The annual summer marquee event is back with installment number six of the Mid-Summer's Night Scream and my 11th trip to Rockford Speedway!
When we left Rockford Speedway last September, it was a rain soaked nightmare highlighted by a crazy Gauntlet Race, a freestyle for the ages out of Boogey Van and of course my Spectacular Drags victory. All three of those events and storylines did not drift away and die after Rock10, they're back for more chaos and carnage along with Hornets, Rollover Contest, Figure-8 Train Race, speed stunt cycles and the night will be set on fire with Green Mamba!
A beautiful sunny day all across
Illinois promised great weather for the event allowing me to actually leave the rain gear
at home for once this summer. Furthermore, you know by now that I do not travel alone to
Rockford and this time was no different. Accompanying me were my girlfriend Jackie and her
roommate from down here at school, Vanessa. Vanessa lives right down the road from
Rockford Speedway and after telling her the tales of excitement, she just had to see it
for herself. Not only that, but she's never seen monster trucks before! All three of use
piled in my truck, headed to the track, then up to trusty row 17 once inside. But, there
were a few changes I immediately noticed and not necssarily was too pleased with.
The stretch of grass where the monster truck crush cars and the rollover contest was held in all previous events was no longer there! The grass was gone and replacing it was now blacktop to match the racing surface. The big problem with that is the monster truck cars were now setup on the back stretch grassy area, a heck of a lot further away from the stands and in even worse lighting conditions for my pictures. Oh well, maybe it'll work out for the better but I doubt it. We all settled in and got ready to go racing!!
Well, almost ready. The Mummy ride truck had a very long line so it took awhile for rides to finish up. Then the two monster trucks for this evening's action rumbled out to take a spot on the track. Brian Townsend would be piloting the new Tony Stewart Smoke truck making its competition debut. His partner on the night would be Rockford newcomer Larry Swim in a banged up Scorpion King. Half of the body was actually Monster Patrol panels as the Scorpion King scheme was on its last leg and there were simply no more bodies to go around.
Ok, now we can go racing with the first Buzzes of the Hornets! There was a huge field of Hornets resulting in them being split up into three separate "buzz" heats. The first race was pretty basic, nothing too crazy. Second race they kicked it up a notch and a couple of the cars were really haulin' around the track making it very interesting with the slower cars blocking the way. But the third Buzz gets the spotlight as stuff around the track started to get wacked. One of the big boundary tires got clocked head-on by a car sending it rolling allllll the way down the back stretch of the track and almost out the pit entrance. The crowd started cheering on the tire as it looked like it would take turn 3 and 4 to make a complete lap but finally did fall on its side.
The next race out of the box was one not seen too often and that is the Figure 8 Train Race. Trains consist of three vehicles, all of different sizes and sometimes trucks and vans. Drivers are in the first and third vehicles with the driver in the back only having steering capabilities. This race featured 4 sets of trains, two of which had trucks for the lead vehicles. One train, the all black cars, were themed up as Batmobiles and immediately became the dominant train in the race. The first few laps were even but the trucks then started falling behind to the all car trains. Several close calls at the X but no T-bones like we all wanted. One of the truck trains stalled out in turn 1 and was done for the race then in turn 3 the non-Batmobile train got all crossed up and the truck train behind it got tangled up trying to stop allowing the Batmobiles to open up a huge lead. But they didn't escape without a few hits and lost a couple of tires and shot sparks around the track with the completion of each lap. The other car train went down for good when the third car's engine blew up and poured smoke out everywhere. A one-sided race but still entertaining.
The monsters rolled out next but it was only a tease as they just came out for introductions but Vanessa was pumped to hear those big engines roar.
But that wasn't the only thing to get her and others pumped, especially me, it was time for the Spectacular Drags featuring your reigning champion...ME! As you may recall, last September at the Eve of Destruction a very thin Spectacular Drags field allowed my Dodge Ram and I to mow down opponents and capture the win. This time, it's hot, it's dry and the field is much bigger and stronger. Going in I wasn't stupid, I knew I couldn't beat the Camaros, the Mustangs etc., my goal was to get past one round then hope for some lucky pairings. After some yelling at Jackie on how to work my camera, I headed to the parking lot to get the truck.
