EKN Trackside: 2021 Rock Island Grand Prix – Race Report
Labor Day weekend street race returns with new and returning winners of the Rock trophy
It is 735 days since the last karts hit the streets of Rock Island, Illinois for the Xtream Rock Island Grand Prix. The 26th edition was a welcome return this weekend following the loss of the race in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 200 entries battled in 15 categories over the two-days around the 6/10-mile street course. While Saturday brought cloudy skies and the threat of rain all day, it stayed dry through the two rounds of practice and heat races before a perfect day of weather greeted the racers on Sunday for the main events.
This year’s event put three categories as the headline divisions with the annual King of the Streets being joined by King of the Rock 100 and King of the Rock Briggs 206. This year’s King of the Streets welcomed a new driver to be crowned, with Magik Kart USA’s Andrew Bujdoso dominating the action. Bujdoso drove to a five-second victory in the Heat race, and then drove away to a nine-second advantage in the main event, leading all 20 laps for the $1,000 payday. Defending King of the Streets winner Race Liberante (Race Factory) started 10th and drove up to second, just not able to match or better the pace of Bujdoso. 2017 King Austin Wilkins (Magik) was a close third with Scott Barnes (TB Kart) and Robert Bujdoso (Magik) completing the top-five.
King of the Rock 100 was among the first categories in the order, making its debut this weekend. Chase Jones started on the pole position and was out to a solid lead until lap 10 when his axle shifted which threw the chain. Behind him, Race Liberante was charging from seventh to second, and was handed the lead when Jones did not come back around. Liberante led the remainder of the race to score the inaugural victory by 1.3 seconds for the $1,000 check over former RIGP winner Tim Goettsch. Austin Wilkins completed the top three.
The King of the Rock Briggs 206 race also welcomed a new driver to be crowned after the 15-lap race. Scott Barnes started on the pole position aboard a Margay Ignite kart, but was shuffled back at the start. Tony Neilson led the majority of the race, leading at the white flag with Michael Dittmer moving into second that lap. A last lap pass for Dittmer secured him the inaugural victory in the event, along with $1,000. Matt Pewe was second with Chase Jones jumping up to third as Neilson dropped to fourth. Justin Wishard completed the top-five.
That was the second Rock trophy Dittmer was able to secure on the day. Dittmer came through for the win in the Briggs 206 Heavy 2 race. It was another last lap pass for Dittmer who was able to work past leader Drake Ostrom going into turn two. They wrecked behind him on the exit, with Dittmer driving to the victory, his first in seven years. Jeff Scott ended up second with Connor Lund in third. Tony Neilson and Jeremiah Davis rounding out the top-five.
The opening class of the event was the Briggs 206 Heavy 1 division, with Race Liberante and Chase Jones pushing away from the rest of the field. Liberante was able to lead the last nine laps for his first victory of the day, second of the event edging out 85 thousandths of a second. Justin Wishard won the battle for third ahead of Jeff Dolian and Tony Neilson, who had fast lap of the race.
Second in the all-time win list is Tony Neilson, who added another Rock to the mantel with a win in the Ignite Masters class. He and Scott Barnes were able to get away early, with Barnes leading the majority of the race. On the final circuit, Barnes defended the inside line a little too much, and allowed Neilson to work past for the lead and the victory for his 21st. Michael Stephenson drove to third ahead of Ken Williams and Brandon Moore.
Michael Welsh thought he had a chance to claim another Rock as he led the most laps in the Briggs 206 Masters class. On the last lap, both Jeff Dolian and Scott Barnes slipped past Welsh to finish 1-2. It was the first win for Dolian since 2016, with Barnes pulling off a great run from sitting ninth after the opening lap. Don Newman was fourth with Rich Hale placing fifth, recording the fast lap of the race.
The Margay Ignite Senior class was introduced in 2015 and has welcomed a different winner each year. Riley Scott took over the top spot on lap three, and from there established a good lead to be able to go the distance, taking the checkered flag first. Scott however came in underweight at the scales, thus handing the win over to Ashton Wheeler. It is the second victory for Wheeler, who won the inaugural Ignite Junior back in 2016. Trevor Eggemeyer was second with Ken Williams in third. Justin Vancil recorded fast lap in his fourth place run with Michael Stephenson in fifth.
The Open Shifter class was the opportunity for Andrew Bujdoso to grab a second Rock trophy on the day, starting on the pole position. A slight bobble at the start allowed 2019 winner Race Liberante to grab the lead. He led until lap 13 when 2017 winner Austin Wilkins took over. From there, Wilkins showed the way to the checkered flag with Bujdoso posting fast lap in a second place performance. Liberante ended up fourth with Joe Ruch fifth overall, earning the Rock for Open Shifter Masters win over Scott Barnes.
Briggs 206 Medium 1 went down to the wire for the victory. Mick Gabriel jumped out front from the pole position but was run down by Tony Neilson and Gage Kemp in the closing laps. Neilson sat and waited for the final lap, and was able to work past Gabriel in the final corner. The two went side by side drag racing to the line with Neilson coming across first by 27 thousandths to earn his 22nd Rock victory. Kemp ended up third with Justin Wishard and Charlie Mohr completing the top-five.
Chase Jones was able to redeem his loss in the King 100 by winning the Senior 100cc main event. Jones shot out to a big lead early, and established a 19-second margin of victory after 20 laps to earn his first Rock trophy since winning TaG Junior in 2011. Austin Wilkins was second ahead of Riley Scott with Charlie Mohr and Bill Vorpagel placing fourth and fifth.
Margay Ignite Senior 2 was run for the second time at the event. It was another duel between Barnes and Neilson. Barnes took the lead on lap two, and this time held it until the checkered flag for now his fifth Rock trophy. Justin Vancil slipped past Neilson on the final circuit with Ashton Wheeler fourth and Ken Williams in fifth.
Briggs 206 Medium 2 was the final class on the track for the event with another great finish. Mick Gabriel started on the pole position and held a good lead until he was run down and dropped to fourth with four laps to go. Gabriel was able to fight himself forward, and came out of the final lap with the win to claim his first Rock trophy in his RIGP debut. Gage Kemp ended up second with Riley Scott and Ashton Wheeler close behind. Charlie Mohr completed the top-five.
Nathan Hamilton, Dave Fisher, and Tom Day were able to score the wins in the three different Vintage categories.