We have heard the saying Champions and Challengers for years in the short track ranks. The 36th annual Spring Classic on Sunday afternoon April 14 at Rockford Speedway is shaping up to fit the description and then some. As entries continue to roll in for the Big 8 Late Model Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet portion of the event, eighteen modern day Late Model Championships are already accounted for. Additional heavy hitters are rumored to be setting their sights on Rockford April 14. Here is a look at the players that we know will BE THERE for the 108 lap feature event thus far.
2 Eddie May- It took a year or so for this two time Lake Geneva Raceway Super Late Model Champion to adapt to the Big 8 Series cars, but now that he has, he has become a force, May scored a season high three feature wins at Rockford in 2012 and tacked one onto his tally while visiting Slinger Super Speedway last summer. May finished tenth in Big 8 Series points following the 2011 season and was the inaugural Late Model Showdown Match Race Champion at Rockford that season.
5 Casey Johnson- There was perhaps no driver hotter in 2012 than Casey Johnson as he totaled seven feature wins on his way to recording Jefferson Track Championship number two while placing in the runner-up spot in Big 8 competition and fourth place at Madison. Perhaps more impressive is that he visited victory lane at four tracks, weekly at Jefferson, Madison and Slinger plus he dominated the July Big 8 appearance at LaCrosse.
17 Jon Lemke- A former ARTGO and NASCAR Midwest Touring Star, Lemke will return to the friendly confines of Rockford Speedway which have treated him well in past visits, including taking the famous “Faster Than a Speeding Bullet” award back to Minnesota with him. In limited Big 8 Series starts, the two time Elko Speedway Super Late Model Champion has led over forty laps and been in contention to win twice, is Spring Classic his time?
18 Mike Ehde- Six years ago, Mike Ehde held off four time Series Champ Jeremy Miller in a Spring Classic battle for the ages, adding Ehde’s name alongside Trickle, Shear, Carlson, Detjens and Reffner in the great history of this event. Last June Ehde led the most laps during the Big 8 event at The Milwaukee Mile, eventually finishing fourth and his strong efforts resulted in a seventh place points finish for the 2008 Dells Late Model Track Champion.
19 Dan Lensing- This second generation driver was involved in a lap three incident at Spring Classic last year, which inflicted major damage on his machine. Not the way the younger Lensing wanted to start off his campaign, at a track where his dad Wayne was a three time Champion. Turn the calendar five months and Dan had put together a dominant season at Dells Raceway Park. Lensing recorded a season high seven feature victories, set a new track record and was crowned the Late Model Track Champion.
20 Steve Rubeck- Rubeck has realized the joys of winning Spring Classic twice, back to back in a Super Late Model in 2006 and 2007. The 2002 National Short Track Champion will be looking to make both his Spring Classic and Big 8 win total three during this year’s running. After a limited schedule last season, Rubeck looks to run full time in 2013 and build upon his 2011 Big 8 Late Model Series Championship.
51 Dale Nottestad- After pushing Steve Rubeck to the limits in the pursuit of the 2011 Big 8 title, Dale Nottestad grabbed a title of his own in 2012, the Madison International Speedway Championship while also finishing in the top ten in points at Jefferson. Nottestad turned in quite the performance during the Wisconsin State Championships last fall, recording his third career Big 8 triumph while capturing the overall Wisconsin crown.
54 Rich Schumann, Jr- This two time Dells Raceway Park Champion just missed out on his third title at the 3/8 mile oval in the World’s Waterpark Capital. While he couldn’t follow up his 2007 and 2011 feats, he went on quite the run during the hot summer months of 2012, taking home the winner’s hardware on four occasions. When he took his show on the road, he was fast qualifier at the Big 8 All-Stars invitational event at Elko Speedway last September.
82 J. Herbst- Taking on a new challenge in 2013, J. Herbst has made quite the name for himself in the Coulee Region, more specifically LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway. NASCAR honored him in Charlotte as the 2011 NASCAR Wisconsin State Champion following his second of two LaCrosse NASCAR Late Model Track Championships. While some mishaps along the way relegated him to a fourth place finish in the final points, J. recorded four weekly feature wins in 2012.
95.3 Wayne Freimund- Insane Wayne Freimund as he is referred to across the Midwest has positioned himself as a sleeper of sorts. A former Modified Champion that found his calling when he strapped into a Big 8 Late Model, Freimund fought tooth and nail to earn the 2011 Slinger Super Speedway Late Model Championship. He had previously taken top honors in the Late Model segment of the 2010 Slinger Nationals and found victory lane again in 2012, this time in weekly Rockford action.
99 Jerry Gille- He was the 1999 Madison Super Late Model Champion, but a Rockford Speedway title eluded Gille, once by a mere point, in 2007. That was then, this is now for the People’s Champion, he won back to back titles in 2008 and 2009. But after coming up short in 2010 and again in 2011, Gille used the strength of two wins and eight fast times to reclaim the Rockford Late Model Championship and became the NASCAR Illinois State Champion in the process.
