A sunny day became even brighter for young Casey Johnson when the hotshoe from Wisconsin held off James Swan in what proved to be the winning move, etching his name into the history books with a victory in the 33rd annual Spring Classic at the Rockford Speedway on Sunday. Johnson fended off Swan’s late race challenge to finish second in the season-opening BRP Big 8 Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet ‘Spring Classic 58’, but claimed the top spot after original race winner Jon Reynolds Jr. was disqualified during post-race inspection for an illegal carburetor. Mark Pluer eked out a victory over two-time Rockford winner Jeremy Spoonmore, dragging a beat-up machine to victory lane in the Mid-American Stock Car Series’ 50-lap season opener.
Two-time National Short Track Champion Jeremy Lepak jumped out to the early lead in the 58-lap main event for the BRP Big 8 Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet. Fast qualifier Jon Reynolds Jr. wasted no time in moving up from his fourth place starting spot to challenge for the lead, using a slide job to push his rocket to the top spot on lap four.
Reynolds Jr. began to build a cushion up front while the battle for second heated up. Lepak and Tim Sargent went door-to-door for two laps before Sargent finally grabbed the bridesmaids’ position. The fast and furious action throughout the field led to the first caution as Bobby Wilberg got together with Wayne Freimund on the front stretch with 13 circuits completed.
On the ensuing restart “Driver X”, Jon Reynolds Jr, exploded to the front as Casey Johnson and 2009 Big 8 Series Rookie of the Year James Swan battled for third. The pair fell back into the clutches of two-time series champion Jeremy Miller, who worked his way past Johnson on the outside for the fourth position.
Swan held off Miller and mounted a challenge of his own on Sargent for second, playing bumper tag with the second-place driver as the race hit the halfway mark. The battle for second soon became a three-car melee as Miller once again joined the fray, peeking on the inside of Swan for third.
The second yellow flag of the race flew with 16 laps remaining as Jimmy Ganski got turned around in the middle of turn two. Veteran Steve Dobbratz made an early exit to the pits during the caution after a mechanical failure ended his day early.
Tim Sargent suffered a major disappointment on the restart, getting together with Reynolds Jr. on the front stretch and spinning into the infield, forcing the South Beloit driver to the rear of the field. Swan was the benefactor of Sargent’s mishap, taking the inside line as the green flag waved.
Reynolds Jr. managed to nudge by Swan exiting turn four as Casey Johnson re-entered the picture, jumping past Swan on the outside and inheriting the runner-up spot. Another caution followed for Kyle Wolosek’s wounded car which started on fire due to a fuel leak. Wolosek made it into the pits without harm as Johnson eyed his opportunity to steal the win away from the dominant “Driver X”.
The spin cycle was not over though, as Tanner Whitten spun into the turn two outside wall with five laps remaining, bringing out another caution in the process.
The final restart featured another Reynolds Jr. maneuver to break free of Johnson’s machine, this time on the outside as the Rockford regular staved off the Wisconsin driver to cross the finish line first. Reynolds Jr. was disqualified during post-race inspection however, handing the win over to Johnson whose name is now etched forever in the Rockford Speedway history books.
“It was a solid day for us,” a pleased Johnson stated after the race. “We fought hard and tried to keep the car clean all day, and in the end we did that. James (Swan) was really pushing us down the stretch but we held him off.”
A hungry Swan collected second while Jeremy Miller started out his 2010 season with a solid third-place finish. Jeremy Lepak made a late race charge to come home fourth and Matt Berger reacquainted himself with Rockford, exhibiting his skills with a strong fifth-place showing to round out the top five.
Kyle Shear rallied from a 15th place starting spot to finish sixth while Wisconsin native Corey Jankowski jumped 13 spots to claim the seventh position. The Powersource Hard Charger Award went to Mark Hartline, who scored a top-10 with a ninth-place finish after beginning the race in 24th.
The BRP Big 8 Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet will be in action again on Memorial Day weekend when central Wisconsin speed plant Golden Sands Speedway plays host to the stars and cars, culminating in a 58-lap showdown. The Wisconsin Challenge Series super late models will be alongside as the doubleheader event rocks the Midwest on Monday, May 31st.
In the Mid-American Stock Car Series (MASCS), it was no nosepiece, no front quarter panels, no hood, and no problem. Mark Pluer’s racer wasn’t the most aerodynamically or aesthetically sound machine competing in the MASCS 50-lap feature at the high-banked quarter-mile – but it was the fastest.
