Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – After winning back to back championships and 8 races in Stafford Speedway’s SK Light division during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Meriden native Matt Galko was ready to continue his success in the premier SK Modified® division. But Galko found that the road to victory lane wasn’t as easily navigated in the SK Modifieds as the SK Light modifieds. Galko spent five years chasing his first SK Modified® feature win behind the wheel of his family owned #3 AAA Consulting Chevrolet, which finally came on June 2nd, 2017, his 6th full season of SK Modified® competition. Galko followed up his first win with another win in September, giving him two wins in a season for the first time since his second SK Light championship season back in 2011.
“I’d say last year was a breakthrough for us,” said Galko. “We’ve always been right there, just never had everything fall into place for us. In the SK Modified® division at Stafford, you have to have all the pieces to the puzzle in place, you can’t be lacking in any department. We were always able to be in the top-5 and get some podium finishes but last year we made the right setup calls and we were able to turn that into 2 wins. We got our first win early in the year and followed that up with a second place finish right behind Ronnie Williams. That was a big confidence boost for everyone on the team. We went through the season and got our second win towards the end of the season so it was a great way for us to start the season and end the season. AAA Consulting with Tim Rowe, NAPA Fazzino Auto Parts, A & R Auto Body, Duchess Restaurant, J.M. Rose Lawn Care, John Digger, LLC. Team Critical all stepped up again this year to help us get to the track and we couldn’t do any of this without their support.”
After scoring his first two career SK Modified® feature wins and a career best 7th place finish in the points standings, Galko is eager to get back on the track and continue the positive momentum he and the #3 team built up last year.
“We’re definitely excited to get back to racing this season,” said Galko. “We feel like we had some good momentum going at the end of the season but it was good to have the winter to regroup and work on some areas that we were lacking and hopefully we can come back even stronger.”
As Galko is well aware, the road to NAPA Victory Lane this season won’t get any easier with a mix of veteran and young guns making for one of the most competitive fields found anywhere in the country. Galko knows he needs to be at the very top of his game for the entire season if he is to be able to match his goal of finishing the season in the top-5 in the points standings or even better.
“Our goal is to be a little higher in the points standings than we were last year,” said Galko. “You look at the top guys in the division and their bad nights are like a 7th or 8th while our bad runs are in the bottom half of the top-20. I think the biggest thing keeping us from being in contention is when we miss the setup, we really miss. I remember the NAPA SK 5k last year, we tried something a little different with the car setup and we ended up 16th. We need to eliminate our big misses and be able to control our destiny on our bad nights. I feel like the SK’s at Stafford are the toughest competition I’ve ever raced against. I ran some Tri-Track, MRS, ROC Tour, and Wall Stadium races and Fridays at Stafford are hands down the toughest competition. It has the best drivers with the best equipment and the best crews around. It’s top notch and Stafford is the place to be if you want to get your name out there and prove that you’re a good driver. I’m happy that Stafford is my home track and I think we put on a great show for the fans every Friday night and you can really learn a lot by racing at Stafford.”
If there is one race on the 2018 schedule that Galko has squarely in his sights it would be the 5th Annual NAPA SK 5k, set for June 29. In the four previous NAPA SK 5K events, Galko’s best finish has been a 13th place effort in 2015 and 2016. Galko is determined to have a better finish in this year’s NAPA SK 5k and he knows a good finish in such a prestigious event could set his team up with some good momentum to finish out the season on a high note.
“Every year the SK 5k is a race that is circled on our calendar,” said Galko. “At the same time, if there’s a race that is our Achilles heel right now, it’s the 5k. I don’t think we’ve finished in top-10 yet in that race. We were running second or third in 2015 with about 5 laps to go and we got spun out. In 2016 we lost power steering about 5 laps into the race and then last year we just whiffed on the setup. There’s something about that race that we haven’t been able to piece together so we’re looking for some redemption this year. Hopefully we can get all the bugs worked out and get our setup dialed in for a good finish and take home a nice paycheck. It’s great what NAPA and Dunleavy’s and all the sponsors step up and do for us with that race and there’s always a big car count for that race. I’m very excited for the 5k this year.”
