Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – For any racer, there is no feeling quite like reaching victory lane for the very first time.
That first time winning feeling can almost be matched by recording a podium finish for the very first time and Stafford Speedway’s June 18 SK Modified® feature event featured three drivers who were all on the podium for the very first time.
Bryan Narducci drove the #83 Keith Rocco owned All Phases Renovations sponsored car to victory, followed by Matt Vassar in the #11 Hummel Hot Dogs Chevrolet, and David Arute in the #75 Big Haus USA Chevrolet.
Arute and Vassar broke into the SK Modified® division at the same time in 2018 with Arute winning Rookie of the Year honors. Both drivers started out in full fendered cars before moving into the world of open wheel modifieds with Arute winning 11 Limited Late Model races from 2012-2015 and then 2 SK Light features in 2016 and 2017. Vassar won 2 Late Model track championships at Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia before moving back north and going racing at Stafford in the Late Model division for one season in 2017 before moving up to the SK Modified® ranks.
“It felt great to be on the podium for the first time,” said Vassar. “Obviously I wanted to win the race and I was hoping for a late race caution but it never came. It felt good to finally break through and have a solid top-3 run. Especially the battle I had with David [Arute], that was a lot of fun racing with him.”
“It felt like a sigh of relief to finally get to the front of the field and stay there,” said Arute. “We’ve had some big ups and downs over my 4 years in the SK Modified® division and there’s been a lot of learning. During my first season, a win was getting a top-10 finish, my second year we ended up having a sophomore slump, and then last year was a bit of a curveball. This year we worked on the car a lot over the winter and we’ve been consistently in the top-10 but we haven’t finished there every week. We changed a clip on the car this past week and to finish on the podium after a long week in the shop was awesome for everyone.”
For Narducci, his road to not only his first SK Modified® podium, but victory, was a bit varied from the paths of Arute and Vassar. Narducci broke into Stafford driving Arute’s #28 Limited Late Model car, which he piloted to 6 wins in 2 seasons, before moving to the SK Light division, where he won 13 races in 2 seasons. Narducci moved to the SK Modified® division in 2020, racing a Todd Owen owned car. Narducci split with Owen following the 2020 season and teamed up with Billy “Bear” Calicchio for the 2021 season. Narducci was released from his driving duties by Calicchio after the June 12 TickMike.com SK Modified® All-Star event and paired up with Keith Rocco Racing for the June 18th event.
“It was really cool to get my first win and podium finish,” said Narducci. “I was just hoping to get a good finish last Friday night so to be able to go out and get a win was something different.”
With his first victory under his belt, Narducci will return to Stafford this Friday night for the NAPA Auto Parts SK 5k event and with no solid plans in place for Narducci to continue driving the #83 car, Narducci and Rocco will take things week to week.
“I think at this point we’re going to go week to week and see what happens but we’ll definitely be there for the 5k,” said Narducci.
This Friday night, June 25, is the biggest SK Modified® race of the season with the NAPA Auto Parts SK 5k. There will be over $30,000 in total posted awards with the race winner guaranteed to take home $5,000. Fresh off of their first podium finishes, Narducci, Vassar, and Arute all head into the NAPA SK 5k event riding high on momentum.
“It gives us some real good momentum,” said Narducci. “I remember last year I only made 2 laps in the 5k so I definitely have some learning to do. Luckily I’m running out of Keith’s shop and he’s pretty good in the long distance races so hopefully I can learn a few things from him and put it to good use and see what happens.”
“It gives us a lot of momentum and it rejuvenated all the guys on the team which will carry over to the 5k,” said Vassar. “The 5k is a long race and you have to maintain your equipment in order to be there for the end of the race and try to contend for the win. The 5k also has to play into your hands in order to win it. Deep down in my heart, I believe we can be a contender for the win if we can get the balance on the car right. As loose as we were last week, we were one of the top-3 fastest cars at the end of the race and that gives me the confidence that if we can get the balance right, we can put a hurting on the competition.”
“We have a lot of momentum now and hopefully the car will be as good as last week and it can last for all 100 laps,” said Arute. “Everyone on the team is more excited about coming to the track and now that we’ve tasted a podium finish, hopefully we can keep on bringing that back week after week. It was pretty awesome to see all 3 of us on the podium.”
