RPW Exclusive: The Champ Trail; Stafford, Bowman Gray & More

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The Stafford Motor Speedway honored its champions and numerous competitors this past Friday night. Stafford, which was paved in 1967, has been under the control of the Arute family since mid-1970 when then race director Bill Slater convinced construction company and Modified co-owner Jack Arute to lease the speedway before it fell victim to financial problems.

Since buying the speedway property in 1971 the Arute family has improved the facility 1000% and made it one of the premier speed plants on the east coast. Through it all since day one have been Mark and Jackie Arute for 49 years for literally the thrill of victory and the agony of the defeat. There have been good times and bad but Stafford has always prevailed.

The 2018 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season at Stafford Motor Speedway awarded competitors an impressive $68,000 in bonus money through the track’s Contingency Program partners. The contingency bonuses were in addition to the weekly purse winnings which increased an average of 10% across the five divisions. Stafford’s premier SK Modified® division led the way with over $36,000 in weekly contingency, Gamblers Challenge, and TC 13 Shootout payouts. Providing weekly contingency bonuses throughout the season were Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Repair, Maybury Material Handling, Starrett Tools, Casagrande Builders, New England Racing Fuel, Sunoco Brand, and Kevin Harvick Inc. Management. Through his company, KHI Management, Harvick presented two weekly $125 bonuses to the leader on lap-13 and the 13th place finisher in remembrance of Christopher’s number 13. 19 different SK Modified® drivers were awarded KHI bonuses and overall 20 different drivers won SK Modified® bonuses.

When the final checkered flag of the 2018 season dropped at the NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final, Ronnie Williams, Tom Fearn, Marcello Rufrano, Jeremy Lavoie, and George Bessette, Jr. cemented their names in the Stafford Speedway history books as 2018 track champions. In the NASCAR Whelen All American Series Division I, SK Modifieds®, the fight for the championship was a season long duel between Williams and Keith Rocco. Rocco began the season with a 4-race winning streak that established himself as the championship favorite. Williams and the #50 Les’s Auto Center team were finishing races right behind Rocco on the podium, allowing him to keep the deficit to Rocco in the standings to a reasonable margin. A big win on June 29 in the NAPA SK 5K, with a payday of $10,625, was definitely the boost the #50 team needed as they pursued the race for the championship. Williams took the point lead for the first time following a win on July 6 and he led the standings for the remainder of the season and won his very first track championship at Stafford. For the season Williams posted 4 wins, 14 top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes. Tom Fearn and the #92 King Ward Coach Lines team enjoyed a season for the ages in the NWAAS Division II, Late Models. In 21 starts this season, Fearn finished on the podium 19 times with 12 wins, 6 second place finishes, and one third place finish. Fearn’s 12 wins this season set a Stafford Speedway Late Model division record and he also set a division record with six consecutive wins from May 18 to June 22. For the season Fearn posted 12 wins, 19 top-5 and 19 top-10 finishes with a miniscule average finish of 2.4. Fearn’s 12 wins this season also made him Stafford’s winningest driver in Late Model history with 48 career wins, passing Ryan Posocco who had 45 career Late Model wins at Stafford.

The NWAAS Division III, SK Light Modifieds, produced one of the tightest championship races in the track’s long and storied history. Marcello Rufrano and Bryan Narducci, two drivers who grew up racing against each other in the Stafford Wild Thing Kart Series, renewed their friendly rivalry in grand fashion this season. The two drivers took turns swapping the point lead back and forth this season with the pair combining to win 11 of 21 races. Rufrano took the checkered flag in the biggest SK Light race of the season, the May 25 Dunleavy’s Modifiedz Night extra distance race that paid an SK Light season high $2,025 with purse and contingency bonuses. Narducci looked to have the championship within his grasp late in the season, but two 15th place finishes in the 4 races leading into the season ending NAPA Fall Final allowed Rufrano to enter that race tied with Narducci in the standings. As the two were racing for the lead in the final race, they made contact and both drivers crashed out of the race. With Rufrano being in front of Narducci on the last completed green flag lap, he was scored one position ahead of Narducci and became the SK Light champion. For the season, Rufrano and the #88 Wheelers Auto Service team posted 6 wins, 11 top-5, and 16 top-10 finishes.

Other division champions were Limited Late Model, Jeremy Lavoie and George Bessette, Jr. in the Street Stocks.

The NAPA Auto Parts Rookie of the Year awards were presented to David Arute from the SK Modified® division and Al Saunders from the Late Model division. Taking home R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year honors were Bryan Narducci in the SK Light division, Steven Midford in the Limited Late Model division, and Meghan Fuller in the Street Stock division. The NAPA Auto Parts rookie awards will be worth a $1,000 gift card redeemable at participating NAPA Stores to Arute and Saunders, with Narducci, Midford, and Fuller each winning a $500 bonus from R.A.D. Automachine that will be paid out in $100.00 weekly increments to each driver as they attend events during the 2019 season.

The winners of the Most Popular Driver Awards were Dan Avery in the SK Modified® division, Paul Arute in the Late Model division, Bryan Narducci from the SK Light division, Jeremy Lavoie from the Limited Late Model division, and Nicole Chambrello in the Street Stock division. The Most Popular Driver Awards are voted on by the fans who attend Stafford Motor Speedway race events and fill out the ballots found in the track’s weekly Pit Stopper Magazine combined with an online vote.

