The National Short Track Championships at the Rockford Speedway is one of the nation's premiere short track stock car events. It all began in 1966 with Dick Trickle picking up the first of his three career wins, and has added an elite roster of the Midwest's finest stock car divers taking home the trophy. Names like Mark Martin, Butch Miller, Rich Bickle, and Scott Hansen are just a few of the men who have claimed this title.
Multiple winners include Jeremy Lepak with two and Eddie Hoffman with three wins. Yet when it comes to multiple winners, only two names stand out. Joe Shear and Steve Carlson.
Shear took the checkers eight times between 1972 and 1997. Many believed Shear would have captured even more had he not succumbed to cancer six months after his last win.
As dominant as Shear was, no one had a better decade than Carlson. From 1992 to 2000, Carlson won an astounding seven times. The streak stopped only by Shear in 1997 and Scott Hansen in 1994.
Although by his own admission he just stopped coming for a variety of reasons, when he finally returned, Carlson picked up right where he left off.
The 2011 edition saw Carlson get the advantage on the second half restart, passing leader Jacob Goede coming off of turn two before leading the final 103 laps to claim his eight victory and tie Shear for the overall record.
“This means a lot to me because it means I just tied Joe Shear and he was one great race car driver,” said Carlson in Victory Lane.
Rich Bickle and Jacob Goede led the field of twenty five cars to the green flag with Goede taking advantage of the outside and preferred line. Carlson, who started directly behind Goede, quickly stayed glued to Goede’s rear bumper heading into turn one. Since Rockford’s groove is on the outside, that line seems to have the advantage on restarts. Carlson was able to get past Bickle coming off of turn two and climb into the second spot.
The cars got into single file within a few laps, and the field began to settle in for the 200 laps ahead.
That would be spoiled on lap 7 when Erik Pierce spun in turn 2 to bring out the first caution of the event.
Goede would get the jump on the restart and once again bring Carlson with him. Bickle, the 1990 NSTC winner blended into the third spot. Together these three slowly surged away from the pack and built up a full straightaway lead over the fourth place car of Griffin McGrath.
Considering Rockford’s single groove, the drivers seemed content to ride for awhile.
The caution would fly once again on lap 61 when Jeremy Lepak crashed hard into the turn four wall. The two time NSTC winner (2006-07) had a brake failure that led to his crash.
Under ASAMT rules a cone is placed at the start-finish line for cars to pick a lane to restart. Many drivers would take the preferred high side, but under this yellow, several drivers decided to roll the dice to change their luck and pick up a few spots. Nick Panitzke was the first to try the inside and was followed by points leader Andrew Morrissey, Tim Schendel, fast qualifier Chris Wimmer, and Steve Apel.
When racing resumed, it would be Goede who once again got the jump on the field. With everyone running up high, passing was at a premium. The many drivers that tried to get underneath the cars in front of them on the restart, would lose all their momentum before being shuffled back.
Another yellow on lap 78 would slow the field once again. Jeff Storm suffered front end damage making contact in turn four.
The restart saw a bottleneck in turn four and the resulting accordion effect took its toll on the cars of Jon Reynolds Jr., Skylar Holzhausen, and Jake Vanoskey. The lengthy cleanup, coupled with caution laps counting, led race officials to call the halfway break four laps early.
After a ten minute break with minimal adjustments allowed, the race resumed on lap 97.
Coming to the green flag Steve Carlson got a run on Jacob Goede and held it heading into turn one. Carlson was able to make it stick and cleared Goede off of turn two. Carlson immediately began to pull away to a sizable advantage.
Heavy traffic would soon play a part as Carlson was briefly held up by the slower cars on lap 123. Goede began to reel in Carlson and made a race of things once again. Ten laps later, Goede was right back on Carlson’s rear bumper.
Another caution flag flew on lap 150 when the car of Max McNamara came to a stop on the front straightaway.
With the end of the race in sight, several drivers took to the inside lane for the restart. Led by Nick Panitzke and Chris Wimmer, they would be joined by Nathan Haseleu, Ross Kenseth, Chris Weinkauf, and Brad Mueller.
Back underway the field stayed status quo for several laps. However it would only be eleven laps until the yellow would come out yet again.
This time it was the most serious incident of the day involving Weinkauf, Griffin McGrath, Steve Apel, and Ryan Carlson. McGrath and Weinkauf got together entering turn three and rode up towards the outside wall. McGrath looped it and backed into Weinkauf as they slammed into the wall. Weinkauf’s car climbed the wall and came to a rest on top of the wall and almost on its side. Apel and Ryan Carlson were caught up in the melee as the track was blocked in front of them. Michael Bilderback and Rich Loch were also involved.
This would bring out a red flag to get Weinkauf’s car off of the wall.
After a ten minute or so delay, the cars refired and the same cars as before took to the inside lane. Steve Carlson would get a great jump on the restart and once again pull away from Goede. Carlson would build up a five car length advantage before another yellow would slow his march to the checkers.
Ryan Carlson, no relation to Steve, returned from the previous caution only to have his engine expire and drop a trail of oil all the way around the quarter mile oval. Rich Loch found that trail of oil and hammered the wall in turn 3.