Both Vassar and Arute would like nothing more than to join Narducci as first time winners in the SK Modified® division and they both feel like with the right circumstances, that win could come sooner rather than later.
“I don’t think we’re very far off,” said Vassar. “I don’t think we’re at elite status yet. We’ve struggled with the handling of our car since the start of the season but we went with a new shock and spring combination and we finally got our car to turn in the middle of the corners. It was still loose coming out of the corners but if we can get that figured out, I don’t want to say everyone else is going to be in trouble, but we’ll definitely be a top-3 contending car.”
“I feel that this year is the best opportunity I’ve had to win a race,” said Arute. “It’s been a learning curve over the last 3 years but we feel like we’re heading in the right direction. If we can finish in the top-3 and be consistent, then we’re confident we could pull off a win.”
Arute, Narducci, and Vassar will be joined the rest of the SK Modified® field to chase the $5,000 winners prize in the 8th Annual NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K this Friday, June 25. Tickets for the NAPA SK 5K are available online at StaffordSpeedway.com/tickets and will also be available at the gates day of show. General Admission tickets are $30.00 for adults, $10.00 for kids 6-14, and free for kids 5 & under. Reserved seating is priced at $35.00 for all ages and pit passes are $45.00 with a valid 2021 Stafford Competition License and $50.00 without a Stafford license. If you are unable to attend the event, tune into the live stream on FloRacing, the official streaming partner of Stafford Speedway.
Top-20 in SK Modified® Points Standings NAPA SK 5k Race Stats
Stephen Kopcik – #21 Airgas Chevrolet – Kopcik is tied for the division lead this season with 6 top-5 and 7 top-10 finishes through the first 8 races, including a victory back on April 30. Kopcik will be looking to change his luck in this year’s NAPA SK 5k as his best finish in 5 previous starts was a 16th place finish last season. Kopcik’s average NAPA SK 5k finish is 21.6 and he has earned $2,250 in 5 races.
Todd Owen – #81 Cooker Construction Chevrolet – Owen is the only driver in the top-7 of the SK Modified® points who has yet to win in 2021. Owen has posted 5 top-5 and 7 top-10 finishes this season and has started all 7 previous NAPA SK 5k events with 2 top-5 and 5 top-10 finishes for an average of 10.1. Owen’s best NAPA SK 5k finish of second came last season and has earned $9,100 in 7 starts.
Tyler Hines – #85 TickMike.com Chevrolet – Hines recorded his first career SK Modified® victory in the first race of the season on April 24th and he is currently the only repeat SK Modified® winner of 2021. Hines has made 6 career NAPA SK 5k starts with an average finish of 18.5 and a best finish of 10th coming in 2019. Hines has earned $4,000 in his 6 starts.
Michael Christopher, Jr. – #82 Eastport Feeds / PT Watts Chevrolet – Christopher has posted 1 win, 3 top-5, and 6 top-10 finishes through the first 8 races this season. Christopher has made 6 career NAPA SK 5k starts with 3 top-5 and 4 top-10 finishes for an average of 11.0 and a best finish of 3rd in 2020. Christopher has earned $9,010 in his 6 5k starts.
Ronnie Williams – #50 Les’s Auto Center Ford – Williams heads into the NAPA SK 5k with 1 win, 2 top-5, and 7 top-10 finishes in 8 races this season. Williams has competed in all 7 previous NAPA SK 5k events with 2 wins, 5 top-5, and 6 top-10 finishes for an average finish of 6.0. Williams is currently the NAPA SK 5k career earnings leader with $24,285.
Keith Rocco – #88 Wheelers Auto Chevrolet – Rocco has had an up and down 2021 season with 4 top-2 finishes, including a win, in the first 8 races. Rocco has competed in all 7 previous editions of the NAPA SK 5k, leads all drivers with an average finish of 4.0, but has yet to win the event. Rocco has three second place efforts as part of his 5 top-5 and 7 top-10 finishes. Rocco has earned $14,125 in his 7 NAPA SK 5k starts.
Chase Dowling – #22 Horsepower Hill Farm Chevrolet – Dowling is the defending champion of the NAPA SK 5k and is one of two repeat winners of the race, Ronnie Williams being the other. Dowling has made 6 NAPA SK 5k starts with 2 wins, 4 top-5 and 5 top-10 finishes for an average finish of 4.5. Dowling enters the NAPA SK 5k with 1 win, 3 top-5, and 5 top-5 finishes. His career NAPA SK 5k earnings currently stand at $16,950.
