkers was 73-year-old Gene Marocco, who advanced 10 spots to collect the runner-up finish. Points leader Arlyn Roush ended the race in third, with Dennis Smith Jr. in fourth and McQuality settling for fifth.

Jeff Fanrich outlasted 23 other competitors, collecting the win in Kar Korner’s World Famous Figure 8 Trailer Race. The win was Fandrich’s first ever in the popular summertime event.

Upcoming at the track

It’s “Summer’s Last Blast” this week at Rockford Speedway, 9572 Forest Hills Road, Loves Park, Ill.

Wednesday night, Aug. 7, at 7:07 p.m., it’s the final “Wild Wednesday” of the summer, featuring a 50-lap Figure 8 race. Championships will also be decided for the Road Runner Super Summer Series, Bandits, Misfits, Winged Women on Wheels and Super Cups and the always popular One-on-One Spectacular Drags will be in action. Every Wednesday night is a Dollar Beer Night. Adult admission is $9. Spectator gates open at 5:30 p.m.

Saturday night, Aug. 10, at 7:07 p.m., it’s the final “Kids’ Night” of the summer. Kids 11 years old and younger will be admitted free and are welcome to bring their bikes to the track for Kids’ Bike Races on the track during intermission. There will also be bike giveaways for the kids throughout the evening. On track Saturday night will be the NASCAR Late Models, Sportsman, Road Runners and Hornets. Adult admission Saturday night is $12, students 12-17 are $8, and kids 11 and younger are admitted free.

Visit or contact the Speedway Box Office at (815) 633-1500.

From the Aug. 7-13, 2013, issue

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