As the field poured onto the track, I noticed the truck in front of me looked quite familiar.....ah ha! That's the same truck that beat me one year ago at this event! Revenge? Sure I wanted it but that thing was quick, I'd rather let him get knocked out before I have to face him. I tried to increase my shot at winning by lightening the load a bit on the truck by removing the heavy bed cap, saving around 200lbs. I also gutted the inside of extra dead weight. The only disadvantage to that was the rear wheels now had less force on them to the pavement possibly resulting in spinning the tires. I was stomping on it no matter what though.
A few crazy races started the event off including several spinouts and near close calls, nothing like I've really ever seen out of a field before and it kind of made me worry, as my pairing was next. Lined up next to me was a 1988 Ford Thunderbird. I didn't even realize it was a T-bird because it looked like a multi-color-rusted piece of crap.
I got the outside lane without a fight and after the announcer pronounced my name wrong for the 4th time, we were staged and ready to go. The flag dropped and I mashed the pedal down and instantly had the lead over the lagging T-bird as we headed into turn 1. I had it in my mind to not hit the brakes at all and I made good on that and kept speed flowing through the high banked turn 1 and 2 and hit the back stretch with a two car length lead. I burned down the back at around 60mph with the T-bird still hanging around.
I dropped to the inside lane to cut off the T-bird but had to get on the brakes at the same time as I was going way too fast for the turn and the tires weren't liking that. I coasted through the middle of the turns and smashed the pedal back down and flew down the front stretch to the checkered flag! Goal accomplished and bye-bye T-bird.
As I pulled back into the X to lineup again, I saw Jackie and Vanessa going nuts up at the top and they were about to have more to cheer for. It looked as if I would be paired up for round 2 against that GMC truck but he got put up against a very fast car instead and in the process of trying to out gun the hotrod, spun out in turn 4 nearly hitting the other car. The truck was gone and I was left to pair up with a Chevy Caprice. I wish I would've paid attention to the first race that car ran because I probably would not have been so happy. As I pulled to the line I realized "oh crap." It was a former cop car with an Interceptor package on it. Again I was on the outside and hoped to get the jump on him again and cut down to the inside quick, cutting off the Caprice and hopefully holding him off that way. The flag dropped and my plan worked for about 3 seconds. I got the jump on the Caprice but after that he was gone. I managed to stick around and stayed within 1-2 lengths the whole way around but there was no catching the cop car. There are also no pictures of it because SOMEONE didn't take any coughJackiecough. Ok, so she took one picture.....of a light pole and the monster trucks with me somewhere behind it all in Turn 2.
On tap next was the crowd pleasing Rollover Contest. A good size field of cars lined up for a shot at the big ramp and capturing the most rolls. But, as I mentioned earlier, that new strip of blacktop replacing the grass would affect this event as well. The ramp was moved from the front stretch to near the middle of the X on the right side grassy infield near the concrete barriers. That meant the cars would now start on the front stretch, up into Turn 4, then 3, then into the X and across the middle to hit the ramp. The drivers didn't seem to have any problems adjusting to the slightly new setup and were attacking the ramp very hard. Several cars hit the ramp so hard they sailed sideways in the air or completely upside down before hitting the ground and rolling. Unfortunately, with the placement of the ramp I was in a crap spot for pictures with the big start/finish line lights and poles in my way but I got a few. The winning driver, sorry, forgot the name, ended up with a well deserved 18 points after 3 crazy rolls.
Time to turn up the heat by, oh, about 5,000 degrees with Doug Rose and Green Mamba! Doug blasted the Green Mamba around the track for a couple of laps and smoked out both sides of the stands with some huge fireballs out the back. Green Mamba will be back at the end of the show to burn down 3 cars.
