Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – With four races already in the books for the 2021 SK Modified® season at Stafford Motor Speedway, the theme of parity reigns can be applied.
Much like the NASCAR Cup Series, which had 7 winners in the first 7 races of the 2021 season, Stafford’s SK Modifieds® have also had a different winner in each of the first four feature events.
The 2021 season kicked off with Tyler Hines scoring his first career SK Modified® win with a brand new #85 TickMike.com team that was formed over the winter. Taking turns driving into NAPA Victory Lane following Hines’ victory has been Stephen Kopcik, Michael Christopher, Jr., and Keith Rocco. With 4 winners in 4 races, there are a host of drivers who are still hungry for their first win of the 2021 season. Chase Dowling, Todd Owen, and Ronnie Williams are all drivers who won in 2020 that have yet to win in 2021 along with Dan Avery, Tom Bolles, Michael Gervais, Jr., and Andrew Molleur, who are drivers who have won SK Modified® races in previous seasons.
Stafford’s SK Modified® field is also littered with SK Light graduates who are looking to join Hines as first time SK Modified® winners in 2021. Joe Allegro, Jr., David Arute, Teddy Hodgdon, Noah Korner, Bryan Narducci, Wesley Prucker, Troy Talman, and Dan Wesson are all former SK Light winners looking for their first SK Modified® victory while Mikey Flynn is looking for his first Stafford victory since two Legend Cars wins in 2015. Illustrating just how hard it is to win an SK Modified® feature at Stafford, Hines went 6 seasons and 110 races before scoring his breakthrough victory back on April 24.
“Winning an SK race is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” said Hines. “You’re competing against the best modified racing drivers in the Northeast. There’s probably 10 cars that can win at Stafford on any given week. You need to have some luck on your side, you need to make the right adjustments on your car for the feature, and as a driver you have to be almost perfect to wind up winning a race.”
“It’s tough to win at Stafford,” said Kopcik. “With there being 4 different winners in 4 races, we still have some heavy hitters in the field like Todd Owen, Ronnie Williams, and Chase Dowling who haven’t won yet and any time you can beat those guys, it makes you feel really good. You can’t count those guys out and the competition level is what makes Stafford so tough.”
“It all starts with the cars,” said Christopher, Jr. “The cars are all pretty close and they’re basically on the throttle or off the throttle, which doesn’t leave much room for you to have a bad car. Almost every year it seems like Keith [Rocco] is the guy to beat and then there’s guys like Todd [Owen] and Ronnie [Williams] and this year [Tyler] Hines is racing really well, which adds to the competition level. It’s very tough in the SK Modified® division.”
“It’s always hard to win at Stafford,” said Rocco. “The competition seems like it always gets stiffer and closer. Last year we seemed to be in a league of our own but over the winter everybody else has really stepped up their games. It comes and goes. The first couple years I raced there were a lot of different winners, then it seemed like it was Ted [Christopher] and me for a while, and now we’re back to a lot of different winners.”
Getting a season off to a good start can be a key factor in a driver becoming a championship contender or not. Stafford’s 4 SK Modified® feature winners currently occupy 4 of the top 6 places in the 2021 standings with Hines leading the way on the strength of his victory and top-5 finishes in all four starts. With the competition level as high as it is in the SK Modified® division, Hines, Kopcik, Christopher, and Rocco know they will have to maintain their level of performance throughout the 2021 season to be in contention for the championship with the 2021 champion to be determined on Friday, October 1st.
“We were happy to be able to come out of the box with so much speed in the car and now that we have a baseline set, we kind of have it in our minds that we’re coming to the track every week to compete and run up front,” said Hines. “It’s just a matter of staying on top of the track with our adjustments and we prepare all week for anything and everything in the garage. We come to the track with a game plan and then we try to execute that plan. So far so good for us and the main thing will be keeping the car clean each week. If I can do that as well as keep up on our adjustments, I think we should be a contender to run up front each week.”
“It’s going to come down to consistency and not getting too far off track,” said Kopcik. “We were really good for most of if not all last season but we got caught up in a wreck which ended our season 2 races early. As long as we keep the nose clean and stay consistent, that’s our only goal right now, we’re not even looking at points. If we do our job correctly the points will follow. It’s cool to go to the track knowing you have a shot at winning every week but with the tire rule we have in the SK Modified® division, there’s some nights where you know you just have to do the best you can but we’re all in the same boat and I’m sure that’s part of what makes SK Modified® racing at Stafford so good.”
“I feel like we have a good program this year, we just have to mitigate mistakes on the racecar,” said Christopher. “The first couple weeks we had some problems with the rear end and then we went back to basics and we won but then we had another mechanical issue last week. We have a good car and we have good people in the team so I think we can be in contention every week, we just need to erase the mistakes with the car. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season, I think we’ll be in contention every week.“
“We’ve already had a DNF, which kills you,” said Rocco. “I think it’s actually pretty good for us to still be in third place with a DNF. We just need to keep on doing what we do with preparation and staying on top of things with the car.”
The race to see if the SK Modified® division can make it 5 winners in 5 races kicks off this Friday night, May 21st with qualifying heats at 6pm followed by feature events starting around 7pm.