By Eric Huenefeld
Director of Media and Sales, Rockford Speedway
LOVES PARK, Ill. — Alex Papini had a season to remember in 2013.
Last season, the Machesney Park, Ill., native racked up eight feature wins on his way to the Rockford Speedway track championship and the NASCAR Illinois State Championship.
Saturday night, April 26, Papini was back on top, capturing the win in the 30-lap Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model feature event on Mobil 1 “Dollar Night.” Papini outran seven-time Rockford Speedway track champion Ricky Bilderback on his way to his first victory of 2014.
Papini started on the outside front row of the main event, next to Elkhorn, Wis.’s, “Insane” Wayne Freimund. Papini pounced to the lead in the race’s opening laps, bringing Bilderback along for the ride. Over the next 10 laps, Papini and Bilderback wrestled for the race lead. Bilderback tried to shake Papini from the lead and even pulled side-by-side with the defending track champion, but eventually Papini pulled away, building as much as a three-car length lead on Bilderback at halfway.
Bilderback, however, was not done. The Rockton, Ill., native closed the gap numerous times between him and Papini in the race’s final 10 laps, but never seriously challenged for the lead again in the caution-free race.
Papini hit the line first, scoring his 12th Late Model feature win in 13 months. Bilderback continued his steady start to the season, finishing in second place. Three-time track champion Jerry Gille finished the 30 laps in third, holding off several challenges from his nephew, Jake Gille, who settled for fourth. “Driver X” Jon Reynolds Jr., who earlier in the night set fast time and accepted the Gerber Collision and Glass Ultimate Challenge, rounded out the top five.
Third-year Bargain Hunter Sportsman driver Pat Featherston has gotten better each and every week he’s gotten behind the wheel. Last year, Featherston finished as runner-up two times in feature races and also was a runner-up in the Gilley’s Cool 5 point standings. This week, Featherston was second to none, as the Byron, Ill., resident sprinted to his first-ever Rockford Speedway feature win, passing Rockford’s John Logan Jr. with nine laps to go, en route to the checkered flag. For the second straight week, Howie Ware finished the 25-lap Sportsman feature in second place, with Johnny Robinson II taking third place after a late-race charge. Opening-night winner Brett McCoy collected a fourth-place finish, and Whitelaw, Wis., driver Daryl Gerke came home fifth.
Shawn Rickelman made it look easy in the Kickstart Roadrunner division. Rickelman powered to the front of the large field of Roadrunners, assuming the lead on lap four of the 20-lap affair and never looking back on his way to victory. Rickelman won the race by a straightaway, with Adam Cartwright finishing in second position. The second-place result was Cartwright’s second straight runner-up to start the new season. “Magic Shoes” Trevor Robinson finished third, with “Bullet” Bobby Frisch in fourth and Ryan Ostenson in fifth.
Ostenson’s great night continued in the first Figure 8 race of 2014. “Flyin Ryan” led all 10 laps of the twisting and turning feature finale and won his first-ever Figure 8 race. Joey Thomas finished the Figure 8 race in second, with Dennis Smith Jr. third.
Upcoming at the track
The first “Kids’ Night” of the summer is happening this Saturday night, May 3, at Rockford Speedway, 9572 Forest Hills Road, Loves Park, Ill.
At 7:07 p.m. ,Saturday, May 3, it’s “Kids’ Night,” with kids ages 11 and younger admitted free. The first 1,000 kids through the gate receive a racing poster, and there will be tractor rides for kids before the races. At intermission, all kids 11 and younger are invited on the track for the Kids’ Candy Scramble. Racing action features the NASCAR Late Models, American Short Trackers, Roadrunners and the Roadrunner Challenge “Double Spin to Win!” Gates open at 5 p.m. Adult admission is $12, with students ages 12-17 admitted for $8 and kids 11 and younger admitted free.
To order tickets in advance, visit rockfordspeedway.tix.com. For additional information, visit www.rockfordspeedway.com or call the Speedway Box Office at (815) 633-1500.
From the April 30-May 6, 2014 issue