By Jordan Kuehne
LOVES PARK, IL (Wednesday, April 15, 2009) – Michael Bilderback does not struggle with many things, but one of his biggest challenges the last couple years has been learning patience. That same patience was on display all winter long as the 17-year-old South Beloit native waited for the chance to defend his title at the 32nd annual Spring Classic on Sunday, April 19th at the Rockford Speedway.
Bilderback, nephew to seven-time Rockford Speedway Late Model champion Ricky Bilderback, had to exercise patience last winter after suffering a devastating defeat in the BRP Big 8 Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet in 2008, finishing runner-up to the series champion, Jeremy Miller, by one point. After going to Oktoberfest ahead in points, Michael had the chance to seal the deal only to witness Miller come from behind, making the feature through a last chance race and completing a late race pass on Mike Ehde to win by a single point.
Bilderback is eager to return and intent upon keeping Miller and everyone else from overtaking him in 2009. “Hopefully we can get the 2009 Big 8 Series championship,” he stated. “After losing it by one point last year, it made me work harder and want it that much more. Losing to a small town veteran (Miller) last year wasn’t bad, but I want the championship this year. I really want to get back in my race car and get out there.”
Bilderback’s quest for a championship begins on Sunday, April 19th on the high banks of the Rockford Speedway, as he looks to defend his Spring Classic win last year in the Big 8 Series season-opening SPYDER 108. Bilderback is looking forward to the opportunity to defend his title but he knows it’s going to be a challenge. “Defending (at Spring Classic) would be something good, but last year Ricky had a good car too and had a little bit of trouble,” he recalled. “Winning it back-to-back would definitely be something to be proud of but it’s going to be tough. There’s definitely a lot of competition in the Big 8 Series so it’ll be real hard to do but we’re definitely going to try.”
Bilderback will be racing in the super late model ASA Midwest Tour part-time as well as the Big 8 Series in 2009. “I want seat time in a super late so I can get used to the horsepower difference,” he stated. “I just want to make shows and finish races in the ASA Midwest Tour. We still have to get the motor in the super late so we will not be running the full schedule. In Big 8 we want to win a lot, finish well, and be in contention at every race. Getting top three’s and winning the championship (is the goal).”
While Bilderback will face a steep learning curve in his new super late model as well as a challenge in bringing home the 2009 Big 8 Series championship, he’s used to winning in everything he drives. Bilderback started racing go-karts at a young age and progressed quickly to bandoleros and then legends, where he competed nationally and won numerous local races. It was at this point that people began to take note of Michael Bilderback as a potential star in racing.
Shortly after racing legends, Bilderback began running some United States Super Truck races in Minnesota, where he held his own against drivers double his age before progressing to a limited late model in 2006. Bilderback burst onto the late model scene at a young 15-years-old when he won the Big 8 Series feature at Lake Geneva Raceway in October of 2006. Bilderback cherry-picked races and competed part-time in the series in 2007.
2008 was Bilderback’s first full season in the BRP Big 8 Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet and he doesn’t turn 18 until August. A name on the rise in racing circles across the country, Bilderback will be under the gun in 2009 as he faces the challenge to perform well in order to potentially secure sponsorship for a NASCAR ride in the near future. “We’re working on getting a couple deals for NASCAR after I turn 18 in August,” he said. “Next year, I want to be in ARCA or something geared towards NASCAR, and hopefully I’ll be there in five years. Racing’s in my family and getting to NASCAR is definitely a goal and would be an accomplishment for the whole family.”
While Michael’s ultimate goal is to race in NASCAR, the pressures associated with getting there probably will not faze the teenager. “My first race at Rockford, there was so much pressure on me (as Ricky’s nephew) to do well and perform,” he recalled. “You get too much of that pressure and you start messing up, changing how you drive. I’ve learned to just let it all go and be myself, race my own race and everything will take care of itself in the end.”
On top of racing, Bilderback has to deal with being a senior at South Beloit High School and the prospects of graduating in May. In order for his family to allow him to race, Michael must have B’s or above. “Going to a smaller school helps,” Bilderback admitted. “As long as I get my homework done and keep my grades up then I’m alright. School is definitely important to me, and I need something to fall back on because you never know what might happen (in racing).”
Bilderback has already started his on-track preparations for 2009, practicing at Rockford last Saturday. He bested a field of 24 cars in the Spring Classic last year to bring home his second feature win in the Big 8 Series, and his only Big 8 Series win in 2008. Bilderback was also fast in an ASA North Series feature at Rockford last July before being sent to the back and finishing 21st.
The track is one of his favorites and he knows his newfound patience will play a big role in defending his crown at Spring Classic as well as his chase for the 2009 Big 8 Series championship. “You have to be smooth there because it’s a difficult track to pass on and the fast line is up top,” he stated. “You have to keep your car clean and be patient, because passing cars is the biggest thing at Rockford. Spring Classic is the first race of the year and shaking off the winter rust will be important for me because the Big 8 Series is going to be great this year. It’s going to be twice as hard as it was last year.”
Despite the fact that the series promises to be tough in 2009, Bilderback thinks he should be considered one of the favorites. “I would certainly hope we would be called the favorite,” he said. “We definitely had a strong run last year and we should be strong again this year. That being said, the top 14 all together in the series are the favorite. There’s just so many good cars and great drivers in the series.”
Michael knows his racing career would be nowhere without his family and crew, as well as all the fans. “I have to thank my grandparents because without them I would not be racing,” he noted. “I also want to thank my crew for sticking with me through all the ups and downs, and the fans who cheer for me and come out to watch us race every week. I look forward to getting out there this year.” Bilderback will be piloting the #2 Bilderback Auto Parts 2009 Chevrolet Impala SS for the 2009 season.
Michael Bilderback will be just one of many stars on hand at Rockford Speedway during the 32nd annual Spring Classic next Sunday, April 19th. Racing will include the BRP Big 8 Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet in their season opener, the SPYDER 108, and the Mid-American Stock Car Series taking on the high-banked quarter-mile for a 50 lap bout. Racing gets underway at 1 p.m. with qualifying at 11:15 a.m.
Tickets for the Spring Classic are available now at the track’s website, www.rockfordspeedway.com, or by calling the track office at (815) 633-1500.
General admission tickets are only $20.00 for adults and $5.00 for kids ages 6-11. All kids five and under are free. As a special offer from the Rockford Speedway and Michael Bilderback, anyone with a South Beloit High School ID card will receive a $10 discount when purchasing a ticket on raceday.
This article was posted to the website on April 16th, 2009
Click to view all related content in that category