Darrell Keane To Challenge for NAPA Rookie Honors In Late Model Division
After a 3-race trial run at the end of the 2017 season, Enfield native Darrell Keane is ready to challenge for NAPA Rookie of the Year honors in Stafford Speedway’s Late Model division in 2018. Keane has an extensive background working with Bob Fill as well as helping the Botticello family at Stafford and he plans to put his knowledge to work in helping him get his #79 Botticello, Inc. Chevrolet ready for the 2018 season.
“I’ve worked for Bob Fill part time for around 15 years so I have some experience in car setup and have always been hands on with the cars,” said Keane. “I’ve also run Late Models at Monadnock and Claremont, so that experience should be a big help for me this year. We had a decent showing with the three races we ran at the end of last year and the equipment we have is top notch for the Late Models. I’m extremely excited and a little nervous on top of that to get started and I think this season is the earliest we’ve ever been done and ready to go. Instead of scrambling last minute on the car Thursday night before the Sizzler, we’ll be loading the car into the trailer.”
Keane made three starts at the end of the 2017 season and he recorded three sixth place finishes in each of his three starts. Keane also made 5 starts at the end of the 2014 season driving for Dennis Botticello. Despite Keane not recording a top-10 in those five starts and his relative lack of experience at Stafford, he feels like he has everything in place to live his dream and win a Late Model feature this season at Stafford.
“In 2014 I ran the last couple of races when Dennis [Botticello] hurt his back and I didn’t get close to sixth place like I had last year,” said Keane. “I have a few laps at Stafford and I’ve been going to Stafford since I was a kid. I’ve seen a lot of racing and my family has been coming to Stafford forever. I think my experience last year showed that we have a chance of winning a race this year. We definitely have the car, the crew, and the knowledge, it’s all going to come down to me as the driver. At the Fall Final last year, although we missed the setup a little, we thought we could have had a podium finish and shocked a few people. The biggest thing is it’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun this season.”
If Keane is to win NAPA Rookie of the Year honors this season and the $1,000 NAPA Store credit that goes along with the award, he will face some stiff competition. Al and Cliff Saunders, who are both former track champions at Stafford, headline the 2018 Late Model rookie class with Richard Duranti, Eric Finkbein, Jr., and Jason Williams also registered rookie drivers.
“Rookie of the Year would be a huge accomplishment for me,” said Keane. “I’ve never won a rookie of the year award before and my highest finish in the points standings in any division has been third. The goal is to finish races and be able to put the car back into the trailer in one piece at the end of the night and to learn things as we go. I’ve been able to follow guys like Woody Pitkat and Tom Fearn at other tracks and I’ve learned from guys like them and Michael Bennett. They all know how to get around Stafford and hopefully we can be a thorn in their side this year. There were 8 different winners in the Late Model division last year and that’s a good thing to see. It would be a huge feat for me in my career to get a win this year. Patience is going to be the big thing for us and getting comfortable with the guys in the division. A lot of the guys don’t know me from a hole in the wall but from what I saw last year there was a lot of respect on the track and I was very impressed with that. It’s going to be a great season. Rookie of the Year is a nice goal to shoot for and thanks to NAPA for putting up the bonus of $1,000 in store credits.”
The 2018 Late Model season kicks off with this weekend’s 47th Annual NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler®. Tickets for the “Greatest Race in the History of Spring” are on sale now at the Speedway Box Office. Tickets are priced at $40.00 for adult general admission tickets, $5.00 for children ages 6-14, and children ages 5 and under are admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult. Reserved seating is priced at $42.00 for all ages. As always, Stafford Motor Speedway offers free parking with overnight parking available. Tickets are good for both Saturday and Sunday admission. All ticket prices include 10% CT Admission Tax. Discount Tickets are now available at participating NAPA Auto Parts stores. For a full list of the 72 participating locations throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, please call the speedway office or point your web browser to www.staffordmotorspeedway.com/participating-napa-auto-parts-stores.