After losing the front body panels of his car in a heat-race incident, Pluer powered past Jeremy Spoonmore at the drop of the green flag and held his ground to deny Spoonmore a third straight MASCS feature win at the venue.
Not bad for a car that only one week ago was nowhere near race ready. “A week ago today it was just a frame. My guys just busted butt all week, every night getting it done,” Pluer said.
Pluer’s fate to begin Mid-American’s 18th season was in doubt after the third ten-lap heat race. A tangle and slowing traffic in front of Pluer left him with no room for evasive action. He piled into the back of James Swan’s slowing machine and ended his heat race stint with a severely adjusted nose.
The damage was minimal, Pluer said. “Unfortunately it got wrecked it the heat. Just a little cosmetic work and the car worked great.”
Although Pluer and Spoonmore ran one-two for the duration of the feature event, the result was hardly guaranteed. Spoonmore closed the four-car-length lead of Pluer over the final ten laps. The late race charge left Pluer gasping for air in victory lane.
“I think he was a little too tight to try something on the bottom, but he was right there,” said Pluer, the 1996 MASCS champion. “The last eight laps I was starting to get nervous.”
According to Spoonmore, Pluer’s diagnosis was right on. “We were a little too loose to start the race,” Spoonmore said. “I saved my tires until about ten to go so I ran real hard at the end, but he had a really good car. He deserved to win.”
While Pluer, Spoonmore, and MASCS rookie Tyler Bauknecht attempted to log laps in the top three, caution flags continued to bunch the field.
The first caution fell on lap nine claiming fast qualifier Brian Back as victim. Eight laps later, Lyle Nowak tangled with Bobby Gutknecht entering turn one while battling for fourth. The rest of the field was sent into a frenzy attempting to dodge the carnage. All cars were able to continue.
That was not the case, however, on lap 18 when Austin Luedtke and Gutknecht connected to bring out a caution. Luedtke sustained heavy damage to his racer and made a brief return after repairs. One lap later, Adam Bendzick and Travis Rodewald ended their day with heavy contact in turn four.
Up front, Pluer said he tried to keep any anxiety in check. “I got a good lead and I was just taking it easy on the car, the tires and the brakes,” he said. I didn’t like to see (the cautions) because you never know when someone will take a chance on you or the floor dry in the turns will get you loose.”
After one final caution for a Nowak spin on lap 26, the field completed the last 24 circuits without incident. Pluer held off Spoonmore by a car-length and Bauknecht, celebrating his 19th birthday, collected third.
The victory was Pluer’s second since returning to full-time MASCS action last season. At Dells Raceway Park last July, Pluer visited victory lane in a car that had replacement body panels and duct-taped numbers, as he had to make last-minute repairs before heading to the facility.
Perhaps a disheveled appearance has become a good luck charm for Pluer. “We work on getting it fast first,” Pluer exclaimed. “We’ll work on making it look good next time.”
That next time for Pluer and the Mid-American Stock Car Series is Morris May-hem scheduled for Friday, May 21 at Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill. Mid-American last raced at the tough third-mile on May 29, 2006.
Racing at Rockford returns next Saturday, April 24th, as the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series makes its return to the legendary facility for the 63rd season of weekly racing action at the Rockford Speedway. Racing begins at 7:07pm with gates scheduled to open at 5pm. Qualifying will get underway at 6pm.
For more information on the 2010 season at the Rockford Speedway, including a full schedule, visit the track website at www.rockfordspeedway.com or call the Speedway Box Office at (815)633-1500.
Big 8 Series Late Models
'Spring Classic 58' -- 1. Casey Johnson, Stoughton, Wis; 2. James Swan, Lake Geneva, Wis; 3. Jeremy Miller, Rockton; 4. Jeremy Lepak, Ringle, Wis; 5. Matt Berger, Loves Park; 6. Kyle Shear, Roscoe; 7. Corey Jankowski, Tomah, Wis; 8. Jimmy Ganski, Rosholt, Wis; 9. Mark Hartline, Gilberts; 10. Tim Sargent, South Beloit; 11. Wayne Freimund, Elkhorn, Wis; 12. Jacob Finney, Sycamore; 13. Tanner Whitten, Congerville; 14. Ed Szelagowski Jr, Westfield, Wis; 15. Troy Rave, Westby, Wis; 16. Bob Wilberg, Beloit, Wis; 17. Jacob Vanoskey, Hartford, Wis; 18. Kyle Wolosek, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis; 19. Steve Dobbratz, Rio, Wis; 20. Eddie May, Crystal Lake; 21. Alex Papini, Machesney Park; 22. Michael Bilderback, South Beloit; 23. Mike Lloyd, Davis; 24. Jon Reynolds, Jr., Rockford.