The UNOH Youth Achievement award was won by SK Light Modified driver Bryan Narducci. The UNOH Youth Achievement Award is a program that is open to all drivers at Stafford between the ages of 14-17. The eligible driver who scored the most track points from their best 14 finishes this season won a $500 cash award from UNOH as well as a $500 scholarship award from UNOH. Marcello Rufrano was the national UNOH Youth Achievement Award winner and he will be honored at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series banquet in Charlotte next month.

There was racing for the Modifieds last week. The Modifieds were added as a second division to the Late Models that race at the Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina. There were 13 tour type Modifieds on hand including Tommy Catalano, Matt Hirschman, the Myers brothers and Woody Pitkat. Catalano led pole to pole to score the win. Hirschman finished second with Burt Myers, third. Bobby Measmer and Jason Myers rounded out the top five.

The northeast outdoor racing comes to an end this weekend with the running of the Annual Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium in New Jersey. The list of Tour Type and Wall/SK Modified stock car teams planning to compete in the Thanksgiving weekend Turkey Derby continues to grow! The current list is compiled of teams that have filed entries, secured tires for the weekend and participated in two Saturday practice sessions on November 10 and 17.

If well over 80 race teams from all divisions that were in the Wall Stadium Speedway pit area for the November 17 final practice session are any indication, the 45th running of the Turkey Derby stock car classic could feature a record setting field in both quality and quantity. Nearly 70 cars from all divisions tested on November 10.

The Turkey Derby is presented on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend during the daylight hours.

It looks like the Bowman Gray Stadium will get an extended lease on life thanks to the city of Winston-Salem, NC. The City of Winston-Salem has announced that it plans to invest $9 million to improve Bowman Gray Stadium.

The City Council would have to approve the improvement project. City leaders say they expect the council to vote on these plans in the next few months. The project would “address the stadium’s aging infrastructure and make improvements to the field and the race track.”

City leaders say that they want to improve the “fan experience” at the stadium by making site improvements to the stadium’s facilities. The city would use limited obligation bonds to replace the restrooms, concession stands and ticket facilities. In addition, city staff would replace the water services (they say there have been issues with water pressure during heavily attended events in the past) and the electrical services. The football field and the track would also be upgraded as part of the plans, with the field being irrigated and getting new sod and the track being repaired. The east and west press boxes ad well as the field house would also be renovated.

The parking lots would also be expanded as part of the project, additional landscaping would occur and seats and concrete would be repaired in the stadium. In addition, Wi-Fi would be added to the stadium.

“This is a historic facility here in our community and it hadn’t been upgraded in a long time as you can see by the cost of the renovations that are going to be needed. We feel like this investment in this facility will benefit our citizens by having a wonderful jewel that is available for racing, for football and other events here in our community,” said Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines.

The city agreed to sell Bowman Gray Stadium to Winston-Salem State University in 2013, but that sale has been subject to a lengthy process of approval by the UNC System, the General Assembly and several other state agencies and was still pending. In recent discussions, university and city officials agreed to pursue a new approach whereby the university would remain a tenant and the city would upgrade the stadium.

Bowman Gray Racing officials also say they’re excited about these proposed plans. “It’s an 80 year old facility and it needs a facelift and the city is recognizing that and we’re thankful that they’re going to ask our opinions on what we think as well as Winston-Salem State University’s so we do have a little different needs as far as the activities we do but our common thread is the fan. We all want the fan here to have a great experience and with the restrooms and the concession stands, that’s going to benefit everybody,” said Gray Garrison, a Promoter with the Winston-Salem Speedway at Bowman Gray Stadium.

Garrison says the old racing surface was beginning to crack and has degraded over time due to weather conditions. He says the resurfacing of the track will benefit the racing experience for everyone involved.

On the speedway stock market scene two of the three speedway stocks ended the week on the positive side. Driven by the announcement that they may go private if bought out by NASCAR the International Speedway Corporation jumped up 4.47 to 43.53. Speedway Motorsports went up 0.80 to 17.14 while Dover Entertainment dropped 0.13 to 1.98. NASCAR cup sponsor Monster Beverage dropped 1.07 to 55.77 and NASCAR fuel supplier Sunoco (Energy Transfer) dropped 0.86 to 14.80 while NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear went up 0.36 to 22.35. The auto manufacturers were all negative. Ford dropped 0.33 to 9.05, General Motors went up 0.05 to 35.75 and Toyota dropped 0.28 to 116.96. In the home improvement sector, Home Depot dropped 8.97 to 177.02 and Lowes dropped 3.61 to 93.25. The big team sponsors stocks were all positive except for Target which dropped 7.28 to 79.68. McDonalds went up 1.65 to 187.59, Coca-Cola went up 1.59 to 193.97, Dow-Dupont went up 0.51 to 59.19, Fedex went up 2.23 to 226.69 and Porter Cable Stanley works went up 4.45 to 130.29.

On the tube this week:

Wednesday, November 21
6:00 PM, NASCAR Race Hub, FS1

Thursday, November 22
6:00 PM, NASCAR Race Hub, FS1