Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – With the conclusion of the 2022 racing season at Stafford Motor Speedway, 5 drivers have etched their names into the record books as champions.
Todd Owen and the #81 Cooker Construction team won the SK Modified® title for the second consecutive season while Adam Gray and the #97 Meadows Motor Car team locked down the Late Model championship for the fourth Stafford crown of Gray’s career.
There were three first time champions with the #18 Pro Systems Integration team of Tyler Barry in the SK Light division, the #28 NAPA of Tolland team of Rich Hammann in the Limited Late Model division, and the #11 Hydar Construction team of Travis Hydar in the Street Stock division.
Owen opened the 2022 season with a victory in the Spring Sizzler® and while that would prove to be his lone win of the season, it put him in position to be at the top of the SK Modified® standings for almost the entire season. Owen joins Jerry Pearl (‘84-’85), Mike Christopher (’89-’90), Bob Potter (’91-’92, ’94-’95) Ted Christopher (’00-’01), Rowan Pennink (’15-’16), and Ronnie Williams (’18-’19) as the only drivers to win back to back SK Modified® championships. Owen will now set his sights on a third consecutive championship in 2023, a feat that has yet to be accomplished since the SK Modified® division was formed in 1982.
“We kept pretty much the same routine that we’ve always had, why change something that’s not broken?” said Owen. “The season was very consistent for us, the car was very good every week, and things went our way, so fortunate would be a good word to use. Sometimes when you’re looking towards the end of the year prize, I’m sure some of our second and third place finishes could have turned into wins if I had done something a little differently but all in all it was a good ending to the year and that’s what I look for. Obviously to be in the same category [with other back to back champions] is a tremendous honor and everything will need to align perfectly for us to get 3 in a row. We’re definitely going to try to go for 3 in a row and the Chassis Pro cars have been running really well and we’ll keep on doing what we’ve been doing to get to this point.”
After a slow start to the season that left him in 10th place in the Late Model standings after the first 3 races, Adam Gray turned the clock back to his first championship season of 2013 that saw him post 16 consecutive top-3 finishes as he posted 10 consecutive top-3 finishes and finished in the top-3 in 14 of the final 16 races to claim his fourth Late Model championship.
“It’s definitely an awesome feeling,” said Gray. “Some guys struggle to get one championship and here we are now with 4. It’s something that I never thought would be possible. I feel like at the beginning of the season we were backed into a corner and we had to work our way out of that. We were in a hole right from the beginning and to overcome that really shows what my crew is capable of. Honestly the key to what we were able to do this season was more or less finding the sweet spot with the car. The car was good and we knew if we kept our stuff together that we’d be there at the end of races every week. We can only do so much at the shop during the week and we had a bit of luck on our side this season with being in the right place at the right time or being in the right lane for restarts. I think we’re in a good position as we’re not really changing anything up with our program and we’re going to try to come back and get our fifth championship next season. If all the stars line up for us, we should have a good shot at winning another one.”
After claiming Rookie of the Year honors in 2021, Tyler Barry made the most of his sophomore season by outlasting Tyler Chapman and Alexander Pearl in a season long duel that came down to the last lap of the season with Barry claiming the title by 8 points over Chapman. Barry was at his best when he needed to be at his best the most, scoring his only win of the season along with three second place finishes over the final 4 races of the season to lay claim to the championship.
“It feels really good to be the champion,” said Barry. “We worked really hard all year long and we were able to be pretty consistent. Looking back I’ve wondered what I could have done differently to make some of our seven second place finishes turn into wins. At the start of the year the championship was our goal but we really didn’t think about that, our goal was to win races because I don’t like to race for points. Halfway through the year is when we started looking at the standings and we realized that we needed to finish races and keep the car in one piece. I was feeling nervous all week leading into the final race but that all went away once I got strapped into the car. It’s great to win the championship and with only an 8 point margin between us and Tyler Chapman, we know we had to really work to win it. I would have liked to have won a couple more races this season, but we’ll come back next season and try to get some more wins and defend the championship.”
After securing his first two career Stafford feature wins in 2021 after nearly 20 years of racing, Rich Hammann followed that up with a 4 win season that helped carry him to his first career championship in the Limited Late Model division. Hammann was the front runner in the race for the championship for the majority of the season, but a crash on Sept. 2 left him with a 13th place finish and saw him fall behind Jeremy Lavoie in the standings. Hammann trailed Lavoie by 16 points going into the final race, but a 4th place finish, combined with a 13th place finish for Lavoie, saw Hammann claim the championship by only 2 points, or one position on the track.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in for me,” said Hammann. “I never had any doubts that I could get it done as long as I had all the right pieces in place. I knew the car was going to be competitive and that’s all I can ask for. We tried to go one race at at time and get the best finish we could each night and we also had to properly manage our tire inventory. Everyone has bad luck at some point during a season and I got into the wall trying to avoid a wreck the first race in September. I would say that 90% of the year went pretty good for us and the Limited Late Model division is so competitive that you really have to have your car handling properly. We’re going to try to come back next season and defend the championship and keep on doing the same things that helped us win the championship this season.”
After finishing in fourth place in 4 of the last 5 seasons in the Street Stock division, Travis Hydar put on a dominating performance during the 2022 season to claim his first track championship. Hydar finished all but 2 races in the top-5 with a career high 5 wins set among those top-5 finishes. The championship experience for Hydar was made a little sweeter as he used a throwback paint scheme that matched his crew chief Ernie LaRose’s scheme when he won a championship 20 years ago.
“Winning the championship this season was definitely very high on our goal list,” said Hydar. “The car was super good for Sizzler® weekend and that kind of set the tone for us for the rest of the season. Winning the championship was an awesome feeling like a huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders and it was a little extra special to win with Ernie’s paint scheme that he used 20 years ago to win a Street Stock championship at Thompson. We always had points in the back of our mind during the season but we never really got to a point where we were racing for points and calculating spots. The game plan was to always go out and win the race every Friday night. We’re going to come back and run the Street Stock again and try to win as many races as we can. It should be a good time and it’ll be tough for sure because a lot of cars were really quick at the end of the season, but we like strong competition.”