Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – When the NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K takes the green flag this Friday, June 29 at Stafford Speedway, Eric Berndt will be looking to put his extra distance skills to good use.
Berndt, the driver of the #66 Cos’ Central Auto / North End Auto Parts SK Modified®, is a 2-time SK Modified® 100 winner at Stafford and he has 4 extra distance wins in his career in the SK Modified® division at Waterford. Having not won an extra distance race since his 2003 SK Modified® 100 triumph, Berndt is hoping that he can recapture the extra distance magic from earlier in his career.
“We sure hope so,” said Berndt of recapturing his early career extra distance form. “We’re going to see if we can break the trend we’ve had the last couple of years. The car has been fast for most of the year, we’ve just have some unfortunate circumstances. We’d love to win this race, no doubt, but if we can come away with a podium finish, I won’t say it would be as good as a win but we have to get some momentum going our way again and we’d really love to win this race. A top-3 finish would be a big bonus for sure and it would definitely be a big momentum shifter. Hopefully we can finish out the second half of the season strong.”
The 2018 season started off strong for Berndt and the #66 team with 3 podium efforts in the first 6 races. But since a second place finish on June 1st, Berndt hasn’t finished inside the top-10. Berndt has fallen from 8th in the SK Modified® standings, 86 points behind, to 10th in the standings entering the NAPA SK 5K, 146 points behind the leader. Despite the recent run of misfortune, Berndt is confident that a good run in the NAPA SK 5K can get his season back on the right track.
“We found a couple of things and last week we had a motor issue, so it’s been things that have been out of our control,” said Berndt. “We’re hoping we have all the bad stuff dialed out of our system and we can break out in the SK 5K. Even though we had the motor issue last Friday night, we turned the fastest lap of the race and I think that was the best car that we’ve had all season long. If we can keep that going and not have the car break, I think we can be in pretty good shape.”
Berndt’s career record in extra distance races gives him not only the know how to win those races, but it leaves him feeling confident about his chances going into an extra distance event like the NAPA SK 5K.
“It definitely helps having a good track record in longer distance races,” said Berndt. “It gives you a little extra confidence knowing that you can get there as long as you don’t get caught up in anything. It’s two and a half features in one, so patience is going to be a key. To win this race, we’ll need a little bit of tire conservation and to have a little lady luck on our side with choosing the right lanes, and you’re going to need a strong piece. I think we have the car capable of winning the race, we just have to line up all our dots.”
Along with a momentum boosting win, Berndt is looking to take home the winner’s share of $5,000 from the over $27,000 NAPA SK 5K purse, which when combined with contingency bonuses, could swell to over $10,000. Berndt is one of 22 drivers entered into the Dunleavy’s Gambler’s Challenge, which has each SK Modified® driver post $100 with Doug Dunleavy matching up to $2500. With 22 drivers currently entered in the Dunleavy’s Gambler’s Challenge, the bonus is up to $4,400. The Gambler’s Bonus will be distributed to either the winner, evenly across the top 5, top 10, or 11th through 20th. The winner will draw from a hat in victory lane to see how the bonus will be distributed.
“It’s great,” said Berndt. “It’s something to really look forward to every year. When you get where the money is really good, it’s a bonus for all the teams and big paying races are always good for short track racing. We can’t really complain, Stafford has upped the purses this year and they continue to grow and Stafford is the best paying track around. Also, Doug Dunleavy has been a great supporter of local short track racing so he deserves a big shout out for keeping the Gambler’s Challenge going.”
The 5th annual NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K is set for Friday, June 29. With $5,000 guaranteed to win and over $30,000 in posted awards, the 100-lap big money race will be an event not to miss. Discount tickets for the NAPA SK 5k are 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 visit us on the web at www.staffordmotorspeedway.com/participating-napa-auto-parts-stores. Tickets for the NAPA SK 5K are available and on sale now at the Speedway Box Office. Tickets are priced at $30.00 for adult general admission tickets, $5.00 for kids ages 6-14, and kids 5 and under are admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult. Reserved seating is priced at $32.00 for all ages. All ticket prices include 10% CT Admission Tax. Stafford Speedway offers free parking with free overnight parking for self-contained RV’s available. There will also be a barbeque taking place on the midway with some great food available to race fans for only $10.