Dale Nottestad showed patience when many others didn’t, biding his time and picking off cars to get to the front before putting it on cruise control and never looking back on the way to victory lane today. A crash-filled opening 20 laps marked the beginning of the 34th annual Spring Classic at the historic Rockford Speedway, taking out several contenders for the win in the Big 8 Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet ‘Spring Classic 108’ before Nottestad put a chokehold on the top spot and rode it all the way to his second career Big 8 Series win and the early points lead.
The seventh season of Big 8 Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet action got off to a very quick start. Racing was heated from the drop of the green flag as veteran Bobby Wilberg and young gun Matt Byrne got together on the opening turn of the race and Byrne spun towards the outside wall, bottling up the 24-car field and collecting Wilberg, defending Spring Classic champion Casey Johnson, Mike Ehde, Kyle Shear, and Jon Reynolds Jr in the incident.
Johnson, Reynolds Jr, and Ehde had to leave the track with damage and only Johnson managed to return in time for the second go-around at the initial green flag, sporting a crunched nose and no hood. Reynolds Jr. had to call it a day with radiator issues while Ehde suffered the brunt of the damage in the accident, forcing the 2007 Spring Classic champ to load it up before he managed a lap.
The second attempt didn’t go far either as Wilberg went for a solo trip through the spin cycle after suffering a flat right rear tire in the initial incident.
When the 34th annual Spring Classic finally got underway, it was ‘Showtime’ Zach Riddle that jumped out front and assumed command after fending off Slinger regular Steve Apel’s advances. Riddle quickly came under fire from fellow Madison International Speedway wheelman Dale Nottestad for the lead in the opening five laps.
Nottestad dug deep and grabbed the top spot on the low line with ten laps down while Ryan Carlson made a bold move for second, squeezing three-time Big 8 Series champion Jeremy Miller for the spot and relegating Miller to fifth. The third caution of the race flew soon after when fast qualifier Steve Rubeck went around in turn two with a little help from Riddle. Showing off their collective prowess behind the wheel, the whole field emerged unscathed as both drivers involved in the mishap dropped to the back.
When the race resumed, Nottestad nudged his way back to the front while Carlson and Miller gave chase; it wasn’t long though before another caution slowed the proceedings after Dave Edwards went around with 16 circuits completed.
Dan Lensing spun to avoid the Rockford regular but couldn’t miss him, smashing into the side of Edwards’ machine and severely damaging his front end. Jimmy Ganski also got collected in the mayhem sending all three drivers to the pits for repairs. Lensing did manage to return to action on the lead lap after his crew fixed some minor issues on his car.
On the restart, Nottestad surged to a three car length lead while a hungry Matt Berger applied pressure to Carlson for second. Jeremy Miller jumped into the fray, filling up Berger’s mirror and running him up the high banks in turn four to take the third position away.
Behind the pack out front, Bobby Wilberg was working hard after his earlier mishap, breaking into the top five with 25 laps in the books after a pass on ‘Fast’ Eddie May. Steve Rubeck wasn’t far behind on his race to redemption, maneuvering through the field and claiming sixth from Kyle Shear before a debris caution came with 75 laps remaining. Unfortunately for the defending series champion, that debris meant a broken axel and the end of Jeremy Miller’s day.
Wilberg and Rubeck continued their charge to the front in tandem on the restart, using the low line to work past Matt Berger for third and fourth respectively. As Nottestad slipped away up front, Rubeck began to explore the low line looking for a path past Wilberg. The door for third opened up and Rubeck drove past his MIS rival into a podium spot before setting his sights towards Carlson and second.
The ‘Mayor of Monroe Center’ swiftly erased the ten car length gap to the bridesmaid’s position but couldn’t find the space to steal second as Carlson held him at bay. With 40 laps remaining, Nottestad had built up a straightaway lead and continued to negotiate lapped traffic.
Kyle Shear moved into the top five on lap 80, inheriting fifth after Matt Berger fell victim to motor troubles and pulled off to the infield.
Carlson fell off the pace for a couple laps with 15 circuits remaining allowing Rubeck to ease past him for second. Rubeck’s best hope to challenge for the win was a caution that never came and Nottestad survived a close call with Zach Riddle in the closing laps to cruise home for a convincing victory in the ‘Spring Classic 108’.
The win marked his second Big 8 Series triumph as Nottestad grabbed the early points lead with the strong start to his 2011 campaign.
“It’s pretty awesome and we’ve contended here a few times but it feels good to win,” Nottestad acknowledged in victory lane. “This place is tough on equipment and it was important to get out front so I could save my stuff a bit there. We’ll be running all (the Big 8 Series races) this year so it’s definitely a good way to start.”
While Nottestad wore the wreath with pride, Rubeck rallied for second after his early race troubles.
“The cone is beautiful isn’t it?” Rubeck quipped after the race. “I got up from the sixth or seventh row to third. When I spun, I turned around and I didn’t wanna heat the tires like that but when there’s 20 guys coming at you, you don’t have much of a choice. We picked guys off after that and hoped to get back in the top-five. This car was a rocket ship from the minute we unloaded and after everything that happened, second is so bad.”
The guy Rubeck passed for second in the final 15 laps, Ryan Carlson, admitted he was either going to finish third as he did, or blow the motor up trying.
“Something went amiss with the motor there,” Carlson admitted. “I almost pulled off but I figured screw it, I’ll blow it sky high and kept going. I wish I had a chance to race with (Nottestad) but we fought for a top three today.”
Carlson’s podium finish marked the end to a long day for the Rockford regular while Wilberg held on for fourth after coming back strong from a flat tire. The Powersource Engines Mover of the Race was Kyle Shear, who gained 16 positions after overcoming adversity of his own, working his way from a 21st starting spot to finish fifth and round out the top five.
Matt Byrne returned to the Big 8 Series in style with a sixth-place finish while Casey Johnson ended up eighth with an aesthetically-challenged hot rod.
The next event on the calendar for the Big 8 Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet 2011 season will be on Memorial Day Monday, May 30th, at Columbus 151 Speedway in Columbus, Wisconsin. For the first time in series history, the stars and cars of the Big 8 Series will be invading the quarter-mile speed plant for a 68-lap showdown with qualifying scheduled to get underway at 11:30am and the green flag waving at 1pm sharp.
For more information on the Big 8 Series presented by Gandrud Chevrolet, visit the series website at www.big8series.com or call the Rockford Speedway Box Office at (815)633-1500.