RPW Column: The Champ Trail; Off-Season News, Stafford’s Getting Ready For ’23 & More…

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – With Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror and Christmas closing in fast it’s almost time to start a count-down to Speedweeks in Florida in 2023.

Some good news comes from the Stafford Speedway in the form of the return of FloRacing live stream coverage of events in 2023. FloRacing has done an outstanding job in their presentation of events at Stafford.

FloRacing is the best deal in auto racing for fans, competitors and the speedway in general. In addition to world wide exposure for their sponsors competitors get a stipend from Flo and if they subscribe have access to the events and replays. Nothing beats being at the track but coverage by Flo is second to none for the fan who is unable to attend.

Kyle Rickey has brought race announcing to a new level for both those on hand and those who tune in.

The overall racing competition at Stafford in 2022 was second to none. 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.

Todd 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. Keith Rocco has four SK Modified championships but has never had back to back titles.

After claiming Rookie of the Year honors in 2021, third generation competitor 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.

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.

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.

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.

Area Auto Racing Newspaper reported last week that the state of New Jersey will mandate Fire Suppression Systems in all race cars in 2023 with the exception of Slingshots, Go-Karts and Quarter Midgets. The rule will not take effect for the Indoor Auto Racing Series in Atlantic City and Trenton until the 2024 season. The NASCAR Modified Tour does require a fire bottle as does the Modified Racing Series, Race of Champions Series and Open Modified events at Stafford. Weekly SK Modified Racing at Stafford does not require a fire suppression system, only a fire extinguisher.

In other news from AARN, editor Len Sammons stated that after talking to Doug Dipisa it was learned that Todd Szegedy has retired for good after suffering a bad concussion after two hard wrecks at Seekonk in October

Noted auto racing scribe Ernie Saxton sends word that Racings North Turn, a very popular Ponce Inlet, Florida restaurant is temporally closed due to damage done by recent hurricanes. It has been determined that the 12th Annual Historic North Turn Legends Beach/ Road Course Parade scheduled for Saturday, Feb 11, 2023 will have to be rescheduled for Feb 2024.

Dr. Dick Berggren, who is already in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, is about to be nominated to become an inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. Dick spent 33 years as a broadcaster and TV pit reporter on the NASCAR beat. He was working for three television networks and editing two racing magazines at the same time. Congratulations, None Better!

MDP Motorsports Promotions LLC, operator of Claremont Motorsports Park in Claremont, NH for the past three seasons, has been informed their lease to operate the historic race facility will not be renewed for the 2023 race season with a pending sale of the speedway coming by the end of the year.

After announcing the lease agreement during Fall Challenge 2019, Mike Parks and his team began operating the Thrasher Road speed plant in April of 2020 from owners Ben Bosowski and Norman Wrenn. Parks also thanked Bosowski and Wrenn for allowing him to operate a facility very near and dear to his heart. “Who knows, maybe down the road we will be able to do this all over again somewhere!” said Parks.

MDP Motorsports Promotions LLC will continue to operate the Granite State Pro Stock Series in 2023 as the series schedule continues to be finalized. Questions related to the speedway facility and its operations should be directed to Bosowski and Wrenn.

Internet website RaceDayCT announced last week that Keith Rocco will take over driving duties for the Dan Avery owned Horsepower Hill Farms SK Modified at Stafford for the 2023 season. For the past couple of seasons Rocco’s stats have been lackluster to say the least. Rocco is second all-time on the track’s SK Modified win list with 67 victories. He was 10th in the SK Modified standings at the track in 2022 with two victories. He is a four-time SK Modified division champion at Stafford, with his last title coming in 2020.

Rocco has a full time job, Keith Rocco Racing, preparing cars for numerous other drivers. It has been so successful it has taken away from his own racing. Now 37 and in the prime of his career Rocco felt he needed to make a change.

Rocco’s overall total of 302 wins include 154 victories at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, 70 at Thompson and 78 at Stafford Speedway. His track championships are many. The 2020 Stafford SK Modified title was Rocco’s 18th NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Division I track championship over 14 years, which set a new NASCAR record. At Stafford, Rocco joined the late Ted Christopher and the late Bob Potter as the only drivers in track history with four or more SK Modified championships. Christopher had nine titles at Stafford and Potter had five.

With the cooperation of the Arute family a book has been published with pictures and biographies of the 50 Greatest Drivers at Stafford.

The Stafford Motor Speedway had become the epicenter of NASCAR Modified racing in the northeast by the late 1980’s. From its dirt beginnings to its lightning-fast asphalt, Stafford had become the toughest and most gratifying track to score a victory. The Arute family which has owned and guided the destiny of the facility commissioned their thousands of loyal fans to name their favorite drivers. In alphabetical order so as not to offend anyone:

Tom Baldwin, Gene Bergin, Brett Bodine, Geoff Bodine, Ken Bouchard, Ron Bouchard, Mario “Fats” Caruso, Rene Charland, Ted Christopher, Leo Cleary, Tim Connolly, Jerry Cook, Corky Cookman, Pete Corey, Fred DeSarro, Richie Evans, Mike Ewanitsko, Ed Flemke, Sr., Jeff Fuller, Rick Fuller, Ernie Gahan, Bill Greco, Bo Gunning, Ray Hendrick, George “Moose” Hewitt, Tony Hirschman, George Janoski, Charlie Jarzombek, George Kent, Buddy Krebs, Randy LaJoie, Jan Leaty, Jerry Marquis, Mike McLaughlin, Ray Miller, Steve Park, Bob Polverari, Bob Potter, Brian Ross, John “Reggie” Ruggiero, Greg Sacks, Ollie Silva, “Wild” Bill Slater, Jimmy Spencer, Mike Stefanik, Carl “Bugsy” Stevens, George Summers, Jamie “The Jet” Tomaino, Maynard Troyer and Satch Worley.

Books are priced at $17.95 each and be purchased at the track at the Novelty Booth or at the Stafford Motor Speedway on line store. Books are also available at Amazon.com and at Coastal181 (877-907-8181.

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