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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model driver Jerry Gille won two new NASCAR championship trophies at Rockford (Ill.) Speedway this year.
Remarkable consistency on the tight, high-banked quarter-mile paved oval – 16 top fives and 19 top 10s in 19 starts – helped him win his latest titles. He is the only driver in Rockford’s NASCAR Late Model division this year to post a top 10 finish in every feature event. As a result, he won his third track championship and second NASCAR state championship.
“We had a really, really good season and stayed out of trouble,” Gille said. “When we had clean sweeps during the first two nights of the season, we knew we had a strong car. It was pretty vanilla, but we made our statement.”
Those were the only feature wins of Gille’s season.
The level of competition at Rockford was fierce. The 19 features produced 14 different winners. Eddie May led the division with three wins. Gille, defending track champion Ryan Carlson and Matt Berger each won twice.
After finishing second in points to Carlson last year, Gille won the 2012 track championship by 87 points over Jon Reynolds Jr.
“We just took the best finishes we could get,” Gille said. “If you set fast time you’re going to start eighth or 10th every week. Rockford is a tight race track. You can’t start back there and make everyone mad by being too aggressive trying to work your way up. The track switched to eight-inch Goodyear tires this year and they were an equalizer.”
Gille is a 27-year racing veteran and began his in Hobby Stocks at Rockford in 1985. He moved to the Sportsman division 1986-88 and then to Late Models in 1989. He improved steadily over the next eight years with best point finishes of third in 1996 and fourth in 1997.
Ready to explore the racing world outside of Rockford in 1998, Gille bought a Super Late Model from seven-time Rockford Late Model track champion John Knaus. Knaus is the father of five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion crew chief Chad Knaus. Gille took the car on the road to race in series events. He also won a track championship in Madison, Wis., in 1999.
Gille paused his racing career in 2000 when wife Debbie and he had twin boys Matt and Mike. The following year he joined team owner Dan Payne for more series racing. When Payne retired from car ownership at the end of 2003 he gave Gille a discarded old Limited Late Model. Gille rebuilt the car and returned to Late Model racing at Rockford in 2004.
The old car served him well. He finished 12th in points in 2004, fourth in 2005 and second in 2006. For 2007 he got a year-old Lefthander chassis and again finished second in track points. He broke through for his first track and state championships in 2008. He repeated the track title in 2009 before topping the track and state point races again this year. Plans call for the 2006 chassis to be replaced with a 2013 Lefthander.
Gille’s crew chief is Jim Lauder. Team members include Boyd Crumbrine, Tim Rose and George Bohn. Sponsors include Custom Gear Machine and Halftime Frozen Pizza.
Gille’s brother, Tom, makes an occasional Late Model start and his nephew, Jake, won a feature this year and finished ninth in Rockford Late Model points.
Gille said his team is looking forward to returning to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event. The ceremonies are scheduled for Friday, Dec. 7 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“When we won the track championship in 2009 and went to Charlotte; the NASCAR Hall of Fame wasn’t open yet. This year our crew is getting to Charlotte on Tuesday before the banquet so we can make the most of the trip. We want to visit friends in the Charlotte area and see as much as we can.”
A driver’s best 18 results through Sept. 16 counted toward their states and national point totals, and the champions were decided on overall point total. Once a driver reaches 18 starts, their total would increase incrementally as they replace some poorer runs with better results.
Under the point structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner receives two points for every car in the event up to 20 cars. Second place receives two fewer points and so on through the field. Race winners receive an additional five points. For example, if 20 cars are in the field, the winner receives 45 points, second place 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner receives 35 points, second 28 and third, 26.
Jerry Gille (No. 99) won his third Rockford (Ill.) Speedway Late Model championship and second state championship this year. Courtesy James L. Ambruoso/Finish Line Photos