September 18th, 2004
Not since September 19th, 1999 has the Night of Thrills name been used at Rockford Speedway and for good reason. It 'twas the night of the RV disaster, and ever since its been called the Eve of Destruction. The name has returned and you could almost sense it was different. The track was a glow between light and darkness as dusk loomed over Rockford, IL and the stars began to shine. A packed crowd was ready to witness a night of chills, spills and THRILLS!
Less than a week prior, I had journeyed across Missouri and into Kansas for the Topeka Monster Truck Challenge and 5 days later I was hittin' the road again back north to Batavia. But the night before Rockford, Andrew Pellegrine and I were at Lake Geneva Raceway for a Tour of Destruction featuring several races and thrills that tried to compete with what Rockford Speedway puts on. Good show but there are no substitutes for the psycho action of Rockford. So it was back-to-back days of monster truck and thrill action and would be back-to-back-to-back days for Andrew as he was heading to Hank's Jamboree in Kankakee on Sunday too! Looks like I've got some competition now. The crew heading to Rockford consisted of my girlfriend Jackie, my Dad, Andrew Pellegrine and myself and I'm sorry to say, no Spectacular Drags this month as my truck was not at 100%. But the lineup was plenty stacked with out me, let's see what's in store for the Rockford Speedway Night of Thrills2!
Rudy Charles in The Mummy ride truck began the night's activities driving American Flags around the track and following him out were the two monster trucks and Rockford Speedway couldn't have brought in a better one-two punch.
Jocelyn Perrin in Lil' Miss Dangerous would be making her first appearance since injury in a rollover and that rollover also is the result of having the spare "Willy Badd" body on the truck. Her opponent/running mate on the night would be Mark Schroeder in Devastator. Mark has made huge strides in 2004 and Rockford will provide a great opportunity to gain new fans and showcase what Devastator can do.
Along with the monster trucks, the Night of Thrills featured a steel wall crash, Hornets, Spectacular Drags, Rollover Contest, Auto Football, Figure-8 Train Race, Gauntlet Race and School Bus Figure-8! All of the nights' action would also be recorded for Speed Channel! That's right, Speed Channel was in Rockford for filming episodes of their "Lucas Oil: On The Edge series." The night really kicked off with a bang and that certainly isn't just some lame cliche because it really did! Immediately after introductions were done, a car came speeding onto the track out of Turn 3 and into the X. He roared towards the three steel wall crash cars and slammed into them at about 50mph totally annihilating the first car sending it flying over the roof and then tore down the next two landing one of them on the roof! I barely got the pictures off as no one was paying attention and it was not announced, caught us all by surprise but it worked!
The first Buzz of Hornets hit the track next and it was a fast-paced affair that saw drivers really going for the win more than wanting even the slightest contact with another car. The high speeds did provide for some close calls and ultimately a few spins out but nothing major happened.
The second Buzz heat rolled out and this time things got interesting. More high speeds and spinouts turned disastrous. Towards the end of the race, a Hornet car took a vicious door shot after behind spun around into the path of traffic in Turn 3. The race was Red Flagged and paramedics attended to the driver. We never got a word on his condition but he was taken off the track in the back of the ambulance.
After a jolting start to the night, the hits were to keep on coming. The engine fired up on Lil' Miss Dangerous and usually the first time the monsters come out they'll spin a donut or two and just get introduced to the crowd. Oh, but not this time. Jocelyn came straight out of the pit area and attacked the 5-car setup on the backstretch with a big wheel stand.
Looks as if any pre-race jitters for her first time back were non-existent as Jocelyn already had the crowd rockin' and swung the '41 Willys around for another shot on the cars and attacked them strong with some big air clearing half the set and walking off the fifth car, awesome jump.
Jocelyn hit two more nice long jumps from each side of the cars to conclude her opening run. Great start from Lil' Miss Dangerous.