An event a little different than what we're used to seeing at Rockford was to be a 1/2 pipe exhibition of some kind I guess X-games style or whatever. But there was no half pipe to be found, instead it was this group of speed cycle stunt guys. They had first come out to entertain the crowd as the Spectacular Drags were being lined up so I missed anything they did the first time. But now they were back for some more. I was expecting this to be a snoozer but they were really good. The crowd was really into it as the riders performed numerous tricks that you may see suicidal maniacs perform going down the highway such as standing on the seat and huge wheelies. They also did some rolling nose wheelies and of course they had to throw down some massive burnouts. The group's announcer pumped up the crowd as one rider started lighting up his back tire and was going to burn it till it exploded. I'd never seen something like that so it got my attention. Pretty soon, another one of his buddies joined in and we got some dual tire smoking action. The first bike's tired exploded in about 45 seconds sending rubber all over while the other guy couldn't get his to pop.
The crowd loved it and the riders did a great job keeping everyone entertained. After I thought they were finished I was busy messing with cameras and wasn't paying attention to what was going on and before I know it Vanessa and Jackie are talking about "here comes the hot one!" I was like "huh??" And look up to see a red glove flying through the air in our direction. Jackie leaps to her feet and snags the glove in the air as it was en route to sailing behind us and over to the concourse! Hell of a catch I must say. The motorcycle guys had come up into the stands and were throwing their gear into the crowd and this big nasty wet glove got chucked our way from "the hot guy" and look who ends up with it.
Time for the main events to start rolling out and first up was the giant Hornet's Swarm race. Every single Hornet car that was here tonight and was left running from the heat races, could come out for a shot at the win. Nearly 60 cars filled up over 3/4 of the racetrack!! Largest Hornets field I've ever seen and it wasn't going to take long to get wild. As the cars poured into the first turn, one car got bumped and away then all went. Cars on the brakes, into the rear-ends, up into the wall, spun out, backwards and all on Lap 1.
As the cars thinned out, some started dropping and pulled off the track leaving us with about 40 or so still running at the half way mark. The aggressiveness of some drivers caught up with them on the crowded track and resulted in some nasty spin outs and T-bones as well as hitting other obstacles on the track. Concrete barriers, boundary tires and even the monster truck crush cars all got smacked at one time or another during the race. By about lap 10 the field was really spread out and the faster cars were pulling away. No really big crashes but still had us looking from one side of the track to the other in anticipation of a wreck. Another good night from the Hornets.
Now what did we all come here to see? Oh yeah! Monster Trucks!! The monsters got pushed way back in the program for some reason and after going through nearly every other event, they were just now getting to attack the track. There would be no timed competition for the second event in a row, instead it was a mini-freestyle and just showing off time for the trucks. The cars were still off limits for later on though. *My apologies for the poor picture quality of these night shots* Larry Swim in Scorpion King hit the track first and went for a couple of big tires setup near Turn 1 for wheelies. He tried a couple of times to get the truck to pop up but could not get a big enough bounce off them.
But wheelies aren't Larry's specialty, anyone want some donuts? Larry found a part of that new blacktop section to his liking and ripped off a dizzying set of donuts. He kept Scorpion King perfectly in a tight circle and spun to what seemed like no end! The truck started lifting off the ground he was going so fast and Larry finally let off the gas to reveal a huge thick donut mark on the track. Crowd went berserk and wanted more!
Enter Brian Townsend in Smoke. No way Townsend was going to top the donuts of Swim but there was something he could do and that was the slap wheelie. Townsend has never failed to pull of a wheelie anytime I've seen him and this was going to be no different. He used Smoke to nudge the tires into postion and went for it. He shot over the tires pretty level and stabbed the throttle when the front hit the ground but just didn't get enough of a bounce.
He brought Smoke back around for another try and this time hit them much harder and got more hang time on the jump. The front slammed to the ground and Townsend yanked the front of the truck up in a huge wheelie carrying it through the grass and all the way into the center of the X! Check out the video in the Rockford Speedway Video Theatre!
