The year 1984 changed everything at Rockford Speedway with the passing of owner/promoter, Hugh Deery. Saturday night in the inaugural Hugh Deery Classic 99, a competition caution on lap 84 to pay respects changed the complexion of the race. It was Winnebago, IL’s Jake Gille who capitalized and raced into victory lane capturing his first ever super late model win.
Gille started on the front row, but was soon overtaken by two time and defending National Short Track Champion Alex Prunty and fast qualifier, Michael Bilderback. Bilderback challenged Prunty in every turn, but Prunty held steady through the first 84 laps of the event. The race slowed to honor Deery, the auto racing pioneer, and bunched the field for a final fifteen lap dash. On the restart, Bilderback instantly pounced on Prunty and the two came together out of turn four a lap later. The two favorites were sent to the back of the field giving the lead to Rich Bickle, Jr. with Gille, Dalton Zehr, Chris Blawat and Austin Nason in tow.
Like the lap before, Gille instantly went to work on Bickle capturing the lead on lap 86. Gille had to withstand three more cautions with Bickle starting right behind each one. The only major accident occurred on lap 93 collecting Matt Berger, John Beale, Max Kahler and Austin Nason. The field of cars was put under red while the damaged cars were cleared form the track. On the final restart, Gille powered to the green with Bickle and Jon Reynolds, Jr. behind. But Gille gapped the duo by a few car lengths as he powered through the final laps to the historic win.
“Wow. To get the win in the first one (Hugh Deery Classic) is big for me and my whole family. We will enjoy this one for a while,” stated Gille in victory lane. “It was one heck of a race. I kinda dumped on Bickle a bit to get by, and I knew if he got back to me, I had one coming.” But Bickle never got to Gille’s bumper.
Earlier in the night, a number of VIPs and guests celebrated the history of Rockford Speedway and Hugh Deery with a hospitality event. Former champions Dave Watson and Jerry Gille joined the likes of former employees Jack Heiman and Marty Langenberg. It was a true reunion of some of Rockford’s best. “We can’t wait to do it again next year,” stated Rockford Speedway’s Susan Deery. “This tribute race for my Dad was long overdue and it is sure to be even better next year.”