Mark Schroeder in Devastator fired up next and after seeing the slap wheelie he pulled in Atlanta, we were eager to get a taste of that here. Mark built a little speed up to the cars and stood Devastator nearly straight up on the first car and carried the wheel stand across three cars, bounced the front tires off the last car, put his foot through the floor and powered up a slap wheelie carrying it up into Turn 3! Awesome combo of moves right from the start.
Schroeder came back with a nice vertical wheel stand and tried to carry it over the cars but didn't get the right speed up. Two more nice leaps over the cars finished up Mark's run with more to come later on.
Spectacular Drags were rolling out next and as I stated in the intro, I
would not be a part of the racing action this time. Reason being as I said in my Topeka
coverage that my truck developed transmission/exhaust problems during the long drive and I
would not be risking it any further until it was checked out. I even left it down at
school and we drove Jackie's car up to be sure. I was a bit disappointed I couldn't race
but after what we saw, good thing my truck was not on the track.
The field was stacked with some high power machines and several aggressive drivers that went to the limit to get the win. Numerous spinouts and close calls took place, many more than we've ever seen and it had the crowd pumped beyond belief. The finals came down to two familiar cars that showed some extreme power and very good drivers and both have claimed Spectacular Drags wins before. It was an Oldsmobile Cutlass (I think) up against a high-powered Dodge Neon. Both cars had laid waste to everyone else and now matched up in the finals. In the 2-out-of-3 series each of them took one with some close calls and it was down to the final race. They screamed around the track and came into Turn 3 way tooooooo fast and rubber was burning. The Neon held tight on the inside but then got loose into Turn 4 sending the Olds up the track as well. The driver of the Olds mashed the gas to try and pass up the Neon but instead mashed it right into the wall!! Sparks and pieces went everywhere as the car took a pounding and the Neon flew by for the win.
An incredible battle, probably best ever for the Spectacular Drags but unfortunately, a casualty at the end. The driver of the Olds simply said "Its a spare car." Figured as much. It was a junker body but the engine is where the big bucks were at and it wouldn't surprise me to see that thing roll back out on the track in 2005. But for now, it rolls out on the back of a tow truck.
The huge field for the Transit Terror School Bus Figure-8 race came out next and took a few warm up laps around the oval to get psyched up for the big race to close out the show. The buses nearly wrapped all the way around the track. Should be wild later on.
The Rollover Contest, well, rolled out next and it was another huge field of cars. If you remember back to July, the new setup meant the ramp was now in a craptacular spot for pictures with no light and hidden behind the light structures. I did my best but really came away with nothing too great, so I apologize for the quality but blame Rockford, not me. All the cars did very well and the win belonged to the #51 who unleashed a massive 16 point roll in his final attempt sending the crowd wild. Biggest roll on one try I've seen there ever. Great job by everyone.
A wild one was hitting the track next and there would be plenty of hitting involved that is for sure. Wow, I really need to stop with these corny intros. Anyways....It is Figure-8 Train Race time! Four teams of three cars each all chained together for seven laps of mayhem! The last time I saw this race I was not too impressed but on this night the drivers really stepped it up and for good reason as they were being filmed for airing on Speed Channel.
On Lap 2, chains broke apart one of the trains as they entered the X and that caused havoc everywhere with cars flying and smoke spewing across the track, we couldn't tell who was attached to who out in the smog. Eventually the black Batman themed cars took the lead and established control over the race as they did in July. But the #66 Red, White and Blue team led by a hard charging truck were not going to be denied. Lap after Lap, turn after turn, the #66 truck continued to ram and batter everything in its path to get up to the Batman team.
But the Batman team wasn't about to go quietly as the two trains charged ahead and pulled away from the rest of the pack and ended up nearly lapping a few of them. #66 was relentless in the aggressive offense as he never gave the other team an inch and continued to lay in heavy hits as they rounded the track. As the final lap approached, both teams were literally door-to-door and wheel to wheel for the first half of the lap. As they hit Turn 3 the Batman train took a slight lead but the #66 truck took a hard right turn and slammed into the door of the lead Batman car and slowed both trains down as they headed for the Checkered Flag. One last ditch effort to get past the Batman team fell just short as the Red, White and Blue train lost by less than a tire. Incredible and hard-hitting race.
