WAUSAU, Wis. (July 26) – Time and again, Neil Knoblock faced challenges for supremacy at State Park Speedway Friday night. Every single time, Knoblock had an answer, and the result was a memorable victory for a veteran on his home track.
Knoblock scored his first-ever Big 8 Series victory and his first feature win at State Park in seven years, winning the 58-lap feature highlighting the first night of the 2019 Larry Detjens Memorial Weekend. The win was also the 70th career feature win at the track for a driver who has driven car no. 70 for so many of those victories over four decades of racing.
Knoblock led all but one of the 58 laps and fended off a number of challengers in the 21-car field, including on no less than five restarts late. After several close shaves on some of those restarts, he drove away on what proved to be the last one with five laps to go to win.
“I don’t know how long that race was, but it felt like a 300-lapper,” said a jubilant Knoblock in Brickner Family Auto Group Victory Lane, who dedicated the win to his father.
“This car, we’re just making it work. We got 15, 20 laps of practice on it earlier today, that’s all we’ve drove it this year, it’s just been sitting on the shelf…this car’s pretty cool. Man, I can’t believe we won the Big 8 race.”
A former track champion in limited late model cars at the track with many of his career feature wins there, Knoblock has mainly raced super late model cars in recent years but brought out his late model for the first time since Oktoberfest at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway last year.
Knoblock started on the outside pole next to Illinois Big 8 traveler Jim Olson. Olson led through three attempts to complete the first lap, but Knoblock inched ahead on the outside on the next lap and cleared Olson two laps later.
Lurking behind early was Thayran Rezin of Tomah, a Central Wisconsin Racing Association feature winner earlier this year racing with the Big 8 cars for the first time this year. Rezin ran second with Jeremy Lepak and Dale Nottestad close behind for the first 15 laps until Nottestad passed Rezin for second on lap 16 and Lepak also got by a lap later. Nick Egan also followed them by soon after, and the quartet would compose the top four for the duration of the race.
The longest green flag spell came after a restart just past the midway point, with Knoblock towing the field for 22 laps with Nottestad his closest pursuer at first until Lepak passed Nottestad on the outside with 15 to go. It appeared Knoblock would be in the clear to the finish until Olson spun in turns 3 and 4 with six laps to go, bunching the field back up again.
A second restart with six to go was followed by one lap of green racing before Olson, Tom Gille and Big 8 points leader Michael Bilderback were collected in 3 and 4, with Gille and Bilderback both into the outside wall and finished for the night. Two more restarts followed yet, but Knoblock with the front row to himself continued to take care of business and pulled away on the last one to win by five car lengths. Lepak came across the line second but his car did not pass post-race inspection, resulting in Nottestad finishing second, Minnesota’s Chad Walen third and Egan fourth.
The race had six official cautions plus five other aborted restarts due to incidents before a lap was completed.
The most impactful incident came on lap 10 when fast qualifier Bilderback, on the move early, spun on the frontstretch, and the cloud of smoke resulted in at least six other cars getting bunched up behind. Bilderback, Justin Neisius, Devyn Stocker and Dillon Mackesy received the most damage, though three of the four remained on the lead lap and Neisius came back for a fifth-place finish. Bilderback had to go to the pits and returned to the track five laps down, though, his run at a third Big 8 win at the track severely hampered even as he gained back a number of laps through later cautions.
Defending race winner Jon Reynolds Jr. started 16th in the field and moved all the way up to fifth at one point late. He was lined up sixth on a restart with five to go but lost power, resulting in another caution and his starting at the back. Reynolds rallied back to finish 11th.
Among the local drivers, Mackesy fought through considerable front end sheet metal damage to finish 10th. Rayce Haase ran as high as fifth late in the race but was another caught up in an accident on a restart, spinning out of turn 2 with six laps to go and backing into a mound surrounding a light pole. Haase finished 17th.
Big 8 Late Models
Fast Qualifier: Michael Bilderback, South Beloit, Ill., 14.424 sec.
First Heat: 1. Tom Gille, Winnebago, Ill.; 2. Bilderback; 3. Jeremy Lepak, Ringle; 4. Michael Ostdiek, Lakeville, Minn.; 5. R.J. Braun, Wales; 6. Jerry Mueller, Richfield; 7. Jared Duda, St. Michael, Minn.
Second Heat: 1. Neil Knoblock, Wausau; 2. Brody Willett, Alburnett, Iowa; 3. Chad Walen, Prior Lake, Minn.; 4. Jon Reynolds Jr., Loves Park, Ill.; 5. Rayce Haase, Wausau; 6. Justin Neisius, Eagan, Minn.; 7. Tyler Kingery, Prior Lake, Minn.
Third Heat: 1. Dillon Mackesy, Athens; 2. Jim Olson, Woodstock, Ill.; 3. Thayran Rezin, Tomah; 4. Nick Egan, Slinger; 5. Dale Nottestad, Cambridge; 6. Devyn Stocker, Farmington, Minn.; 7. Luke Westenberg, Jefferson
Feature: 1. Knoblock; 2. Nottestad; 3. Walen; 4. Egan; 5. Neisius; 6. Ostdiek; 7. Stocker; 8. Mueller; 9. Willett; 10. Mackesy; 11. Reynolds; 12. Westenberg; 13. Duda; 14. Olson; 15. Braun; 16. Rezin; 17. Haase; 18. Gille; 19. Bilderback; 20. Kingery; DQ: Lepak