August 20, 2012

The House that Hugh built

Patrick Bruns was the Illini Midget Series feature winner - Kyle Ealy Photo

Loves Park, Ill. – It was a celebration for both Rockford Speedway and for myself as well. Rockford was commemorating its 65th birthday and I was observing my five-year anniversary.
For 65 years, Rockford Speedway has been one of the premier short tracks in the Midwest, entertaining millions of race fans over that period. The drivers that have competed there are numerous; few tracks can boast of the renowned talent that have attempted to tame the famous high-banked asphalt oval. The hot shoes that have succeeded in conquering the quarter-mile are legendary; Trickle, Martin, Shear, Reffner, Kulwicki, Kenseth, Wallace, Knaus, Bilderback, and Carlson…the list goes on and on.
It had been five years to the weekend that I first stepped foot onto these hallowed grounds; and it was then and there I fell in love with a racetrack, the people, and everything that it has represented over those 65 years.
Even though Hugh Deery is no longer with us, the impact he left on the track is still present at each and every event that’s held there. His ideas are still being used to this day for the sole purpose of entertaining the masses that walk through the gates every year. And trust me when I say this; Hugh Deery was all about entertainment.
A lot of the ideas and promotions that are still used at Rockford were that of Hugh Deery, he had a very innovative and creative approach on how to keep the race fan coming back and wanting more. But he wasn’t shy about borrowing someone else’s idea either; especially if he thought he could take the concept and make it even better. And that’s what made the man unique…
The “World Famous” Figure 8 trailer races, Eve of Destruction, the “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” and Night of Thrills are Hugh Deery inspired promotions that still pack the place year after year. The Spring Classic, the Bahama Bracket Nationals and of course, the National Short Track Championships are three of the best annual short track events in the Midwest, if not the United States.
It’s Deery’s core ideas and present Rockford Speedway general manager Gregg McKarns’ outside of the box creativity that have kept me coming back to the historic quarter-mile for the last five years. I never know what to expect during one of my visits…
This past weekend’s trip is a shining example…
In addition to the weekly racing program, a special appearance by the Illini Midget Series and some well-deserved Hall of Fame inductions, tonight’s card also included an “Outhouse Race”. What the hell is an “outhouse race” you ask?
A driver would come out of the turn four entrance slowly, approach the start/finish line, and when the flagman gave the signal, the driver would climb out their car, leap over a guardrail located in the front of the outhouse, jump into an outhouse, grab a roll of toilet paper, jump back over the guardrail, climb back into the car and take one lap around the track. Whoever performed all of those steps in the shortest amount of time was crowned “King Shit” (okay, I made that last part up).
Make the leap...

And grab yourself some Charmin...

Some drivers even took it a step further… they would leave their car geared in neutral as they went through the motions. It was funny as hell watching the driver run across the track, leaping rails and retrieving toilet paper as there car is slowly rolling down the track with no one behind the wheel.
The first few drivers had zero problems leaping the guardrail, but one gentleman knew full well he wouldn’t make it over without suffering some sort of injury, so he simply pushed it out of his way. One young lady driver took it a notch higher as she entered the outhouse with a driver’s suit on, disappeared for a few moments, only to reemerge in a wedding dress.
I’ve seen a Flagpole Race, a Pretzel Race, and a Double-Oh! Race, but the Outhouse Race tops them all…
Mike Beyer is joined in victory lane by Rockford Speedway owner Jody Deery after an impressive win in the 30-lap Late Model feature. - Kyle Ealy Photo

The Late Model feature saw Mike Beyer lead green to checker but Jon Reynolds Jr. made it interesting the for most of the race, racing side-by-side with Beyer on several different occasions but never able to get his nose past Beyer for the lead. It was good clean racing between the two competitors and it was a great win for Beyer, who drove a nearly flawless race to claim his first victory at Rockford in nearly five years. He explained in victory lane that several people had told him that it was time for him to hang up his racing gear and call it quits, but as Beyer remarked, “I’m not washed up yet.” No you’re not Mike…
The Rockford Speedway Hall of Fame has its share of legendary inductees and four more were honored on Saturday night. Seven-time Late Model Champion Ricky Bilderback, two-time Late Model Champion Jerry Gille, Matt Berger, the 2010 Sportsman Champion that has won a feature in all four NASCAR divisions as well as longtime car owner and competitor Billy McCoy who claimed the 1996 American Short Tracker crown were all enshrined prior to the evening’s race card. 
Being part of the committee for the Wall of Fame at Hawkeye Downs, I’ve seen people act and react differently upon being enshrined. Some have kept their emotions intact while others couldn’t wipe the smile off their face or let the tears flow. That’s what makes each and every one of us our own unique personality.  But no matter how a person reacts in the moment, you’ll never convince me that it doesn’t mean the world to anyone who is enshrined into their tracks’ Hall of Fame.
Jerry Gille signs his name below his hand prints after being inducted into the Rockford Speedway Hall of Fame - Kyle Ealy Photo

At Rockford, being inducted into the hall of fame is a little more special because as I’ve said time and time again, when you’re apart of Rockford Speedway, you’re family.
Congratulations to all four well-deserving inductees and congratulations to Rockford Speedway on 65 years of racing excellence.
Thanks to Jody Deery, Gregg McKarns, Eric Huenefeld, and Jim Ambruoso for making me feel like one of the Rockford family every time I visit. It’s always good to come home…
Thanks for picking us up,