Only half way through the event and already we'd got our money's worth. Next up was the final Hornets race, the Swarm! Over 50 Hornet cars took to the track and nearly wrapped all the way around the track, just fell short by one turn. The first couple laps allowed the faster cars to start breaking away from the pack but in turn that caught them up with the end of the field and started to provide for some spin outs and hard hitting. One big hit came not from two cars but when one Hornet got loose coming through the middle of the X and smacked head-on into one of the big boundary tires sending the tire flying forward and the car backwards into traffic again. Caution flag was forced to be thrown at one point near the end of the race because so many cars were spun around and blocked up the entrance to Turn 3. Not an abundant amount of carnage in this race but that was about to change with the next event...
The Gauntlet Race of Destruction was on tap next and the field of cars
came onto the track led by the new Gauntlet Vehicle a full size 1980s style Ford Econoline
van. Back in July, a GMC van met its demise after being beaten and battered for 6 laps
including a rollover. Would the same thing happen this time or will the big red, white and
blue Ford prevail? The score stands at Vehicle: 4 Cars: 7 as we enter Round 12 of the
Gauntlet Race. You know the rules...None! Stop that van by any means necessary before it
completes 7 laps! (Yeah its usually 8 but in July it was 6 but now 7? Whatever). And we're
The van led the pack through the first turns and down the back stretch as they all gained speed and the cars began to try to figure how to knock the van off track. It didn't take long for the cars to become aggressive as the little red car decided to try and cut off the van to slow it down....bad move. The van charged forward and spun the car into the vans front and pushed the car sideways down the track before it was finally knocked loose.
Lap 1 complete and onto the back stretch, another car went in for their shot on the van and was successful in spinning the van out but no one followed up with more hits and the van was quickly back under way. But he didn't get too far as into Turn 3 another car rocked the van hard in the back end and got the van spinning up the track and hit it in the doors sending the van skidding into the turns sideways.
The pack of vehicles began to spread out as they hit Turn 1 on Lap 3 and the van got up some good speed down the back stretch to distance himself from the cars. The cars didn't get much of anything in on Lap 3 and would need to step it up.
The van's easy run continued until Turn 3 on Lap 4 when that red car got in another nice shot sending the van spinning up into the wall and then down into the infield but again no one followed up. Not going to stop the van on spinouts alone. Onto Lap 5 and time was going to be quickly running out on the Gauntlet Cars to get the job done and they knew it. A big high speed spin out on the back stretch was just the beginning. One car spun the van out, another came up with a head on hit and then a third car nailed the van in the side. That's what I'm talking about, combo it up and really do some damage.
The van had stalled out but got refired and broke free from the cars and picked up speed down the back stretch again but was caught in a hurry and the same car that started the last attack maximized the damage on this one with a big side hit to the van pushing it up into the wall. The van skidded down to the bottom of the track and was pushed up into the cement barriers that surround the huge drainage hole/basin for the track. The van rocked up on two wheels but came back down on all fours.
The cars were really inflicting the damage but in a golden opportunity with the van pinned, all the cars had sped by and the van got loose and made a big 180 degree turn and was back under way and crossed the stripe into Lap 6 rather easily with the White Flag waiving. But the ever deadly Lap 6 did not greet the van fondly as the cars laid a beating on right in Turn 1 with a great spin out and then several hard hits.
I thought the cars had the van's number this time with a good blockade and nice hits but it forced its way through and was back under way with only a half lap to victory. The van built a ton of speed but one car caught up and smacked the van in the right side just as they hit Turn 3 and jammed it up into the wall for an incredible hit. Another car followed up and shoved the van down the track and back into the cement barriers. The cars needed to end it now with only 1/4 lap to go!
