"The Friday Night Fright! "
Rockford Speedway has been an innovator and a leader in thrill night spectaculars that keep thousands of race fans coming back time after time. From the Gauntlet races to figure-8s to School Bus Football to monster trucks, Rockford has always given us something new and ground breaking with each visit. This time the something new came in the form of a whole new event! The first ever Friday Night Fright on May 27th ushered in a new night of thrills and spills to add to the ever growing taste for carnage that packed crowds crave.
Storylines to Follow:
"Another Rockford Tradition"-- As discussed in the 2005 Lima coverage, the tradition of RAIN just had to rear its ugly head in anticipation of this debut event. It rained heavily throughout northern Illinois all day Friday and was not forecasted to let up before show time. Would we be in for a repeat soaking that Rock10 brought us?
"A Dawg on the loose"-- Doug Noelke and Big Dawg have arrived at Rockford for their first appearance at the track. They are no stranger's to this type of atmosphere having ran several shows up at Elko Speedway in Minnesota for their thrill nights. How will Big Dawg stack up against the past monster truck performances at Rockford? With a record amount of cars on the track, it surely was going to get interesting.
45 minutes past the scheduled start time, the rain finally did stop and the clouds parted giving way to some bright sunshine. Problem was, the conditions on the track were not so sunny as the grassy areas were flooded and the track still extremely wet. The conditions ultimately forced the cancellation of a few different races but on tap still was the Steel Wall Crash, several rounds of Hornets, Big Dawg freestyle, two school bus races, Spectacular Drags, rollover contest, and the figure-8 train race! We were in need of some heat to dry out the track and we were set to get some with the burning Steel Wall car crash!
A designated psycho on the evening rolled out in a full size Buick ready to trash it as he plowed head-on into a vertical car which was also awaiting to be set ablaze! The stunt car came scream down through the middle of the X and blasted into the standing car as a fireball erupted inside the car. The target car went hurdling through the air in a complete revolution smashing back down on the trunk of the moving car before coming to a rest back on all 4s just a little bit lighter and a whole lot hotter!
Perfectly executed and awesome looking stunt that left the stunt car in very good condition surprisingly. But that would not last long as the car was parked inline with some other "food" for Big Dawg! Great way to kick off the event and following a quick cleanup, it was time for Hornets! For a little refresher, the large field is broken down into two smaller heats known as the "Buzz" races and would be capped by the entire field of cars later in the show which is called the "Swarm."
Buzz number one was a great battle all over the track as the drivers were very aggressive which caused lots of spin outs, near rollovers and even some big waves of water from the flooded infield. The #55 car held on through the field to take the win.
Buzz number two calmed down a bit and became and two-car war between the #8 and #23. #8 had problems avoiding just about every car on the track and had a few different shades of yellow on the side by the time it was over. #23 still came away with the win in the end.
After the men were done slugging it out in the Hornets, it was the ladies turn but inside the big school buses for the Diesel Diva's School Bus race. This would not be a Figure-8 style race, just the usual oval laps but sometimes that creates even more excitement as no one has a reason to let up as they would when crossing the X during the Figure-8. The buses thinned out rather quickly and the #17 "Finding Nemo" theme bus took command and held off all comers for the entire race. None of the other buses seemed to be able to match the speed the lead bus was putting out and were left fighting for lower positions.
The race neared the finish as the lead bus pulled away down the final stretch when it got hit from behind while crossing finish line sending the bus into a back and forth fish-tailing that only led to disaster. The bus bounced off the side of another bus only to turn back to the right and roll over onto its side! Then a fireball erupted from underneath the engine causing even more panic as all the buses quickly hit the brakes and tried to avoid the ensuing chaos. Doug Noelke was the closest one on the track and the first person to reach the bus. He and the safety crew got the driver out of there and she escaped un-injured. A scary few moments to end the race and a wild way to capture a victory.
I did not get any pictures of the roll in-progress as I had put my camera down to look at the video camera as it was giving Jackie all kinds of problems. I switched it back on just in time to catch the bus roll and you can see it in the Rockford Speedway Video Theatre!
The Spectacular Drags rolled out next and with the somewhat wet surface still, I was contemplating entering the truck again but talked myself out of and good thing to when I saw the lineup. There was a time when a car spinning out, nearly hitting the wall or nearly hitting another car was very uncommon and rare for Spectacular Drags. After this event, I think we can now call it all part of the show and another good reason I was glad I was safely in my seat and the truck safe in the parking lot.
These people were NUTS! Cars into other cars, spin outs all over the place and a mismatched field that left a jacked up Dodge Ram facing the usual car-killing Cutlass of Gary Oscerson to face off in the finals. The big Dodge was running strong but in the end was no match for the super-charged Buick as Oscerson tallied another victory.
At the end of the legitimate racing brackets, two junker cars came flying out for a "race" which turned into a demolition derby around the track. With only 1 lap around, the cars were not too heavily damaged. But, that quickly changed as Doug Noelke fired up Big Dawg to kick off his first freestyle run!
Noelke ripped up the two cars hitting them from both sides but was limited on the air because the cars moved around so much. The other sets would not be moving around, only getting flattened. There was a car-minivan-minivan-car set on the back stretch and a 4-car row over in the grass by turn 1.
