Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – When the Valenti Modified Racing Series came to Stafford Motor Speedway last May, Anthony Nocella and the #92 Nocella Paving team took the checkered flag and used the momentum from that race to help propel them to the 2017 VMRS Championship. When the VMRS makes their first of two scheduled visits of 2018 to Stafford on Friday, May 18th, Nocella hopes to keep his early season momentum alive and win the race for the second consecutive year.
“The Stafford race last year gave us a lot of confidence and momentum for the rest of the year,” said Nocella. “It’s going to be tough to win the race again with so many good cars, but we’ve had a pretty strong car this year and hopefully we can take what we learned last year at Stafford and use it to have another good run. We had a couple of bad races last year so we just have to keep this positive momentum going for as long as we can this season. We could have a bad race at any time but hopefully we can keep on getting top-3 finishes like we have so far.”
If Nocella is to repeat his victory of one year ago, he knows he will face some stiff competition. Rowan Pennink and the #25 Gary Casella owned team have already made their mark on the 2018 season with 2 wins in the first three races, and Nocella is also wary of SK Modified® drivers who will be pulling double duty as well as the VMRS regulars.
“Rowan has already won 2 races this year and he won the other race at Stafford last year and we had to race him for the win in the race that we won, so he’s going to be tough,” said Nocella. “Also the regular guys who run Stafford weekly, they’re always tough and it’s a tough race track so the extra experience those guys have definitely helps them out. There’s a lot of strong cars who run just the MRS races so anyone who is up front late in the race with some tires left will have a shot at winning the race.”
The numbers certainly back Nocella up. In the 19 VMRS races to date that have been held at Stafford, 13 of them have been won by drivers who are either current weekly racers or former weekly racers. A VMRS win has been tough for non Stafford regulars, but Nocella seems to have found the fast way around the Connecticut half-mile facility.
“I’ve had a lot of different people help me with running at Stafford,” said Nocella. “Stafford is a track where you need to figure out where to be on the track. If you move your line around by just a couple of feet, it really changes the car a lot compared to other tracks. You have to be aggressive but at the same time you need to be smooth and roll through the corners nice and easy and I think that suits my style.”
With drivers having to run the 80-lap race on the same tires that they qualify on in their heat race, Nocella says that the one practice session that the VMRS cars will have will play a key role in drivers determining the optimal setup to be able to manage their tires so that they can race hard in the final stages of the VMRS 80.
“You want to go hard but save something at the same time,” says Nocella. “I think the tires we have this year allow us to go a little bit harder than last year but you still want to manage the tires a little bit so that you can have something for the end of the race. We have a good amount of time for practice but it goes by quick so you have to have somewhat of a plan on what you want to do. You want to get the car dialed in and especially for some of the guys who are getting comfortable with the track again, that’s where the guys who run Stafford weekly have an advantage. It’s definitely key to be able to try a couple different things to figure out what you’ll need for later in the night.”
As well as the VMRS 80 next Friday night and the Lincoln Tech VMRS 80 scheduled for August 31, Nocella will be looking to park his #92 machine in NAPA Victory Lane for the June 8 and July 13 Open Modified 80’s at Stafford this season.
“As it stands right now, we’re planning on entering both of those open modified shows,” said Nocella. “I think those will be two really good races. I’m sure there will be some MRS guys and some other guys and it should be some great racing. They’ll be the same distance at the MRS races so you can race pretty hard and they should be a lot of fun.”
The Valenti Modified Racing Series will take to the track next Friday, May 18 with qualifying beginning at 6:15pm. Stafford’s five NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions will also be in action. Tickets for this event are priced at $30.00 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 seat tickets are $32.00 for all ages. All ticket prices include 10% CT Admission Tax. Stafford Motor Speedway offers plenty of free parking along with overnight parking available for self contained Recreational Vehicles.
For the 28th consecutive season, the month of May is Youth Organization Month at Stafford. All children 14 & under are admitted FREE when wearing a youth organization team shirt or uniform. Children must be accompanied by a paying adult.