RPW Column: The Champ Trail: After 60-Year Partnership, Stafford & NASCAR Are No More…

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The Stafford Motor Speedway has been a NASCAR cornerstone in New England since 1959.

That all came to an end last Monday, Dec 21.

After a 60-year partnership working with NASCAR as a sanctioned short track, Stafford Speedway announced that the track will not operate under the NASCAR Weekly Series banner for the 2021 season due to a conflict regarding ownership of streaming and broadcast rights of weekly racing events.

It all stems from the Arute family were unable to come to an agreement with NASCAR regarding media rights of their weekly racing program.

Explained Stafford Speedway CEO Mark Arute, “In the existing format, NASCAR owns the rights to any NASCAR sanctioned race produced by Stafford Speedway Productions. With the success of Stafford Speedway TV we no longer see this as a partnership we want to continue.”

Launched for the 2020 season, Stafford Speedway TV is the live broadcast home for weekly racing at Stafford Speedway. Teams competing at Stafford Speedway shared in the success of Stafford Speedway TV in the 2020 season with 25% of each pay-per-view sale going back to the race teams. As an example SK Modified competitor Todd Owen just received a check for $600 as his share of the TV money.

“StaffordSpeedway.tv has become a great asset to Stafford Speedway and all the race teams that compete at Stafford weekly,” continued Arute. “We see opportunities to grow this platform and currently are handcuffed on what we are able to accomplish for our race teams. Through the weekly racing sanction, NASCAR continues to own all rights to our weekly production, which is something we are no longer comfortable with.”

The race fan has also benefitted from Stafford Speedway TV. Because of the current Covid crisis attendance was limited at events which would have resulted in many being shut out. The Stafford Speedway TV package has become the best deal in auto racing especially for the guy who formerly had to travel over 50 miles plus buying tickets for four.

Stafford Speedway officials have also announced that they will, at a minimum, match the NASCAR Track and State point fund that was paid to 4 of Stafford’s 5 weekly divisions. Additionally, this does not affect NASCAR Modified Tour events for the 2021 season with 3 currently on the Stafford Speedway schedule.

The point fund payout will be expanded to the Street Stock division, which currently does not receive a point fund under the NASCAR banner.

“The weekly racing at Stafford Speedway is some of the best racing we’ve ever seen,” continued Stafford Speedway CEO Mark Arute. “We are doing a disservice to the race teams by giving away ownership of the weekly program media rights. Our goal is always to grow short track racing and put our competitors in front of more eyes. In the current structure, operating as a NASCAR sanctioned weekly track limits the opportunities that we can go after.”

NASCAR will lose thousands in license fees that will no longer be required from competitors. In the end, NASCAR needs Stafford a lot more than Stafford needs NASCAR!

It would have been interesting to see how Jack Arute Sr. would have handled this situation. Arute was a strong-willed individual and would have never allowed anyone to tell him how to run his business. During the early eighties the Connecticut State Police over-saw the races at Stafford. Connecticut state officials threatened to arrest Arute and put him in jail if he didn’t obey their wishes. Needless to say the races went on as planned and Arute was never arrested. In another incident, one of the NASCAR officials that worked at the track had his NASCAR license suspended and was in the process of being escorted off the property. Arute stepped in and told the NASCAR Steward that the individual in question worked for him, not NASCAR. Needless to say the individual went back to his post.

The countdown to speedweeks in Florida begins this weekend as only five weeks remain before action begins at the Daytona International Speedway and at the New Smyrna Speedway.

Early Tour type Modified entries for the New Smyrna World Series include: 2 Chuck Hossfeld. Ransomville, NY, 6 Ryan Preece. Berlin, CT, 8 Chris Finocchario. Macedon, NY, 16 Ron Silk. Norwalk, CT, 17 Tommy Catalano. Ontario, NY, 20 Eddie McCarthy. Brick, NJ, 21 J.R Bertuccio. Statesville, NC, 25 Brian Robie. Sunapee, NH, 36 David Sapienza. Riverhead, NY, 45 Timmy Catalano. Ontario, NY, 48 Marcello Rufrano. North Haven CT, 50 Ronnie Williams. Tolland, CT, 55 Jeremy Gerstner. Wesley Chapel, FL, 56 Amy Catalano. Ontario, NY, 58 Eric Goodale. Riverhead, NY, 60 Matt Hirschman. Northhampton, PA, 64 Tyler Catalano. Ontario, NY, 02 Joe Bertuccio. Centereach, NY and 179 Stephen Kopcik. Newtown, CT.

On a sad note Waterford Speedbowl official and former car owner Don Caddick lost his long battle with cancer last week on Dec 23. It was also the first anniversary of Speedway Scene family patriarch, Val LeSieur.

April 21, 1968 Stafford began their second season on asphalt the way they began their first as Eddie Flemke took the opening day win over Bugsy Stevens, Jerry Dostie, Don MacTavish and Jerry Cook.

The all new book, The Modified Years At Stafford, is gaining interest and has become a must have in race fans and competitors library. Race by Race, Year by Year, it’s all there. Read all about! Books are now available on Amazon.com and Coastal 181 (877-907-8181 toll free) and are available thru Stafford’s web site in their store. Order yours now. Makes a great gift!

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