LOVES PARK, Ill. — The Rockford area seemed to be the center point of Midwest stock car racing this past weekend as two events were held in or near the city.
The high-banked, quarter-mile paved Rockford Speedway, which is actually located in the city of Loves Park, presented the 36th annual Spring Classic Sunday afternoon.
The track’s annual season opener featured the Big 8 Late Models series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet, the Mid American Stock Car Series and the Illinois Vintage Racing cars.
Alex Papini, 23 year-old racer from nearby Machesney Park, scored his first Big 8 late model victory, leading all 108 feature laps after starting on the inside of the front row of the 24-car field. Papini battled briefly with fellow front row starter and seven-time Rockford track champion,
Bobby Wilberg and would lead the first lap and all 107 circuits after that. Papini and Wilberg were winners of the twin 8-lap “fast dashes,” which set the first 14 starting spots of the feature field.
“There is nobody else I’d rather beat getting into turn one than Bobby Wilberg,” said Papini. “I watched him run a lot of races here and he’s the man. I never expected that to happen. We gave it our best shot and sometimes the best man wins.”
The 2011 winner of the event, Dale Nottestad, who hails from Sun Prairie, Wis., finished second to Papini and pressured the leader and eventual winner most of the way.
“He (Papini) had such a good run off the top (groove) and I couldn’t quite get the bite I needed off the bottom,” commented Nottestad. “I didn’t want to use him up and wanted to run him clean. It (the car) started loosening up on entry there and it hurt me on the one corner (with about four laps to go). I had to fall in line and take second.”
Papini and his Chevrolet Impala seemed to be in control of the top spot most of the way with Nottestad keeping Papini ”honest” and preventing what could have been a “runaway” to the checkered flag.
“I knew he (Nottestad) was there, but I wasn’t worried,” said Papini. “I haven’t actually raced with Dale that much. I’ve known him my whole life since I was a little kid. Our dads raced together and I introduced him to his wife. I was expecting him to race me clean and he did. If he would have got to my door and got me in the door, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it as long as he didn’t get me in the bumper cover and get me loose.”