Noelke went for the back set first and stood the truck straight up on the rear wheels and then tilted off to the right side as the back tires did not come all the way up on the cars. The slick vehicles threw the truck all the way off the set as Noelke made a quick save avoiding a rollover on the first jump. He came back for another vertical wheel stand on the left side and nearly dumped it over again. Noelke carried good speed to the other set of cars and really attacked them with no thoughts about rolling this time. After a quick donut in the grass, it was another lap around the cars hitting both sides of each row and definitely got the best jumps off the set in turn 1. Noelke pulled Big Dawg up to the stands and saluted the crowd after his first freestyle run and would be back for more later on.
The Friday Night Fright rolled on with, well, the Rollover Contest. Only three cars made an appearance for this event which was really disappointing but all three drivers did a very good job, all nearly getting the same score. The #66 red, white and blue car came away the winner with three complete rolls over two runs for a total of 12 points.
The Figure-8 Train Race was next but was also tainted due to only 2 teams showing up to race. The #66 team dominated as usual leaving the unknown #43 team just sputtering around the track. Not exciting at all.
We needed some life put back into the show and fast! A field of nearly 40 Hornet cars lined up for their feature "Swarm" race and were set to give us what we were looking for. The huge pack of cars took off into Turn 1 with no problems but once they entered the X things got interesting. Several cars were knocked off the track and into the grass, others were rear-ended while trying to make the turn back up towards Turn 3 and some cars just plain missed the turn. None more so than the #40 and #66 cars. The combination of too much speed, slick track and lots of cars knocking around resulted in #40 taking a head-on hit into and up on top of the concrete barriers! Sparks went flying as the car scrapped along the top of the barrier before falling off to the side. The #66 car also took a hit into one of the boundary tires. Watch the video of this hard hit in the Rockford Speedway Video Theatre!
The large pack of cars spread out into several smaller packs as the laps wore on. Many cars dropped out from damage or whatever reason and pulled off the track. A lot of tight racing action that thankfully woke some of us up after the rollover contest and train race.
Only two events remained on the night and with one loud roar, Big Dawg came to life for the second freestyle performance. With the cars quite smashed down, Noelke was going to have to rely on that speed and momentum he used in the first run to generate the big air and distance. We saw what not attacking the cars hard led to and I doubt Noelke was looking to come anywhere near dumping the truck over especially since he had another show the next night 9 hours away in southern Missouri!
Noelke hit two good jumps on each set, once again really airing the truck out over the 4-car row. The slick pavement has been a problem for nearly every other kind of racing tonight but now it was put to good use as Noelke ripped off a great set of donuts and then went right back to the cars with his biggest jumps yet including nearly walking Big Dawg all the way across the far pyramid.
Noelke went back to the 4-car set and hit another good long jump followed up by his first hit going the other way on that set and got some decent air on the jump. The crowd was wanting more donuts though and Doug gave us what we wanted with another blistering set of donuts on the pavement really ripping Big Dawg around nicely. But he still wasn't finished and capped off his freestyle with two more jumps on the cars before power sliding the truck across the slick infield grass to a stop in front of the stands. Big applause for Big Dawg and a job well done by Doug Noelke. You can watch his entire second freestyle run in the Rockford Speedway Video Theatre!
The final event of the evening was the Transit Terror School Bus race but with the guys behind the wheels this time. The guys definitely had something to prove after the wild Diesel Divas race. 12 yellow, blue, purple, white, silver and every other color possible, buses filled the track half way around as the race got underway.
Through Lap 2 the pack was still very much together as no buses managed to break away yet and we were also wreck-free. The #66 bus started to take a bit more of a lead into Lap 4 as buses ran three-wide in the rear of the field and clogged several buses up.
Into Lap 5 and the carnage started to pile up as the #18 bus went too fast in Turn 1 and met up with the wall and nearly lost the hood off the bus but it managed to stay attached the rest of the race. Then not more than a few seconds later, the #24 bus rear-ended the #80 S.w.a.t Bus and sent it into a fish tailing mess back and forth into the straight away but the driver got control of the bus and kept going. These small wrecks were not doing too much damage but they were allowing the three buses out in front of all the backups to really pull away with the #66 still leading the way.
In the final two laps, the log-jam near the back got even worse as numbers 72, 24 and 18 got into it again with parts flying off, whacks into the side of each other and nearly took several other buses out in the process. Down the final stretch the #66 bus began to lap the entire field after dominating the race and cruised to the victory.
The buses made their way off the track and we headed to the pits and chatted with Doug & Brenda Noelke for a bit while Dale Gerding was trying to field questions from the crowd all while trying to get Big Dawg tired down and put in the hauler. I tried to get onto the track to hunt for stuff to put in the Carnage Collection but for some reason they closed off the track! After a long night of fighting the rain we packed it up and headed home.
"Wrap-up"-- The weather definitely hampered the track conditions and affected several events as the potential for rain left many participants at home. But if there wasn't drama, it wouldn't be Rockford and it wouldn't be covered on Midwest Monsters because that is certainly our own tradition. Big Dawg came, saw and marked his place on Rockford Speedway with a good night of monster truck freestyle and hopefully earned a return appearance for 2006. The same goes for the Friday Night Fright that, despite the weather, I really hope this event is scheduled again along with monsters in July and September.
That is all from Rockford Speedway on this night, hope you enjoyed the Friday Night Fright and look forward to more action in future coverage here on Midwest Monsters. Thanks for stopping by!