Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – Chances are most fans of Stafford Motor Speedway are very familiar with SK Light driver Joey Ferrigno.
The East Hartford native often referred to as “The Mayor” made his first start in 2003 and he has been racing at Stafford full-time since 2004 . But for those who may be unfamiliar, Ferrigno has amassed quite an impressive racing resume over his career, winning a Street Stock championship in 2005 and notching 25 career wins to date in three different divisions. For all that he has accomplished in his career, Ferrigno forged an unusual path for himself.
Unlike many young drivers of today, Ferrigno didn’t come from a racing family or have a background that saw him get started racing in go karts or quarter midgets at an early age. Ferrigno was introduced to racing through his babysitter and a house that happened to be on his paper route in East Hartford.
“I was probably around 8, 9, 10 years old and Bob Georgiades’ modified car was on my paper route,” said Ferrigno”. “I would deliver my newspapers and then hang around at the end of their driveway and watch them work on the car until one day they invited me inside and let me do jobs like vacuum rubber out of the car and bang out dents and it all started from there. I guess I can admit this now, when I was 12 and 13 years old, someone from the crew would sign me into the pits and I started helping them out at the track in the pits because those guys were always short on help at the track. And even before I started hanging out with the Georgiades crew, my neighbor, who was my babysitter, was actually Wayne Bellefleur’s sister-in-law and she would take me to Stafford on Friday nights from time to time and I would hang out some in Wayne’s shop so I was always around racing even through it wasn’t in my family.”
Once Ferrigno started to become a crew member and work on race cars, the itch to drive began to take hold. Ferrigno began to save the money he earned from his paper route and mowing lawns during the summer so he could one day start to put a car together for himself. Ferrigno’s first car was an enduro car and several weeks after he got his driver’s license when he turned 16, Ferrigno was in for a rude awakening in his introduction to racing.
“When I was about to turn 16, John Landry from Georgiades’ crew gave me a street car, I think it was his mom’s old car, and gave me a bunch of roll bar tubing and a welder and told me to turn it into an enduro car if I was serious about going racing,” said Ferrigno. “I ran my first race a couple weeks after I got my driver’s license and 8 laps into that first race the engine blew up. At that point with all the time and money I had put into the car between putting the car together and safety equipment like the firesuit, helmet, and seat, I called the junkyard and they had an engine sitting on the shelf that would fit my car. For a couple hundred bucks, that ended up being my first engine change.”
After one season of enduro racing, Ferrigno put another enduro car together and raced it at Waterford in both the enduro class and the Wednesday night X Car class as well as taking the car to upstate New York to go racing on ice.
“John Landry did some ice racing with his enduro car so I took my car and went with him a couple of times,” said Ferrigno. “It was something to do during the winter and they have all different kinds of cars and tire combinations that you can run. It ranges from ice racing tires to street tires, and whatever car and engine combination you show up with, they go from sprint cars and world of outlaws cars right down to homebuilt cars. One thing I remember about that is I think I was the only idiot there without windows or a heater core in my car so whenever I was side by side with another car, the snow roost from their tires would get thrown into my car through the window.”
Ferrigno’s enduro racing also helped him establish contacts to the broader racing world through C.J. D’Addario and Legend Cars that would eventually lead to Ferrigno driving a school bus that was on fire to victory in a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I raced with C.J. D’Addario in enduros and he moved south to be a Legend Cars set up guy in 2007-2008 and he became pretty big down there,” said Ferrigno. “I was able to go down south to help him out a few times and that opened up doors to make a lot of connections in the racing industry that have helped me out over the years. It’s pretty cool to go from a kid with a paper route watching Bob Georgiades work on his car to being able to walk around the Cup garage area at Charlotte Motor Speedway and have people come up to me just to say hi. The legend cars connection also helped me land a spot in a school bus race before the Legend Cars Million race at Charlotte that Daniel Hemric won and I won that race on fire. I got hooked with another bus which split the radiator and it was throwing transmission fluid up in the air. The bus caught fire and there were guys coming over the radio saying ’87 bus stop, 87 bus you’re on fire and messing up our track, stop the bus!’ but I could see the checkered flag and I thought ‘I’m going to win this thing!’ so I took the checkered flag on fire. I actually only got the trophy from that race last year because they didn’t give me the trophy that night because of delayed live TV coverage of the Legends car race.”
Ferrigno had his sights set on racing a DARE Stock car (now Street Stock) at Stafford on a weekly basis. and he made one start in 2003 before purchasing a Frank L’Etoile chassis car from Carl Holmgren, Jr. Ferrigno began his Stafford career with just himself and a high school friend for a crew, but that didn’t slow him down at all as he won 2 races and finished 2nd in points in 2004 and he won the championship with 3 wins in 2005.
“I knew I wanted to drive a DARE car at Stafford and I got offered to drive someone’s car a couple of times before I bought my first car from Carl Holmgren, Jr.,” said Ferrigno. “I had no idea what I was doing with the car so I was going off of what I had learned from helping Bob and Carl. They gave me a lot of input but going to the track, it was just me and a buddy of mine from high school working on the car. We finished second in points my first year and won the championship the second year so I figured I was halfway decent and wanted to keep on going racing at Stafford.”