Last Chance "A" 01 -- 1. Mike Lloyd, Davis; 2. Corey Jankowski, Tomah, Wis; 3. Troy Rave, Westby, Wis; 4. Kyle Wolosek, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis; 5. Bill Shavlik, West Bend, Wis; 6. Mark Hartline, Gilberts; 7. Vern Fagerberg, Bloomingdale; 8. Todd Handrick, Wausau, Wis; 9. Ed Szelagowski Jr, Westfield, Wis; 10. John Beinlich, Prairie View.
Heat 01 -- 1. Kyle Shear, Roscoe; 2. Jacob Finney, Sycamore; 3. Bill Shavlik, West Bend, Wis; 4. Troy Rave, Westby, Wis; 5. Vern Fagerberg, Bloomingdale; 6. John Beinlich, Prairie View; 7. Mike Lloyd, Davis.
Heat 02 -- 1. Tanner Whitten, Congerville; 2. Jacob Vanoskey, Hartford, Wis; 3. Corey Jankowski, Tomah, Wis; 4. Kyle Wolosek, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis; 5. Todd Handrick, Wausau, Wis; 6. Ed Szelagowski Jr, Westfield, Wis; 7. Mark Hartline, Gilberts.
Time Trial -- 1. Jon Reynolds, Jr., Rockford; 2. Michael Bilderback, South Beloit; 3. Jeremy Miller, Rockton; 4. James Swan, Lake Geneva, Wis; 5. Jimmy Ganski, Rosholt, Wis; 6. Alex Papini, Machesney Park; 7. Tim Sargent, South Beloit; 8. Bob Wilberg, Beloit, Wis; 9. Wayne Freimund, Elkhorn, Wis; 10. Matt Berger, Loves Park; 11. Eddie May, Crystal Lake; 12. Jeremy Lepak, Ringle, Wis; 13. Casey Johnson, Stoughton, Wis; 14. Steve Dobbratz, Rio, Wis; 15. Troy Rave, Westby, Wis; 16. Corey Jankowski, Tomah, Wis; 17. Kyle Shear, Roscoe; 18. Tanner Whitten, Congerville; 19. John Beinlich, Prairie View; 20. Jacob Vanoskey, Hartford, Wis; 21. Jacob Finney, Sycamore; 22. Ed Szelagowski Jr, Westfield, Wis; 23. Bill Shavlik, West Bend, Wis; 24. Mark Hartline, Gilberts; 25. Mike Lloyd, Davis; 26. Kyle Wolosek, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis; 27. Vern Fagerberg, Bloomingdale; 28. Todd Handrick, Wausau, Wis; 29. Jerry Gille, Roscoe; 30. Skylar Holzhausen, Bangor, Wis.
Mid-American Stock Car Series 'Spring Classic 50' -- 1. Mark Pluer, Brookfield, Wis.; 2. Jeremy Spoonmore, Somonauk, Ill.; 3. Tyler Bauknecht, Reedsville, Wis.; 4. Kyle Shear, Roscoe, Ill.; 5. Bill Prietzel, Richfield, Wis.; 6. Jake Finney, Sycamore, Ill.; 7. Lyle Nowak, Wausau, Wis.; 8. Mitch Garfield, Gilberts, Ill.; 9. Bobby Gutknecht, Oak Creek, Wis.; 10. Scott Null, Lake Mills, Wis.
20-lap Last Chance: 1. Ryan Gutknecht, Oak Creek, Wis. (transfer); 2. Adam Bendzick, Apple Valley, Minn. (transfer); 3. Travis Rodewald, Manitowoc, Wis. (transfer); 4. Crystal Wood, Denmark, Wis.; 5. Paige Decker, Eagle River, Wis.
10-lap Heat Race One: 1. Tom McClintock, Onalaska, Wis.; 2. Doug Bennett, Brodhead, Wis.; 3. Shaun Wiltjer, Calumet Township, Ind.
10-lap Heat Race Two: 1. Bendzick; 2. Null; 3. Bauknecht
10-lap Heat Race Three: 1. Rodewald; 2. Austin Luedtke, Adell, Wis.; 3. K. Shear
Fast Qualifier – Brian Back, Rudolph, Wis. (14.107 seconds)