From Eric Huenefeld
“Should I take ‘the Challenge? … Sure why not…let’s do it!”
That nonchalant exchange between Michael Bilderback and the large gathering of fans at Rockford Speedway on Kar Korner ‘All Star Saturday Night’ led the South Beloit native to accept the Gerber Collision and Glass ‘Ultimate Challenge’ in advance of the evening’s main event, the ‘Star Spangled 76.’
Bilderback, who had set the fastest time in qualifying, was the first of three possible drivers to have a shot at the $800 bonus that is offered to the top three qualifiers on any given race night. With goading from the fans, Bilderback casually accepted the challenge of starting in the back of the 18-car Late Model feature. A charge to the front would mean $800 in bonuses on top of the $976 winners prize.
Thanks in part to an exceptionally fast car and a pair of key yellow flags, Bilderback was able to pick his way through the field of eighteen, getting past ‘Driver X’ Jon Reynolds Jr with 27 laps to go and running to the bank with a pay day of nearly $2000, as the 23 year old raced to his first ever win in the 76 lap Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model feature event.
Michigan’s Cody Kippenhan and Wisconsin’s Michael Clapper led the Star Spangled 76 to green, but Kippenhan would not last but three turns after getting loose exiting turn two and ending up facing the wrong way in turn three while pressed against the guardrail on the entrance to the pit area. With Kippenhan out of contention before the race technically started, Wisconsin’s Adam Peschek slid ahead and assumed the pole and started the race next to Clapper as the field got ready to ‘take two.’ On the restart, Clapper moved ahead of the pack from his outside front row starting position and claimed the race lead. Clapper’s lead was short lived though as Late Model Rookie Pat Featherson made his move past Clapper and inherited the lead on the race’s fifth lap.
By lap six, Featherston and fellow Rookie Daryl Gerke held the race’s top two positions and soon thereafter, the first of five yellow flags flew for a spinning Chris McKay, who came to a halt on the bottom side of the fourth turn. On the restart, Reynolds chose the inside line and quickly challenged both Gerke and Featherston. By the eighth lap, Reynolds raced to the lead and began to pull away from the rest of the field. But behind Reynolds, Bilderback made his way forward. By lap 13, Bilderback had already progressed to the ninth position. A yellow on the thirteenth lap gave Bilderback the chance to close up on the fastest eight cars in the field, who were well ahead of him before the yellow flag, which waved for a spun car in the second turn.
After the lap 13 restart, Bilderback dazzled the crowd as he maneuvered through the toughest part of the field, including point leader Jake Gille, former Rookie of the Year Mitch Garfield and ‘Insane’ Wayne Freimund. By halfway, Bilderback had climbed to second, yet was half a straightaway off of the leader Reynolds. Over the next few laps, Bilderback reeled in Reynolds, but before a challenge could be made for the lead, McKay again had trouble in the fourth turn, bringing out another yellow flag.
On the ensuing restart, Bilderback and Reynolds traded blows for the lead. The crowd on hand cheered and jeered as the two combatants wrestled for the lead in the prestigious event, with Bilderback eventually inheriting the lead on the race’s forty-ninth lap.
As the race neared its conclusion, going caution-free for the final 27 laps, Bilderback pulled away and claimed the victory by nearly a straightaway over Jake Gille. The win was Bilderback’s third of the season, tying him with Gille for the most wins at Rockford Speedway in 2015. Reynolds settled for third place, with Freimund coming home in fourth place. Tom Gille, the second quickest qualifier of the evening, charged from a tenth start position to claim a top five.
Rockton’s Trevor Addams claimed victory in the 25 lap Central States Super Cup feature event, claiming a hard-fought battle over Jamie Domski, who missed most of the evening with rear end issues in his car, but was able to charge from the back of the twelve car starting field to claim second. The win was the first ever on a Saturday for the 14 year old Addams. Zach Tinkle of Niles came home in third, followed by Noah Eisenhower and Sydney Wonderling.