August 3, 2011

The good, the bad and the pretzel…

Loves Park, Ill. (July 30, 2011) – Sometimes, pre-planned racing trips can turn out to be real duds when it’s all said and done. And sometimes, the last minute racing trips can be the most fruitful.

This was the case when, at the last minute, I decided to make the three hour drive to what has become not only one of my favorite tracks in the Midwest, but what I consider home away from home for me; Rockford Speedway.

I had no racing plans for the weekend. In fact, the only plans I had was to stay inside where the cool air could filter it’s way thru my golden locks. That was, until I was checking my emails Friday night and saw that my favorite track by way of the pave was not only having a 30-lap weekly late model feature but the 20th running of the JEGS/CRA All-Star Tour 'All-Star 100'. Also on the card were the rough and tumble roadrunner division competing in a “pretzel race”. What the hell is a “pretzel race”?

Included in the email was a $5 off coupon, bring the grand total for a ticket to this extravaganza to only $15.

Good marketing (and promoting) always catch my attention. Curiosity (and a $5 off coupon) got the best of me, so with my lucky ticket in hand, I took to the highway and headed in an easterly direction.

Usually by this time of the year, I would have already graced Rockford Speedway with my presence a couple of times, but this year has been the exception. I've always attended the Spring Classic, which kicks off the season. Missed it....On July 4th weekend, the Extreme Sprint Car Series blew into town and I was looking forward to seeing winged 410 sprint cars do the wild thing on the high-banked quarter-mile. I over slept for that one....So here it was, almost August, and I was just now making my first official visit. Better late than never, is what they say.

"Which form of proverb do you prefer Better late than never, or Better never than late?" - Lewis Carroll

Like I mentioned before, Rockford has become my home away from home. They roll the red carpet out upon my arrival and I enjoy a few luxuries not given to the common folk. For example; while most of the race fans sat in the grandstand, sweating under the hot sun, I sat in the air-conditioned media room above the grandstand with my feet kicked up. I'm not saying this to rub anyone's face in the turd-pile, I'm simply pointing out how privileged I always feel when attending one of the many fine events there.

The late model division at Rockford has been struggling with numbers this season. Ace track announcer Eric Huenefeld mentioned, "We've had some nights with only 10 or 12 cars but they were the best 10 or 12-car late model races you'll ever see." Tonight was no different. There were only 11 weekly late models checked in but they put on a fantastic 11-car feature.

Jon Reynolds Jr., affectionately known in these parts as "Driver X", took the Gerber Collision & Glass Challenge during prerace ceremonies and started in the back of the pack for the chance to earn an extra $400 in cash. With only 10 cars to pass and 30 laps in which to do it, Reynolds thought tonight would be as good as any to earn a little extra folding money.

Reynolds looked like he had made the right decision as he methodically picked off cars on his way to the front and was comfortably in second. He then set his sights on Jerry Gille, who had grabbed the lead early. With Reynolds knocking at his back door for the next 20 laps, Gille, who has become one of my personal favorites, managed to hold off the young upstart for his fourth victory this season. In victory lane, Gille stated, “Yeah, starting up front can help you, sometimes it can hurt you,” It definitely helped on this evening...

At Rockford each and every week, it’s survival of the fittest. That goes for any division, and any race; be it an 8-lap heat race or a 30-lap feature.

The main objective for each driver when competing here is to stay patient, avoid trouble and more importantly, keep their nose clean; that’s pretty plain and simple. That couldn’t have held truer than for the evening’s 100-lapper.

Tonight’s event turned out to be one of those prize fights that would go the full 15 rounds and whoever was standing at the end would be declared the winner. In this case, the winner was going to be the guy who had the most sheet metal left on their car. It was a knock down, drag out affair if I ever saw one. Multiple cautions plagued this race but you wanted to stick around and see how it ended.

With Rockford Speedway veterans, Rich Bickle and “Fast” Eddie Hoffman in the field, you’d naturally have to go with either one of them as the pre-race favorite. They’ve driven the track many a time and know what it takes to win there.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, what does it take to succeed at Rockford? That’s right; stay patient, avoid trouble and something about blowing your nose.

Surprisingly, it was the youngest pilot in the field that stayed out of trouble, showed the most patience, and kept his nose clean all the way to victory lane. Erik Jones of Byron, Mich., only 15 years of age, grabbed the lead around the midway point of the race and won by a quarter of a lap.

Jones’ running mate, 15-year-old Cody Coughlin of Delaware, Ohio finished a strong second. Bickle and Hoffman both saw their share of trouble but managed to take the third and fourth spots while an old Rockford regular, Mike Beyer of Machesney Park, Ill., pulled his car out of the weeds, decided to give it a go, and rounded out the top five.

This was one of those nights where having plenty of duct tape on hand was a neccessity.

After the race, Rich Bickle summed it up best, “Cautions breed cautions out here. At the end of the night, I guess I'm just happy we don't have a torn up race car and everything's intact.”

Now, to the fabulous “Pretzel Race”

As far as I could figure, this Gregg McKarns brain storm was probably dreamed up during the season-ending race party when the GM had already consumed a few too many drinks. Here’s how the conversation probably went...

Gregg McKarns; “I got it” (standing up suddenly, flailing his arms)

Angie McKarns: “Well, whatever it is, get a shot and get it cleared up. I don’t want the kids catching anything before Christmas break.”

Gregg McKarns: “No pussy cat. I have a great idea for a race we can have next year. I’ll call it the ‘Pretzel Race’.”

Angie McKarns; That’s super sweetie. Why don’t you put down the scotch and water, hand me the keys to the car and tell the guys you have to leave now.”

The “Pretzel Race” is exactly how it sounds. Using the Figure 8 track in the middle, five cars from the roadrunner division raced around Rockford in the same manner that a baker would make a pretzel. Instead of trying to explain what exactly happened, I copyed Rockford public relations guru Jordan Kuehne's play by play;

“The Sam’s Drive-In RoadRunner Challenge debuted the inaugural Pretzel Race tonight and it was Arlyn Roush that burst into the early lead before missing a sharp hairpin turn in the event that turned the quarter-mile asphalt oval into a twisting pretzel.”

“Roush went from fourth to first when Adam Cartwright went the wrong way. The mayhem continued as Sam Dover used his knowledge of the pretzel’s shape to snag the lead with one lap remaining. After Dover spun himself out on the last circuit, Cartwright assumed command again and hit his marks on the way to the trophy.”

I thoroughly enjoyed it and the fans loved it. It's what makes Rockford Speedway a step above everyone else. It’s also why I keep coming back each year.

Thanks to Jody Deery, Gregg McKarns, Jim Ambruoso, Eric Huenefeld and Jordan Kuehne for another enjoyable evening at Rockford Speedway.

Thanks for picking us up. See you at the races…