Rubeck Solves Rockford - Again  by Dean Strom
Veteran Takes Wisconsin Challenge Series Opener For Second-Straight Year
Steve Rubeck climbs out of his car and celebrates his Wisconsin Challenge Series victory.  (Doug Hornickel photos)
Sunday afternoon, for the second consecutive year, Steve Rubeck solved the tricky quarter-mile Rockford (Ill) Speedway oval and strolled away with the Wisconsin Challenge Series (WCS) Spring Classic 150.

“This gets tougher and tougher every year,” said Rubeck.
Youngster Andy Monday and two-time WCS champion Mark Eswein led the field down to the green flag.  Eswein was content to let Monday take the point, opting to be patient, log laps and let the race sort itself out.

Twenty-one year old Dillon Kralovetz, Andrew Morrissey and the ageless Tony Strupp settled in the top five while pre-race favorites Rubeck, Nathan Haseleu and fast qualifier Ricky Bilderback ran nose-to-tail in the middle of the pack.

Caution flew on lap nine for debris and once again, six laps later, for a Nick Hammer spin.  He was also involved in the events third caution, on lap 20; a three-car pileup that also included Jeff Way and Tim Rothe.  Hammer was done for the day while Way and Rothe soldiered on.

Morrissey then muscled his way past Kralovetz and moved into the third spot.  That triggered a chain reaction bump and grind behind the pair which left Strupp with badly crinkled front body work.

Once that dust settled, however, the field got into a rhythm and logged some laps.

Monday continued to lead with Eswein, Morrissey, Kralovetz and Strupp completing the top five, all nose-to-tail.

Kralovetz slipped high off of turn two on lap 45 and created a hole for Strupp who pounced on the opening and slipped into fourth.  Perhaps it was the rush of air that Strupp’s car got when he stepped out of line, but immediately after taking sole possession of the spot, the hood flew up over his #12, leaving him helpless and bringing the field under caution once again.
Strupp’s tour into the pits moved Dexter Bean into the top five for the first time on the day.  Bean, a regular ARCA RE/MAX Series competitor, had an off weekend from the traveling show and was making an infrequent short-track appearance.

Strupp returned to the chase, but was scored one lap down, effectively ending his run for the checkers.

Bean’s good run came to an end just eight laps later, however, when he spun coming off of turn two.  The former WCS winner kept it off the wall, but once relegated to the rear of the field, he found the going very tough.  Bean’s misfortune moved Haseleu up to fifth and Rubeck to eighth.

As the race neared the mandatory half-way break, Monday continued to lead with Eswein in second.  But behind the lead duo, the pressure to make a run to the front was beginning to mount.
Andy Monday (#10) and Steve Rubeck (#61) race side-by-side at Rockford.
Morrissey repeatedly pressed the issue trying to get underneath Eswein for the runner-up spot, to no avail.

“It seemed like I was trying to work under him (Eswein) the whole race,” said Morrissey.  “Every time I got a run on him he’d cut me off or take my line away from me.”

“Maybe I’m a little more cautious, but I knew it was a 150-lap race and I was going to race the last half and not so much the first half,” said Eswein.

Just prior to the midpoint, Haseleu got together with Kralovetz, sending the young challenger around.  For their efforts, both drivers were sent to the rear of the field.

“I just got underneath him coming out of two and when you get under them, they like to cut the corner,” said Haseleu.  “He came across my nose and couldn’t save it.”
One final contender took it on the chin prior to halfway.  Six-time Rockford Speedway track champion, Bilderback never came up to speed on the restart following the Haseleu/Kralovetz incident, the victim of a broken transmission.

After the ten minute break, which teams were allowed make almost any adjustment to the car, short of bolting on new tires, it was Monday, Eswein, Morrissey, Matt Kocourek, Rubeck, John Zimmerman, Kenny Richards, Way, Eddie May and Haseleu as the top 10.

And as expected, it didn’t take long for the fireworks to erupt once the field was back under way after the half-way break.

On lap 87, Kocourek got into the back of Morrissey and triggered a wild melee in turn three.  When the dust settled, Morrissey, Kocourek, Rubeck, Zimmerman, Way and Haseleu were in a pile; completely blocking the track.
Matt Kocourek (#43), John Zimmerman (#44), Jeff
Way (#87) and Nathan Haseleu (#87) were all invovled in this big accident just past the halfway mark.

“I was just working on Eswein for second place, we went into turn three and the guy behind me (Kocourek) hit me pretty hard, spun me out and then everybody started piling in,” said Morrissey.

Not surprisingly, Kocourek had a different perspective of the incident. 

“I don’t know exactly what happened,” said Kocourek.  “My car was much better than him at the time.  He was a little bit sideways on entry and I wasn’t expecting him to slow up that much.  He was a little bit crossed up and I just got into him.  It was definitely unintentional.”