Might as well stop while you're ahead and that's what the trucks did. The crowd wanted more monster trucks but was promised more later in the evening and before they could even think twice about it, the next race was already staging...The Gauntlet Race! <insert evil laugh here> The Gauntlet Race is the most anticipated race every time I come to Rockford for the sheer unknown factor of what is going to happen because anything can and ultimately, WILL happen. If you don't know the background on the Gauntlet Race, here's a quick recap and rundown of what you can expect. After 10 events, the score stands at Cars: 6, Gauntlet Vehicle: 4. Last September, the hearse that had lasted 3 events met its demise with a rollover in Lap 6 and exploded the engine. This time, the vehicle was to be a full size GMC van! The rules of the Gauntlet Race are...well...NONE! Anything goes for the cars to stop the Gauntlet Vehicle from completing 8 laps, if they can stop the van, they'll win, if they can't and the van finishes 8 laps, the van wins. For some reason, this time the race was only to last 6 laps, weird. Let me just say that having driven several vans and being an owner of one, I could already tell you what was going to happen and you'll see very soon.
The big brown van was spray painted with UPS stuff and under it said "we're racing the truck!" to go along with that Dale Jarrett/Nascar/UPS saying. The van led the field down to the front stretch and we're racing! Lap 1 started slow with the van getting up to speed and the cars trying to figure out which way to approach the van. There were several small cars along with a big station wagon that probably weighed more than the van. A little bumping and nudging was all that took place in Lap 1 as the van still led as they crossed into Lap 2. The group picked up speed as they entered the turns and one little car got the idea to go and cut the van off but the van was having none of that and spun the car right into the wall out of Turn 2.
The spun out car got tangled up with three more cars and the van used that opportunity to start pulling away from the group. But the cars didn't let the van get farther than Turn 3 and laid in a hard hit from the side and spun the van out in the middle of the turns. The driver of the van threw it into reverse and kept on going before getting knocked back around forward and was off to complete Lap 2.
As they hit Lap 3 the van was done screwing around and again pulled away from the cars by several lengths and made a very quick lap, never letting the cars touch him. As they hit Lap 4, the cars had caught up considerably and had now surrounded the van. The group of vehicles was going way too fast as they entered the turn and disaster struck! The van got wacked from behind sending it spinning to the left and rolled over onto its side, slamming the roof into the track wall, skidding down the side of the wall, then sliding down to the infield of the track and rolled back onto the wheels! Incredible!
The cars all stopped for precautionary measures just incase injuries were sustained in that roll by the van. But no sign was given to stop the race and the van started moving again! It lurched backwards and continued on in reverse! The cars woke up and hit the gas to catch up and the race was back on. Having let the van escape once, they were out to end the race right then and there and stopped the van in its tracks on the backstretch allowing a demo derby to ensue as the cars took shots as the stalled out van.
The van just sat there taking the blows and trying to find a gear that would get it moving. All of a sudden the driver got the van going in a forward gear and shot towards Turn 3 leaving the cars dazed and confused yet again. The van didn't get far though as they approached Turn 4 two cars attacked from behind and hit the van very hard spinning the van into the wall and then another car hit it from the side to turn the van back straight and headed for Lap 5. The cars keep getting in the good hits but seem to help the van on its way at the same time.
Lap 5 looked like a mirror image of Lap 3 as the van broke away from the cars and only had a couple lingering behind and really put the speed to the ground and made it around the lap very quickly. But he wasn't welcomed into the final and fateful Lap 6 very kindly as one car gave the van a hard shove from behind as they crossed the Start/Finish line. The van skidded sideways down the track and was left boxed in and smoking by the gauntlet cars. All the vehicles were stopped and had the van pretty much boxed and it showed no signs of getting moving. One car broke free and got some speed up for a good hit on the back of the van but the hit sent the van into the infield and into gear! The van took off again thanks to timely hitting from the cars and was headed into the back stretch.
The cars were sick of it by this time and caught up to the van in no time as the van had slowed way down again and was barely moving. The cars lashed into the van spinning it out and continued to pummel it with everything they had left. All the cars and the van were spewing steam and smoke by this time and none had much left in them. The cars beat away at the van few more times before the countdown began. 5-4-3-2-1 and your winner is the Gauntlet Cars! Lap 6 has been the death of six out of the seven times the Gauntlet vehicle has lost.
Ironically, right after the cars were declared the winner, the van started moving again in reverse. But just to make sure the race was over, the station wagon wacked it one more time to put it out of its misery. As Rock12 looms in the horizon, the score stands at Vehicle: 4, Cars: 7 with the next race in September when undoubtedly a new vehicle will be on the track. Right now though, the only vehicles on the track were the crush cars and they weren't going to be sitting there all nice and neat much longer because it's time for more monster trucks!