But the sneaky van got free again! He knocked a couple cars backwards as he pulled another big turn around in the middle of Turns 3 & 4 and poured it on to the Finish line. The last Gauntlet car in reach gained on the van and mashed the back end of it spinning the van sideways and it was a complete role reversal of Lap 1 as the car was now pushing the van sideways towards the finish line!
The van spun loose and was facing the wrong direction only 10 feet from the finish line. It got turned around and crossed the line to victory and then was immediately bombarded from all directions with a massive 4-on-1 hit! The cars were not content with letting this one get away and continued to put a demo derby hurtin' on the van with several more hits. But in the end, the Van comes away the winner in a thrilling and action packed Gauntlet Race bringing the score to Vehicle: 5 Cars 7. Best Gauntlet Race ever in my view, fast action, hard hits and a no quit attitude by everyone involved, excellent. Watch a huge video featuring parts of this Gauntlet Race and 10 others in the Rockford Speedway Video Theatre!
The next event was a new variation on an old classic and a new one. Auto Football has returned but it wasn't a real good debut. In the past, we've seen some great School Bus Football matches and I was a bit disappointed to not see another one but I stayed optimistic about Auto Football. The original version pitted a team of cars on either side trying to push a huge ball across the goal line. But now it was 4 regular size cars all trying to push another full size vehicle to their goal. That size match up just was not going to work and it showed. Only a couple good hits to the football and most of the time was spent with car spinnin' their wheels and just nudging the "ball" around. I couldn't even tell you who won the match, most people were just glad it was over.
What I can tell you though is that it is Monster Truck Time!!! Before the monsters could hit the track though, it had to be built which was excellent news. Not only were the monsters going to have the original five car set on the back stretch, but now a two-car set at the entrance of the X and then ANOTHER 5 car set in the grass by Turn 1! Biggest setup for the monsters yet and Perrin and Schroeder would not let it go to waste by any means. The only set back with this setup was that instead of running one at a time, both trucks took to the track at the same time for a dual freestyle performance. That made it twice as hard to keep up with the action for pictures so obviously I did miss a few jumps here and there.
Jocelyn Perrin kicked off the action as she roared out of the pits and blasted right at the 5-car back set with a nice long jump nearly clearing them all and we were under way! Mark Schroeder lined up the fresh near set of cars and popped up a near vertical wheel stand and walked it across half the set.
Schroeder blasted up another fantastic wheel stand on the near set while Jocelyn attacked the far set again. The two drivers switched it up as Mark took on the far set with a good leap while Jocelyn blasted into near set, ripping the roof off the first car and barely catching the fifth car on the landing.
Schroeder turned Devastator around for another hit on the far set and carried the front end the whole way across nearly rocking up another slap wheelie. Perrin hit another nice leap on the near set and got out of the way as Devastator came plowing over the near set sideways to mix stuff up. Jocelyn picked out some open asphalt on the front stretch and ripped off a sweet set of donuts much to the crowd's delight who were totally in to every jump and hit for both trucks.
Schroeder eye'd up the only untouched cars left, the 2-car set at the entrance of the X and I knew he had a slap wheelie in mind. Schroeder got Devastator up in the air but the back tires slid off the side of the cars and a wheelie wasn't going to happen. He turned around and hit the cars going the opposite way for some good air while Jocelyn beat up on the near set of cars once again. Mark got himself turned around and prepared for another crack at the wheelie. Good approach, perfect line to the cars, right on bounce and away we go! A great slap wheelie carried through the center of the X before bouncing to a stop in the grass area, awesome!
Mark made sure to devastate that 2-car set and took another shot at them going back across for some good air while Jocelyn went back to the donuts for another tire smoking set. Both trucks pulled to the front of the grandstands for a huge ovation. Excellent job by both drivers. Scores: Dual 10s. Watch Video of Lil' Miss Dangerous in the Rockford Speedway Video Theatre!