The takers for the inside lane on this restart included Morrissey, Haseleu, Bickle, Kenseth, and Mueller. Coming to the green, Bickle tried to run Wimmer up out of the groove and force his way to the outside. Wimmer slowed dramatically exiting turn four as traffic bottled up behind him. The yellow would come out aborting this attempt, but everyone was given their spots back.
A lap after finally getting the green flag, Brad Mueller would get turned down the front straightaway bringing out the seventh and final caution of the day.
During this yellow, officials thought someone was dropping fluids on the track. The first car they suspected was second place driver Jacob Goede. Goede was forced to stop his car on track in turn four to be inspected. The officials determined it was not Goede leaking, so he was sent back to reclaim the second spot.
Michael Bilderback was the next to be stopped for a look, and this time officials did find the culprit.
The final restart turned out to be anti-climatic, as Carlson would pull away and cruise to the checkers. His record tying eighth win at the NSTC.
Considering Rockford’s penchant for being a one groove track, Carlson knew he had to plot his strategy to get past Goede.
“The whole first half on every restart, I could actually get on him (Goede) and lean on him a bit, nudge him a little,” said Carlson. “His car was always tight on the restarts and we actually kept count of laps. On lap 5 of the restart my car would start getting loose and he would get a car length on me. Maybe two and then the caution would come out and I could be on him again.”
Despite Goede leading the entire first half of the race, Carlson knew he had a shot after making adjustments.
“We made some adjustments on the car and put some bite in it basically,” said Carlson. “The car was really good but Jacob on that next restart was real tight and slid up in the corner pretty high and I got a fender on him and got by him.”
Still, considering how tough it is to pass at Rockford, did Carlson know he had to make his move early?
“I figured that would be the best time to get him,” said Carlson.
Most cars get more than just a tad dinged up at Rockford, but Carlson was able to have his car amazingly unscathed. The key to that is something most drivers tend to lack.
“Patience” exclaimed Carlson. “You have to have patience to race Rockford. Never press it because something will happen if you do. This is my highlight of the season. I was only on the podium one other time, I finished second at Grundy County Speedway, and other than that I had bad shocks, just stuff going wrong. Bad set ups. Just a bad season.”
Jacob Goede was quite upbeat finishing second despite leading the entire first half of the race. Although he wasn’t sure if their adjustments were the downfall.
“Well, maybe a little bit,” said Goede. “The car took ten laps to get going all the time. Steve, I think made his car a little bit better. If he wouldn’t have got me on that first restart with the passing how tough it is, I don’t know if he would have got me. I just screwed up a little bit getting into turn one, got just a little bit loose in and I let him get a run on me down the back. Then he got a fender there and did a good job. Like I said my car was a little bit off but I’m pretty happy with it I guess. A second place for the first time here, I’m happy.”
Many fans and drivers have nicknamed the Rockford Speedway “Wreckford” so what is the opinion for being the first time there?
“I’m really glad that I had the starting spot that I had,” said Goede. “It’s tough to pass and everyone would seem to go around on the bottom for a couple of laps and try to root themselves to the outside. I got fortunate on my starting spot I guess, but we had a pretty fast car too. It was exciting and I was pretty nervous in practice going around here. When you catch a guy from a straightaway behind you could hardly pass. I knew the race was going to be a challenge but it was fun.”
Results of the 46th annual National Short Track Championships at Rockford Speedway
FIN Start Driver Hometown Laps Reason
1 4 Steve Carlson (TS) West Salem, WI 200 running
2 2 Jacob Goede (TS) Carver, MN 200 running
3 3 Nick Panitzke (TS) Sauk Centre, MN 200 running
4 16 Andrew Morrissey (TS) DeForest, WI 200 running
5 1 Rich Bickle Janesville, WI 200 running
6 14 Chris Wimmer (TS) Wausau, WI 200 running
7 12 Ross Kenseth (TS) Spring Valley, IL 200 running
8 6 Griffin McGrath (TS) Cedar Rapids, IA 200 running
9 11 Nathan Haseleu (TS) Marshall, Wi 200 running
10 7 Tim Schendel (TS) Sparta, WI 200 running
11 5 Jeff Storm (TS) Waterford, WI 200 running
12 13 Brad Mueller Random Lake, WI 200 running
13 22 Jeremy Spoonmore (R) Somonauk, IL 198 running
14 20 Ryan Carlson Loves Park, IL 184
15 25 Rich Loch Muskego, IL 183
16 17 Michael Bilderback (TS) South Beloit, IL 182
17 8 Chris Weinkauf (TS) Merrill, WI 160
18 9 Steve Apel Sussex, IL 160
19 19 Jeremy Lepak Ringle, WI 141
20 15 Jonathan Eilen (TS) Hampton, MN 139
21 24 Jake Vanoskey Hartford, WI 125
22 10 Jon Reynolds, Jr Rockford, IL 87
23 21 Skylar Holzhausen (R) Bangor, WI 87
24 23 Erik Pierce Lake of the Hills, IL 28
25 18 Brett Sontag Joliet, IL 8
26 Brett Sontag Joliet, IL 200