After winning the championship in 2005, Ferrigno transitioned to the Limited Late Model division for the 2006 season. Ferrigno ran 3 seasons and scored 3 wins with his best points finish being fourth in 2008. The Limited Late Model stretch of Ferrigno’s career were statistically the worst seasons of his time at Stafford and at the conclusion of the 2008 season, Ferrigno’s career almost came to a permanent end.
“I was helping Scott Garrity with his Late Model car and he was moving to Florida and wasn’t taking the car with him so I bought his car and turned it into a Limited,” said Ferrigno. “I raced that for a couple of years before I ran out of money. I always wanted to stay racing. I was a dumb kid with a credit card with no limit so I would go racing with my credit card and I would pay off whatever I could month to month. At the end of the 2008 season, Bank of America ended up acquiring MBNA and they put a cap on my card to $500 over what I owed and jacked up my interest rate to 29%. It took me 3 years to pay that debt off and save up enough to get back into racing.”
With no ride for the 2009 season, Ferrigno attended the Spring Sizzler® at Stafford to help out friends in the paddock area and watch some racing. Fate intervened in the form of Stafford Speedway COO Mark Arute, who stopped to chat with Ferrigno in the paddock area.
“I remember showing up to the Spring Sizzler and Mark Arute saw me and asked me what I was doing and why I looked so depressed and I told him I was out of money and can’t afford to race,” said Ferrigno. “Mark told me they didn’t have a pace car driver and he tossed me the keys to the pace car and told me to drive and that ended up turning into a three-year gig.”
Although he was in the middle of paying himself out of debt, Ferrigno stayed busy racing with friends behind the wheel of a Porsche 944 in the 24 Hours of LeMons series.
“At that same time a friend of mine from enduros was getting into 24 hours of LeMons so we put a car together for Stafford and we ran Loudon and a couple of other races with that car,” continued Ferrigno.
After 3 years of driving the Stafford pace car, Ferrigno had finally paid off his debt and was in position to reestablish himself into the realm of driving. Ferrigno purchased a 602 crate engine and an SK Light from Mike Liseo prior to the beginning of the 2012 season and has campaigned it every year since. Ferrigno has adapted nicely from full fendered cars to the world of open wheels, notching 16 SK Light feature wins, one win away from the all-time mark of 17 held by fellow SK Light driver Chris Matthews and he has been in the top-10 of the SK Light points standings every year with a best finish of 2nd in 2016.
“Mike Liseo had a second car but no engine so he told me if I put a motor in the car we would work on putting the car together so I could race that if his son Dylan didn’t need a backup car,” said Ferrigno. “I ended up buying the car before the season started and that’s when I first got hooked up with Paul French and I was spotting at the time for Nicole Morgillo and her father helped me out with some parts. It was weird getting used to the traction with the SK Light and it took a couple of weeks for my brain to agree with my foot for how long you can stay in the throttle because the car was going to stick. Plus I remember always being the first guy to say real race cars have fenders but once I got the hang of it, I really liked SK Light racing.”
After winning 10 races from 2014-2015, the past three years have seen leaner times for Ferrigno. In those three years Ferrigno has 2 wins, a total of 8 top-5 finishes, and 2019 was his first winless season since his partial 2006 season in the Limited Late Model division. Despite those stats, Ferrigno remains as determined as ever to get back to the front of the pack.
“It’s been frustrating chasing things with the car to try to get back to where we once were but we’re always giving it our all,” said Ferrigno. “The goal is always to get back to the good days. We have a new engine in the car and over the winter we’ve changed up the suspension to try to make the car more modern. The car is 20 years old and I’ve been driving it for 10 so it’s been tough to keep it up to date with some of the newer chassis that are out there. Our goal for this season was and still is to come out swinging and try to get back into victory lane.”
From enduros to DARE Stocks, Limited Late Models, and SK Lights, along with ice racing, 24 Hours of LeMons, and winning a bus race while on fire, Joey Ferrigno has certainly been there, done that, and seen it all. Ferrigno wouldn’t have been able to make his journey without a lot of support.
“I have a lot of people to thank between Daren Clark, Frank L’Etoile, Carl Holmgren, Bob Georgiades and his crew, Bob at RPE, John Cassandra from Hoodlum Skateboards, I went to high school with him and he bought me my first few sets of tires back in the DARE Stock days, Eastern Transmissions, Brothers Pool, Paul French, Gino from RH2 Way Communications has been a huge help to keep me racing in the SK Lights, Glenn from Midstate Site Development, Metro Garage Door, Stephens Duct Work, Gallagher Buick GMC, and D’Addario’s Auto, all these people have stuck with me through the years, and I’m grateful for their support throughout my career.”
With some ups and downs along the way, Ferrigno wouldn’t have done anything differently and he is living proof that you can indeed live out your racing dreams.
“There’s certainly been some nights where I’ve wondered what I was doing, spending all this money on racing and not hanging out with friends on Friday nights, but racing also helped keep me out of trouble,” said Ferrigno. “A lot of people I knew and hung around with are either in jail or dead because they fell down the wrong path and got in trouble. I’ve made a ton of great friends over the years and some of my best friends I never would have met if it wasn’t for racing. When I first started racing I would have been happy to win a couple of races and to now be in the top-25 on Stafford’s All-time Winners List, the names that are behind me are just astonishing. I never pictured myself driving a modified and winning races in it. If you want to go racing, follow your dreams and keep at it.”
For more information, visit www.staffordspeedway.com, checkout Stafford Speedway on Facebook or Twitter, or contact the track office at 860-684-2783.