Only one event left to go and that would be the Transit Terror School Bus Figure-8 Race. I'd only seen this race once, several years back, and it was a dud to say the least. No one with guts to dive through traffic and across the X and no real excitement. Well prepare for the complete opposite. A field of 14 buses made it out for this 8 lap bus battle of brutality! (Oh I like that)
The first lap was cautious as the buses began to spread out but not nearly out enough for any action at the X. The leaders began to pull away as they entered Lap 2 while a log jam was taking shape into Turn 1 and 2 for the middle of the pack. One bus got into the side of another as they made the turn and total chaos ensues! The hit bus rolls over onto its side! Another bus spins out blocking the path of the 8 buses behind the mess; it gets hit by a bus trying to sneak through which inturn blasts the hood off it! Buses pile up and shoot off in every direction to try and avoid the wreckage but some couldn't and still hit the turned over off! Totally insane several seconds go by. All the buses that could move, finally did manage to get around and the pack lined up on the other side of the track with the red flag waiving.
It took a good while for tow trucks and wreckers to clear the mess in Turn 1 and haul the totaled buses off the track but eventually we went back to green down to 10 buses running and still 6 laps to go! The pack really began to thin out and was providing some close calls as buses approached from each side of the X. Some would slow down while others gunned it to get through in time and each time barely escaped damage. By Lap 4, the #66 bus was a clear aggressor. #66, eh? Yup, same team as the #66 red/white/blue truck from the train race, what a surprise. This guy is flat out nuts and obviously refuses to lose. He NEVER let up when coming to the X no matter what, I don't think he even looked and just floored it. The strategy somehow worked and with some tricky driving he managed to sneak up into the lead as the pack hit Lap 6.
Just as in the Gauntlet Race, Lap 6 in this Figure-8 race became the turning point. The balls-to-the-wall attitude of the #66 bus just caught up to him. As he made another hard charge through the center of the X off Turn 2, a red bus was coming through at the same time. Looked like the driver of #66 saw him coming this time and tried to veer out of the way but caught the back end of the bus with a glancing blow but made one hell of a bang when he did. The hood shattered into the pieces upon impact as well. The #66 bus slowed a bit but I didn't even give it a second glance knowing he was still on his way. Then a commotion erupts in the crowd and people point over to Turn 4 as I see the engine on the #66 bus burst into flames!! A 5-foot high fire ball shot up over the top of the bus right in front of the windshield.
First concern was for the driver but thankfully he paid attention during elementary school bus safety drills and flew down the back of the bus and jumped out the back door before anything else happened. The fire began to grow but the race kept on going!
With attention on the #66 fire I lost track of who was in the lead with one lap to go. But even with the rollover and a fire, some buses refused to let up. On the final cross of the X another bus nailed the other side of the red bus involved in the #66 hit and shattered its hood apart as well. Awesome action with the unpredictability and hard driving Rockford Speedway is known for. All drivers involved escaped injury, which was top priority.
What can I say but WOW! A great, great night of action from Rockford Speedway's Night of Thrills2. Top to bottom ranking as probably the best solid show I've seen in the 6 years I've been to the track. You know the drill, if you haven't been to Rockford Speedway...GET THERE! 2005 season will be here before you know it and you know I'll be there too!
After the show let out, we usually hit the track to grab some stuff for the Carnage Collection and browse around a bit but because of the fire still burning and The Mummy ride truck running around, we weren't allowed down there which sucked. So we hit the pit area for awhile as the monster trucks began to pack up.
I snagged me a new Devastator shirt (A must buy!) and also chatted with Jocelyn Perrin briefly while she was overwhelmed with fans flocking to the truck. Including Jackie of course.
We eventually did rip a piece off one of the buses for the Carnage Collection but I would've loved to have this instead:
Ouch is all I can say.
Thanks to Andrew for the pictures, Jackie and my Dad for video work and everyone at Rockford Speedway for this awesome show. Thanks for stopping by again!