LOVES PARK, Ill. — Ever since its inception at the beginning of 1978, the season-opening Spring Classic has signaled a new racing season for fans and drivers alike in the upper Midwest.
In the Spring of 1980, Spring Classic found the facility that became its home, Rockford Speedway. Ever since then the beginning of the upper Midwest racing season truly hasnt began until the Rockford Speedway and Spring Classic said so.
One thing that both the first Spring Classic and this years 40th installment have in common are the lateness for which they are scheduled. Although two Spring Classics have been run later in the year (1997 in June & 2002 in October, both due to weather), the 1978 and 2017 installments are the two Spring Classics originally scheduled latest.
The inaugural event was contested on April 30 at Grundy County Speedway, with Dick Trickle collecting one of his four Spring Classic wins. This years Spring Classic, set for April 23, is scheduled later due to the unusually late Easter holiday in 2017.
Following the first-ever Spring Classic at Grundy County in 1978, the event shifted north to Capitol Super Speedway (now Madison International Speedway) in April of 1979, with Tom Reffner topping Trickle in a 50-lap sprint. The following year, the event shifted to Rockford Speedway for good, with the late Larry Detjens capturing the 80-lap main event.
From 1980 to 1990, Spring Classics were contested in distances equal to the year in which they were ran, meaning the 1981 race was 81 laps, 1982s race was 82 laps and so on. Another theme of the 80s was dominance by Joe Shear, Al Schill and Trickle.
From 1981 to 1989, Shear, Schill and Trickle were the only three men to pocket wins in the season opening affair. Shear garnered his Spring Classic wins in 1981, 86, 88 and 89, while Trickle was top dog in 1983, 84 and 87. Schill won his two Spring Classics in 1982 and 1985.
Nine drivers have won two-or-more Spring Classics. Steve Carlson leads the all-time list with six Spring Classic wins (bagging six of seven Spring Classics from 1998-2004), Trickle and Shear have won four each, while Schill, Scott Hansen, Kevin Cywinski, Steve Rubeck, Mike Beyer and Michael Bilderback have won two Spring Classics each.
Bilderback can join rarefied air with Carlson, Shear and Trickle this weekend if he can win his third Spring Classic, making him just one of four men to win the event three or more times. With a win, Bilderback would also become the all-time leading Big 8 Spring Classic winner.
The Big 8 Late Model Series inclusion at Spring Classic began in the year 2005 as an under-card to the final NASCAR Midwest Series race held at Rockford Speedway. In 2008, the Big 8 Late Model Series became the featured attraction of Spring Classic, with Michael Bilderback winning his first Big 8 Series race and in the process becoming the youngest Spring Classic winner of all time.
• NOTES: The 40th anniversary Spring Classic is set for this Sunday afternoon at Rockford Speedway (9572 Forest Hills Road). Spectator gates open at 11 a.m., with qualifications set to begin at 11:30 and the first green flag at 1 p.m. The afternoon racing card includes the Big 8 Late Model Series, the Quest Industrial Mid American Stock Car Series and the INEX Legends.
Adult admission is $20, while children ages 6-11 are $6 and kids 5 and under are admitted free.