Five crush cars were setup on the back grass area and were free for the taking for Scorpion King and Smoke. No other cars were on the track for them to hit but I have a feeling they'll be innovative. Once again, apologies for the crap pictures, the new placement of the cars sucks for shots even more than before.
The Mummy ride truck and Smoke each moved out of the way in the pits and out barged Larry Swim in Scorpion King and he attacked the cars with a big wheel stand to open his run. He took his time to turn around and lineup another shot on the cars and cleared half the set this time and smashed down on the cars.
Swim lumbered up to the cars slowly for his third jump and stuck the front end way up in the air and planted the rear wheels in the cars for a cool slow motion looking wheel stand. He tried the same thing again coming back the other way but didn't get much air on that side at all. Swim attacked the cars hard again from the right side and nearly cleared the set and on the landing got the truck rocked up on two wheels and made a good save to bring it back down.
I was a bit surprised that after that jump Larry decided to call it good and parked the truck! The crowd seemed a bit mifft about it too then out came Smoke. Townsend's first hit on the cars was not what he wanted and the truck barely got up in the air. He came back with a little better hit from the other way but still could not get up there better. Third hit was the charm as Townsend cleared 4 of the 5 cars with a good long jump and was starting to build up momentum.
Townsend went wide in lining up his jump this time and built up a lot of speed to the cars. He launched Smoke over the cars, never touching a one, slammed to the ground and bounced up a slap wheelie! Not nearly as big as earlier in the night but still not bad as Townsend's Leaping Slap Wheelie strikes again. Townsend came back to the cars for another good jump and then called it good as well.
Both trucks came up to the front of the stands and the announcer interviewed Larry and Brian but the crowd wasn't caring, they wanted more! We all wanted more! A LOUD "we want donuts" chant broke out when Larry was talking which then turned into a "donuts! donuts! donuts!" chant. It looked like one of them was going to give in but instead both trucks pulled to the back! I was in shock! 8,000 donut frenzy fans were just turned down and decided to turn on the trucks! Boos rained down heavily that nearly drowned out the engines of the trucks. Not a good way to leave a lasting impression.
The final event to the evening was Doug Rose in Green Mamba burning down a double decker car and another car behind it. Green Mamba is always a crowd favorite and Doug did not disappoint and really set the night on fire with a huge pyro display.
As the show let out, we made our way
to the pit area to catch up with Larry and Brian to see just what the heck was going on. I
asked Larry why he didn't go back out and he said that one reason was the engine was
getting way to hot and Rodney didn't want them to go back out. Now I'm not calling Larry a
liar by any means and I am certainly not the one paying the bills for new engines, but 5
jumps and the engine is too hot?!? Even if it was too hot, let it cool for a few minutes,
get out there and spin a few donuts so you don't have the people who paid their hard
earned money booing you for not performing. No, they didn't have to go back out there but
it sure as heck looked bad when they didn't.
I caught up with Brian next as he was already tearing Smoke apart. We talked for a bit while Vanessa just had to get a closer look at those big tires.
Smoke was just about ready to be loaded back into the hauler which meant we had to get our photo opportunities in quickly.
Vanessa and Jackie
Vanessa and I
We got out of the way for Brian to load Smoke into the trailer then roamed around the pits for a few more minutes and spotted the van from the Gauntlet Race being loaded on a trailer. Surprisingly the van sounded pretty good and even with three flat tires was able to be driven up onto it.
The three of us made our way out onto the track next and what is usually filled with people was completely empty besides the people in the long line for The Mummy ride truck which we had to dodge while running across the track. I scoured the cars looking for something good for the Carnage Collection and ended up with a big intact tail light assembly. With nothing else happening on the track, we packed up and headed out to the parking lot.
Top to bottom it was a solid show but no real huge moments nor anything that down right sucked. The Gauntlet Race was one of the big highlights as were the monster trucks despite being a bit of a let down at the end. Jackie and Vanessa had a great time and both want to come back soon. I will be back for Rock12 and many more to come! Thanks for reading!