LOVES PARK, Ill. — Dale Nottestad “got the monkey off his back” as they say, scoring the victory in the 108-lap Big 8 Series late model stock car special during the 54th annual National Short Track Championships at the Rockford Speedway Saturday night.
Nottestad, the 41-year old driver from Cambridge, Wis., wheeled his Glass Wax/Take A Chance Construction/Smithback Farms/Fast Signs-sponsored Pathfinder Chassis Chevrolet SS to the victory at the high-banked, quarter-mile, paved oval.
Starting seventh in the 23-car field, Nottestad, the race leader from about the 36th lap, stayed out front in a race that was slowed by 10 caution flags and raced to the checkered flag with a slim lead over veteran Tom Gille.
Austin Nason, Brody Willett and series points leader and three-time Big 8 champion Michael Bilderback rounded out the top five.
In the past, Nottestad has been oh-so-close to a Big 8 victory during Rockford’s annual NSTC. Nottestad, a five-time champion at Wisconsin’s Jefferson Speedway, had finished in the “top three” five times in the last six years without a win.
The day’s third fastest qualifier, Nottestad became the first driver to be a repeat series winner as he had won at Wisconsin’s Madison Int’l Speedway in June.
Coming from his front row pole starting spot, Tom Berens led the first few laps with Jon Reynolds Jr. moving to the front quickly. Reynolds, a two-time Rockford late model champion as well as a four-time winner of the Big 8 Series event during NSTC weekend, led the way until Nottestad came up to challenge and eventually grab the lead. Reynolds’ night ended with mechanical ills at about the halfway mark.
Nottestad seemed to be able to race away from the rest of the field during green flag runs only to see the yellow flag fly – four within the last 26 laps. Nottestad held on to the top spot with Gille making a run for the lead on the last lap.
“I was just driving and trying to hit my marks,” said Nottestad. “My spotter kept telling me that they (Tom Gille and Austin Nason) were battling pretty hard back there. I just wanted to make sure I hit my marks there (on the last lap). I kind of got in there too easy in the corner and got loose off of (turn) two. I knew I could drive off and beat him (Gille) to the line. The car was strong all night. It never fell off.”
Gille, a veteran of Rockford late model action, turned in a strong performance after setting fifth fast time.
“We had a little issue with the 17 car (Nason),” said Gille. “Apparently he thought he needed to be where I was at on every restart. It took about four laps for my car to really take off. The yellow at the end (with 15 laps to go) just killed us. If we would have had maybe three more laps, I think we could have made it real more interesting. I think we were the quickest car since about lap 80 on. I just ran out of laps.”
Young Jacob Nottestad, this year’s late model champion at Wisconsin’s Slinger Speedway, grabbed fast time honors with a lap of 13.506 seconds. Nottestad’s racing ended with a mechanical problem.
Rain washed out Friday’s opening night of the NSTC with a lot of racing packed into Saturday. Other feature winners during the night included Robert Hansberry Jr. (sportsman), Kelly Evink (Midwest Dash Series), Max McNamara (Legends) and Bill Schott (roadrunners).
Earlier in the day, Michael Bilderback posted fast time for Sunday’s National Short Track Championships 250 presented by Crazy Times Pub & Grub with a lap of 12.789 seconds, pacing a field of 22 super late models.
Dale Nottestad, Tom Gille, Austin Nason, Brody Willett, Michael Bilderback, Jacob Vanoskey, Tom Berens, Dennis Smith Jr., Max Kahler, Jerry Stafford II, John Beinlich, R.J. Braun, Patrick Featherston II, Jon Reynolds Jr., Jerry Mueller, Chad Walen, Jeff Wakeman, Jacob Nottestad, Bobby Wilberg, Casey Johnson, Tyler Kingery, Hunter Drefahl, David Thomason.