The Rock Island Grand Prix - recognized as the world’s largest street race - will be celebrating its 15th anniversary when Labor Day 2009 weekend rolls around this September. From the previous 14 events - beginning with a cold, rainy inaugural race in 1994 and rolling through to last year’s bright, sunny and historic weekend – we have assembled a number of memories that drivers, crew members, and spectators will remember for a lifetime. To help commemorate the 15th running of the popular event, eKartingNews.com - along with the help of RIGP historians - has created a list of the 15 best driver performances of the Rock Island Grand Prix. We’ll be unveiling them as we draw closer toward the September 5-6 event, looking at numbers 4 and 5 today.
Mike Welsh put it all together at the '04 Rock Island Grand Prix, scoring three victories to add his name to an elite grouo
(Photo: Sean Buur - Go Racing Magazine)
Number 4 - Welsh Earns Second Three-Win Performance in One of the Greatest Come From Behind Victories - 2004
As we have documented in our Rock Island Top-15 Performances series, there is only an very elite group of drivers who have accomplished a multiple-win weekend at the popular street race. For one driver to win three races in a single year is a remarkable feat, for certain, but doing it twice is astonishing. At the 2004 running of ‘The Rock’, Davenport, Iowa’s Mike Welsh put his name among the RIGP elite with his second three-win performance, one that was capped off with a wild come-from-behind victory.
Welsh’s 2004 event began with a third place run in the 2-Cycle Senior Sportsman, recording a fast lap record for the class in the process. Next on the docket was the Yamaha Heavy division, where Welsh led from the pole position to lead all 12 laps for his first victory of the event, coming across the line ahead of veterans Corey Reeves and Scott Evans, recording another record lap time as well. Jumping aboard his 2-Cycle Super Sportsman entry, Welsh then began the next 12-lap adventure from the pole position once again. Following a red flag, the race was restarted as Welsh had to fight extra hard to keep out in front, edging Reeves once again. In this battle, the top four, which included RIGP standouts Joey King and Adam Johnson, was separated by less then a second.
The third win of the event for Welsh came in the final race of the day, Yamaha Medium. Though he earned his third pole of the event, Welsh got off the line terribly slow and found himself well out of contention in the early stages of the race. Showing grit and determination, Welsh pushed his Margay machine to the front over the 12-lap event. Reeves was the leader and looked to have a comfortable gap - which at one time was 3.5 seconds. Welsh had other plans, however, as he cut into the margin with each passing lap until he was able to reel in Reeves and pass him for the lead in the late going. At the line, Welsh scored the victory by just over three-tenths.
Welsh’s first taste of RIGP victory came in 2000 when he earned his first trifecta, adding one more win in 2001. Welsh’s second three-win performance in 2004 put him to a total of seven at that time and he currently sits third in the all-time win standings with eight, tied with Alan Rudolph, Kyle Wiegand, and Todd Bolton. Welsh’s last win came in Yamaha Medium in 2007, his last visit to the Rock. Mike is concentrating on his family and other projects right now, but will be at this year’s event on the sidelines working with Michael Dittmer.
After years of trying, Wisconsin's Bobby Wilson finally earned his King of the Streets title, overcoming wet conditions to score the win
Number 5 - Wilson Makes Dream Come True with King of the Streets Win - 2003
For many, there are only a few victories that you will remember for a lifetime. Whether it’s the way that the victory came about, or the many attempts that it took to earn that specific triumph, there can be only one victory that truly stands out as THE win. For Bobby Wilson, the 2003 King of the Streets victory at the Rock Island Grand Prix is one that he shares with his father (Bob) as that special highlight.
Coming up short in his first five visits to the Rock, Wilson was determined as ever to win the King of the Streets crown that year. Posting up the early fast lap in qualifying, Wilson was poised to take the pole position for the main event until, seemingly from nowhere, Kyle Wiegand demolished the track record to steal the pole position, the young Indiana driver making his first King of the Streets start. Wilson would fall to third in the qualifying order behind Ron White (who would earn the SKUSA SuperPro crown later that season).
Things changed drastically when heavy rain presented the drivers with a super-slippery circuit. Once given the green to begin the 30-lap event, Wiegand led the field through the opening corners with White and Wilson tucked behind to begin the fight. This set-up did not last long as White went head-on into the barriers at turn four, leaving Wiegand and Wilson to battle it out for the win as they began to pull away. The duo put on a great show in the first half of the race for those braving the weather, as they swapped the lead numerous times as they navigated through the District.
Just past the halfway point, Wiegand slid wide heading into the final corner allowing Wilson to make a move. As they drag raced up the front straight, Wilson emerged with the position. Lapped traffic would also play a factor as Wilson was able to work around the slower machines better than the younger Wiegand, who made a slight error into turn two, making contact with the barriers. He was able to continue on, but Wilson has taken firm grasp of the race. With a clear track in front of him, Wilson would go on to claim his crown as the ‘King of the Streets’. The victory ceremonies were an emotional as Bobby’s father Bob congratulated his son with tears in his eyes, along with the entire First Kart crew.
“I’m most excited for my Dad,” said Wilson following the win. “We’ve been coming here for so many years, only to go home angry or upset. We’ve done everything but win here. I could see the lapped traffic coming up, so I wanted to make something happen. I know if I was the first to get by the lapped karts and get through the turn, I had a chance to get a gap on Kyle. I did and I cruised from there.”
2003 was Wilson’s final full season in karting as he moved on to the Formula Ford Zetec Championship the next season, winning the title in his rookie year. From 2005 to 2008, Wilson competed in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, scoring three victories in 46 starts. You’ll now see Wilson around the kart track working with young drivers as they hone their skills to become the future stars of karting.
6 - Kyle Krueger Goes Last to First in Wet and Wild 125cc Moto - 2006
7 - British Driver Martin Pierce Dominates TaG Senior Field - 2006
8 - Wiegand Wins First King of the Streets - 2004
9 - Jones Claims Four Victories at RIGP - 1996
10 - Lawson Bags Three for Second Time at RIGP - 2005
11 - Birdsell Wins Record Five of Nine Races - 1998
12 - Scott Speed Wins King of the Streets - 2002
13 - Nelson Philippe Wins 125cc Semi Pro - 2002
14 - Alan Rudolph Bids Farewell to RBI with King of the Streets Win - 2006
15 - Loniewski Comes from Nowhere to Win TaG Senior in the Wet - 2005