2 Jimmy Ganski- This Central Wisconsin driver has bounced throughout the Late Model ranks, from crate models to the Big 8 Series, where he was named the 2010 Assembly Products Sportsman of the Year. Ganski showed moments of brilliance, picking up a tough win at Columbus 151 Speedway during weekly competition last Spring and led the opening twenty laps when the Big 8 cars visited his home track, State Park Speedway in Wausau.
04 Natalie Decker- At fifteen years of age, Natalie Decker is making the jump into Big 8 competition after finishing fifteenth in her lone series start at State Park last July. Having grown up in a racing family, Decker has five karting Championships to her credit and has totaled seven feature wins in just two years behind the wheel of a Central Wisconsin Super Stock. Not to be outdone, Decker topped thirty five other drivers to lay claim to the 2012 CWSSA Championship.
4 Tom McClintock- The Onalaska driver has turned numerous laps in numerous types of racing vehicles, from weekly NASCAR Late Models at LaCrosse, to the USST Super Trucks, in which he was the 2006 Champion and most recently the Mid-American Stock Car Series. He has won in everything he has raced and now sets his sights on the Big 8 Series.
5 Dave Edwards- If 2012 proved anything, Dave Edwards wants to race and he has a bright future in this sport. Edwards started the season off on the right foot, recording his first ever top five effort in Big 8 Series competition during the 35th annual Spring Classic at Rockford. Edwards started off the weekly season at area tracks with strong performances before gremlins dampened his season. But as a true racer does, he kept digging to get the car back to the track and raced in various support divisions as well.
38 Jeff Holtz- Another Super Late Model veteran looking at a new challenge, Jeff Holtz will travel from the Milwaukee area to tackle the tough high banks of Rockford Speedway. Holtz has been a front runner at Slinger Super Speedway, having recorded two Modified Championships as well as a Sportsman Championship before moving into the Late Model ranks.
07 Cory Kemkes- Each and every Thursday night, Cory Kemkes was near the top of the Fox River Racing Club’s Late Model results from Wisconsin International. After a couple rough outings to start his 2012 Rookie season in the Big 8, Kemkes took that fast car of his and concentrated on his weekly efforts, recording one feature victory on his way to a runner-up point finish at WIR. Kemkes returned to Big 8 action at Oktoberfest, capturing a preliminary event to place him in the field which saw 58 cars attempt to qualify.
7 John DeAngelis, Jr- He has already won the Late Model portion of the Slinger Nationals and stood upon the podium following the JMcK 63 at Oktoberfest. John DeAngelis, Jr enjoys racing, and whether it is putting cars together or traveling to unchartered territories like Elko Speedway in Minnesota, DeAngelis takes each challenge head on. 2012 saw John try his hand at both Slinger and Dells, he finished the season fourth at Slinger where he also recorded a feature win.
23 Austin Nason- The 2011 Rockford Speedway Sportsman Champion followed that effort with the 2012 Rockford Late Model Rookie of the Year title. Nason scored his first Late Model triumph at Rockford last summer, while finishing seventh in the final Rockford tally. Perhaps most impressive, after relinquishing his seat to keep teammate Ryan Carlson in Big 8 Championship contention at National Short Track Championships, the seventeen year old jumped back in the following week at LaCrosse and won the fast dash before finishing third at Oktoberfest.
28 Jesse Bernhagen- When the 2012 campaign began for Jesse Bernhagen, he had never set sight on the majority of the tracks the Big 8 Series would visit. He didn’t show any Rookie signs, charging from a fifteenth starting spot to finish fourth in last year’s Spring Classic 108. The finishes just kept coming for this nineteen year old driver, fourth at Columbus 151, top ten finishes at Madison and LaCrosse over the Independence Holiday, fifth at Rockford last fall before racing his way from seventeenth to sixth at Oktoberfest to solidify his Rookie of the Year title and top five point finish. Meanwhile the son and father team of Bernhagen finished fourth in points at the Dells. This January Jesse was named the Big 8 Assembly Products Sportsman of the Year.
31 Darren Wolke- The past two seasons, Darren Wolke has ventured down from his Belle Plaine, MN home to challenge the Big 8 Series regulars. He has made appearances at Slinger, Rockford, Milwaukee and LaCrosse, even leading laps last July at LaCrosse. He acquired the car of former Big 8 Rookie of the Year Dennis Schmidt and looks to run the full Big 8 schedule in 2013, building upon his success at his home track, Elko Speedway.
57 Ryan Miles- We hear Most Improved and Champion a lot in racing circles. Ryan Miles has earned those recognitions in another sport, football. After a successful career in Legend cars, Ryan tried his hand at Late Model racing, and has one Big 8 Series fast time to his credit, but he traded his racing helmet for a football helmet. While playing defensive lineman, Miles was named the most improved player on the 2011 NAIA National Football Champion Saint Xavier University Cougars.
This article was posted to the website on April 4th, 2013
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