Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – When the 2021 season kicked off at Stafford Speedway, Street Stock driver Travis Downey made the move into the world of asphalt oval track racing after coming from a background in desert trophy truck off-road racing.
The Barkhamsted, CT native and driver of the #42 P.J. Ladola & Sons Electrical Contractors, Inc. Chevrolet made the transition from the deserts of Parker, Arizona and Las Vegas to the asphalt of Stafford Speedway a smooth one as he scored 3 top-5 and 13 top-10 finishes in 18 starts to claim the R.A.D. Auto Machine Rookie of the Year title.
“Being Rookie of the Year feels pretty good since this was my first time ever racing on asphalt,” said Downey. “Rookie of the Year was my goal. I would have liked to have won a race this season but that turned out to be a little bit harder than I thought it would be. My team, myself, and my family, were all happy and the sponsors were all excited. I’ve already gotten a couple of commitments for next season so it feels really good to be the Rookie of the Year. Honestly I would give ourselves an A for the season. We didn’t have any mechanical failures this season and my crew gave an A+ effort every week. I really appreciate all my guys and how we handled things this season. We pretty much dominated the rookie race, we led right from the beginning of the season.”
Making the transition from the wide open sands of the desert to a closed oval track can be a daunting task for any driver but Downey took steps to ensure that he could make that move as easy as possible for himself. Downey purchased a former race winning car car and enlisted some experienced help as he prepared for his rookie campaign.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect this season because I had never done this before,” said Downey. “I took the effort to make sure we bought a good car, we have Meghan Fuller’s old car, and Rick Fuller would always give me a truthful answer any time I had a question for him. I also had a guy named Rick Levin that used to work on Rick’s car when he raced at Riverside who helped me out all through the year. Towards the end of the season, I started talking with Bob Fill and we made a few changes to the car and that’s when we really started running good. We ended up getting a podium finish and we finished 4th or 5th one night so I was pretty happy with that. The last race of the season I was behind Frank [L’Etoile] and I just stayed behind him for the last 8 laps or so because I didn’t want to be that guy who did anything to jeopardize him for the championship.”
Downey kicked off his rookie season with a mid-pack 13th place finish in the season opening race, but after that, he scored 7 consecutive top-9 finishes heading into the July 16 Midstate Site Development 30, a race that Downey had circled on his calendar, but would ultimately lead to a disappointing finish.
“The night of the MSD Firecracker 30, we had a really good car but we got wrecked out on the first lap of the race,” said Downey. “The last few races going into that race we had been the fastest car on the track on the last lap of the race so we thought we really had something for the extra distance race. After that we fell apart a little bit but I think we bounced back pretty well in the end.”
Downey’s MSD 30 misfortune led to a dismal month of July, with a best finish of 19th. Aside from not being able to start the September 3 feature race due to a mechanical issue, Downey closed out his 2021 season with 6 top-8 finishes in 7 races, including his season best finish of third on September 24. For the season, Downey was the highest finishing Street Stock rookie driver in 13 of the 19 feature events held.
“We had a good setup in the car, we didn’t have a top-5 car, but we had a top-10 car and I managed to stay out of some wrecks and that allowed us to get some really good finishes,” said Downey.
With a successful rookie season under his belt, Downey is now looking forward to the 2022 season where he will look to add his first career Street Stock feature win to his racing resume.
“We’re all super excited for next season,” said Downey. “If I was a little more familiar with how these cars drive, I might have been able to sneak out a win this season, but we’ll definitely be going full bore for a win next season. The car is already all dismantled, the chassis is heading to BFR, and we’re ready to get after it. I had the car at this time last year but I didn’t start working on it until January, so we’re way ahead of where we were last year and I know more about the car and what to do with it so I think we’re in pretty good shape. Everyone who helps me on the car lives pretty much within a mile or so and the Mutch Family, Bob and Chris, those guys are super. The night we rolled the car, by 10 o’clock Saturday morning there wasn’t one single body panel on the car and it was ready to get fixed. Two weeks later we got t-boned and we did the same thing and the car was tore apart and was at Bob Fill’s place at 1pm on Saturday afternoon getting fixed. Big thank you to The Mutch Family, Mutch Nicer Enterprises, Valley’s Lawn and Landscape, P.J. Lodola & Sons Electrical Contractors, Squid Decals, G.P. Fence, my father and Jeffrey Codere for owning the car and always being there for me, Northern Fabrication, BFR Chassis, Sullivan Automotive Group, and my wife and daughter for putting up with me and letting me always work on the car.”