Michael Gervais, Jr. – #33 Gervais Brothers Roofing Chevrolet – Gervais has posted 2 top-5 and 6 top-10 finishes this season. Gervais has competed in all 7 previous NAPA SK 5k races with 2 top-10 finishes for an average of 14.3. Gervais has earned $6,305 in his 7 NAPA SK 5k starts.
Marcello Rufrano – #68 Wheelers Auto Chevrolet – Rufrano enters the NAPA SK 5k with 2 top-5 and 3 top-10 finishes in 2021. Rufrano only has 2 NAPA SK 5k starts, but he has finished 6th in 2019 and 5th last year for an average finish of 5.5. Rufrano’s 2 NAPA SK 5k starts has earned him $3,500.
David Arute – #75 Big Haus USA Chevrolet – Arute has recorded 1 top-5 and 4 top-10 finishes through the first 8 races of the 2021 season. Arute has made 3 starts in the NAPA SK 5k with 1 top-10 finish and an average of 12.3. Arute has earned $2,600 in his 3 NAPA SK 5k starts.
Mikey Flynn – #24 Ballyheigue Farm Chevrolet – Flynn did not qualify for the NAPA SK 5k during his rookie campaign of 2020 so he will be looking to make his race debut this year. Flynn enters the NAPA SK 5k with 1 top-5 and 3 top-10 finishes this season.
Andrew Molleur – #35 Keith Rocco Racing Chevrolet – Molleur comes into the NAPA SK 5k with 4 top-10 finishes in 8 starts this season. Molleur has competed in the last 2 NAPA SK 5k editions with a 5th place finish in 2019 and a 12th place finish last season for an average of 8.5. Molleur’s NAPA SK 5k earnings currently stand at $2,425.
Bryan Narducci – #83 All Phases Renovations Chevrolet – Narducci enters the NAPA SK 5k as the most recent SK Modified® feature winner and has 1 win, 2 top-5, and 3 top-10 finishes in 8 races this season. Narducci made his NAPA SK 5k debut last season with a 23rd place finish that earned him $450.
Matt Vassar – #11 Hummel Brothers Hot Dogs Chevrolet – Vassar enters the NAPA SK 5k with 1 top-5 and 3 top-10 finishes in 8 races this season. Vassar has made 3 previous starts in the NAPA SK 5k with a 1 top-10 finish. Vassar has earned $2,625 in his 3 NAPA SK 5k starts.
Doug Meservey, Jr. – #67 Toast Take Out Chevrolet – Meservey enters the NAPA SK 5k having posted 2 top-10 finishes in 8 races this season. Meservey has made 1 prior start in the NAPA SK 5k, finishing 17th in 2018 for $450.
Noah Korner – #31 Midstate Site Development Chevrolet – Korner enters the NAPA SK 5k with 1 top-5 and 3 top-10 finishes in 8 races this season. Korner made his NAPA SK 5k debut last year with a 7th place finish that earned him $1,325.
Teddy Hodgdon – #55 Montanari Fuel Chevrolet – The reigning SK Modified® Rookie of the Year has posted 1 top-5 and 2 top-10 finishes this season. Hodgdon finished 11th and earned $900 in his first NAPA SK 5k start last season.
Tyler Leary – #1 Kix 100.9 FM Chevrolet – Leary enters the NAPA SK 5k with 2 top-10 finishes this season. Leary has made 2 prior NAPA SK 5k starts with a 12th place finish in 2019 and a 27th place finish last season for an average of 19.5 and earnings of $1,955.
Jonathan Puleo – #7 Mr. Rooter Plumbing Chevrolet – Puleo enters the NAPA SK 5k with 2 top-10 finishes in 7 starts during his rookie season. Puleo will be looking to make his NAPA SK 5k debut this Friday night.
Dan Wesson – #92 Accurate Converter Chevrolet – Wesson enters the NAPA SK 5k with a best 2021 finish of 14th in 7 starts. Wesson has made 3 career NAPA SK 5k starts with a best finish of 13th in 2019. Wesson’s average NAPA SK 5k finish is 19.7 and he has earned $2,855.