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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Michael Bilderback entered the 2016 season determined to forget the disappointing end to the 2015 season at Illinois’ Rockford Speedway.
Bilderback, from South Beloit, Illinois, lost the track championship at Rockford on the final night of racing in 2015 after battling motor issues throughout the year. It was a heartbreaking way to end the season, but it only served to motivate him coming into 2016.
“We came off of last year in 2015 losing a championship in the last night,” said Bilderback. “We definitely felt like last year's got away from us. It was out of our hands with the motor troubles that we had.”
The 25-year-old racer took to heart the lessons he learned in 2015. He and his team focused on consistency and finishing races, which they hoped would lead to victories and a better year in the Rockford point standings.
Bilderback, the pilot of the No. 2 Co-Lin Metals late model, started off the year with a bang by winning the non-NASCAR sanctioned Spring Classic at Rockford. After that, Bilderback said his car was like a rocket ship all season long.
“Pretty much from that point on we didn’t want to touch the race car going back to Rockford,” Bilderback said. “That thing was spot on.”
He ended up collecting four NASCAR points paying wins at Rockford and finished inside the top-five in 13 out of 14 events. Those numbers were enough to earn Bilderback his first NASCAR track championship at Rockford as well as his first Illinois state championship.
“It was really good competition all year long. We just kept setting our hopes high to go to the race track and get fast time and win as many as we could,” Bilderback said. “We pretty much had no bad luck, which was what really helped us.
“Our whole 2016 season was really good,” Bilderback continued. “I think the one DNF that we had we got run into and we weren’t able to make it back out. I think other than that we just told our selves that we’d like a lot of wins, but they don’t always win championships. We wanted to be really consistent and just finish races and make sure the car was in one piece each and every week. That helped us come out ahead.
“This was our second year running for NASCAR points and the Illinois state points. For us to come in and in two years running the deal be able to get both of them, that is really cool.”
The biggest difference between 2015 and 2016 for Bilderback was the season finale. Unlike 2015 when he ended up losing the track title on the final night of racing, in 2016 he entered the season finale with the title all but locked up. It was, as Bilderback explained, a major sigh of relief.
“Going into the last week I don’t know if we truly had it sewed up, but it was close. That definitely took some pressure off of us knowing as good as we ran all year going into that night we pretty much had the championship sewed up,” Bilderback said. “It was definitely a sigh of relief. We went into the last night to have fun and celebrate a championship.”
Bilderback isn’t the only member of his family to win a track championship at Rockford. His uncle, Ricky Bilderback, is a seven-time track champion at the historic quarter-mile oval. The younger Bilderback said he is proud to now put his name alongside that of his uncle in the Rockford record book.
“I was probably born and raised at Rockford Speedway. It’s been a track that has been in my life since I was a kid,” Bilderback said. “There have been so many NASCAR people that came through here and ran at Rockford. To put our name down as the track champion, it was definitely one of the dreams I had sitting there watching my uncle back when I was a kid. Now to put my name next to his…that is really cool.”
Now with one championship on his resume, Bilderback said you can expect to see him back at Rockford Speedway again in 2017 to defend his track championship. He only lives 10 minutes down the street, after all.
“We’re not leaving Rockford. That’s our home base and it’s 10 minutes from our house. It’s a nice short trip. We’ll definitely be running full time again to try and defend our track and state championship,” Bilderback said.
Bilderback and his No. 2 Co-Lin Metals late model, will look to defend the Rockford Speedway and Illinois titles in 2017. Courtesy of James Ambruoso/Finish Line Photos.