Amazingly, all the drivers involved in the incident were able to continue, including Rubeck who was missing a right front fender and had a damaged front nose piece.

“All I cared about was that I still had a radiator in the car.  I knew I tore up about $2000 worth of stuff, but I didn’t see any steam coming out and I knew we were good to go,” said Rubeck.
Just Kocourek and Morrissey, and those who ducked into the pits, were sent to the rear of the field.  Rubeck and Zimmerman were awarded their spots back in the running order; deemed innocent victims in the crash.

On the restart Eswein caught Monday sleeping and burst past him for the lead.  Rubeck took advantage of the opening and surged into second while Monday got bounced back through the field.

Eswein’s lead was short lived, however, as Rubeck blasted around him, on the outside, exiting turn two on lap 92.  Once out front, Rubeck never looked back.
Rubeck in Victory Lane.
“I qualified 12th this year, 13th last year…guys are telling me I’m sandbagging.  I’m glad the inversion put me in the back, because I know I can run and pass here.  You want to win one with hard earned; hard fought effort…and we did that today,” declared Rubeck.

Eswein settled for second while Richards ran a patient race and finished third.

“I’m happy to finish second,” said Eswein.  “The car is straight; we logged 150 laps here at Rockford in only our second time here.”

“I knew I had what Steve had, but right after the half-way break I got on the brakes to miss an accident and I must have blown a belt off and I lost the power steering,” said Richrads.  “This is not the place you want to run with no power steering.”

The Wisconsin Challenge Series next travels Madison (Wis) International Speedway, Sunday afternoon, May 6th.

The Big 8 Series was also part of the Spring Classic weekend.  Mike Ehde took the win in the 58-lap main event over Jeremy Miller and Jason Schuler.

Car Count A Concern

On Saturday, just 17 Wisconsin Challenge Series cars timed in for the 30th Annual Spring Classic weekend at Rockford Speedway.  Forty-four WCS machines had timed in for the same event in 2006 and the WCS sanctioning body has quickly become known for providing fans, and track operators, with stellar car counts.  So why the alarmingly low turn out?  There were plenty of theories.

“WCS provided me with a list of 40 expected drivers and 17 of those showed up.  Obviously there was miscommunication somewhere along the line,” said Rockford Speedway General Manager, Gregg McKarns.

“Typically we’ve averaged over 40 cars a show,” said Wisconsin Challenge Series organizer Jeffrey Sachse.  “Some late season weather caught some of the guys off guard.”
Matt Kocourek (#43), John Zimmerman (#44), Jeff
Way (#87) and Nathan Haseleu (#87) were all invovled in this big accident just past the halfway mark.

Indeed weather was an issue in the week leading up to the Spring Classic as much of the upper Midwest got hit with five to seven inches of snow.

“Tuesday night, looking at the forecast, I knew we were going to race,” theorized McKarns.  “But I guarantee you that 80% of the pits didn’t think we were going to race.  I think earlier in the week, those teams that were thrashing to finish their cars looked out their shop windows and saw inches of snow falling and didn’t hustle to finish their cars.”

Sachse had another theory.

“A lot of engine builders are really behind in what they’re producing.  I do know of a lot of guys that have waited six to 12 weeks for their engines.  It’s hard to go racing without a power plant.”
Regardless of the reason for the low turnout, McKarns was frustrated.

“This absolutely surprised me.  I come from a promotional back ground and had I known we were going to be in this situation, I would have picked up the phone and done the work that wasn’t being done elsewhere, to ensure we’d have a full field of cars.  This Spring Classic has been going on for 30 years and we take a lot of pride in this event and having it kick off the racing season in the Midwest.”

Sachse continued, “I came into this weekend expecting more along the lines of 30 cars.  (With this years Spring Classic date) We’re a little closer to everybody’s regular racing season and nobody wants to tear up their weekly car ahead of time.”

So what does this mean for the rest of the 2007 WCS campaign?

“I don’t think the rest of the season we’re going to be hurt.  But I don’t think you’re going to see those 50 and 60 cars fields anymore…a couple super late model tracks in the Midwest closing doesn’t help.”

Eddie May and Tim Rothe showed up Sunday morning and were tacked onto the tail of the 150-lapper while Adam Degenhardt’s late scratch left 18 drivers to take the green for the Spring Classic.

Rockford Speeedway
1.Steve Rubeck
2.Mark Eswein
3.Kenny Richards
4.John Zimmerman
5.Andrew Morrissey
6.Nathan Haseleu
7.Dillon Kralovetz
8.Andy Monday
9.Eddie May
10.Tim Rothe
11.Jeff Way
12.Matt Kocourek
13.Dexter Bean
14.Tony Strupp
15.Ricky Bilderback
16.Jason Weinkauf
17.Brandon Selle
18.Nick Hammer