Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – This Friday night, May 7, will see Stafford Speedway host the first of 21 weeks of Friday night weekly racing. Here we take a look at several storylines from each of Stafford’s five weekly divisions that have developed over the first 2 events of the 2021 season.
SK Modified® Division
Over the winter, Tyler Hines moved from his family owned #25 car to the #85 car owned by Petty Cash Motorsports. Hines and the #85 TickMike.com crew have enjoyed a seamless transition as they won the first SK Modified® feature on April 24 and followed that up with a third place podium finish on April 30 to lead the points heading into this Friday night, May 7.
Defending SK Modified® champion Keith Rocco has had a tough start to his 2021 season in the #88 Wheelers Auto Service Chevrolet. Rocco has been involved in accidents in both SK Modified® feature events run thus far and while he was able to recover and finish second in the April 24 feature event, his luck was not so fortunate in the April 30 race where he was towed off the track and finished in 18th place. Rocco enters this Friday night in 8th place in the SK Modified® standings, 32 points behind Tyler Hines.
Stephen Kopcik continues a hot streak dating back to the end of the 2020 season. Kopcik missed the last 2 races of the 2020 season but he finished 1st and 2nd in the last 2 races that he ran in 2020 and has followed that up with a victory in the April 30 feature after finishing a disappointing 15th in the April 24 feature. Kopcik enters this Friday night 5th in the SK Mod standings, 24 points behind Tyler Hines.
Late Model Division
Michael Bennett moved from Rob Russell’s #31 car back to his family owned #19 Aubuchon Hardware sponsored car for the 2021 season and much like Tyler Hines in the SK Modified® division, he hasn’t been hampered at all by changing teams. Bennett won the season opener for the Late Model division, ending a winless streak at Stafford that dated back to September 22, 2017.
Defending Late Model champion Adam Gray and the #97 Meadows Motor Cars team showed that they are already in mid-season form, chasing Bennett to the checkered flag in the season opener finishing second after starting 21st. Including the 2020 season, Gray has now scored 10 podium finishes in his last 15 starts at Stafford.
Although there has only been one race run so far in 2021, a 5th place finish in the season opener means perennial Late Model winner Tom Fearn and the #92 King Gray Coach Lines team now remain winless in their last 18 Late Model races, dating back to September 7, 2018.
26 drivers took the green flag in the Opening Day 30-lap feature. Big fields means qualifying is more important than ever in the Late Model division, finishing outside the handicap positions means you’re starting deep.
SK Light Division
After a stellar rookie season in 2020 that saw him win 5 races, win Rookie of the Year honors, and finish second in the points standings, Derek Debbis and the #56 Donna May Fisheries team continued their dominance with a victory in the season opening SK Light feature. Debbis proved he’ll be one of the drivers to beat in 2021.
Last year’s SK Light Rookie of the year runner-up George Bessette, Jr. in the #39 Lasco Roofing & Sheetmetal Chevrolet and Brian Sullivan in the #11 Monaco Ford Ford rounded out the podium in the SK Light season opener with Derek Debbis, meaning that the top-3 finishers from the 2020 SK Light standings were all on the podium to start the 2021 season. Bessette is still looking for his first SK Light win while Sullivan looks to add to his only career victory which came in 2020.
Tyler Barry, the 15-year old son of former Stafford SK Modified® driver and chassis builder Ken Barry, made his Stafford Speedway debut on April 24 and brought his #18 Clearcom I.T. Solutions Chevrolet home with an 18th place finish, making him the top finishing rookie driver.
34 SK Light Modifieds attempted to qualify for 27 spots at last Friday’s event. Rookies Meghan Fuller & Jake Hines both failed to make the field after hard qualifying accidents. Both will be back Friday to attempt their first SK Light Modified feature.
Limited Late Model Division
Alexandra Fearn in the #12 SAFCO Foam Chevrolet outdueled former 2-time Limited Late Model champion Jeremy Lavoie in the #6 L + S Equipment Ford to win the season opener. The two Limited Late Model heavyweights could be in for a season-long battle in the race for the 2021 championship.
Rich Hammann built a brand new car over the winter with some help from Rob Russell Chassis and he piloted his new #28 NAPA of Tolland Chevrolet to a career best Limited Late Model finish of third in the season opener.
After posting a best finish of 6th during his rookie season in 2020, Jay Clement showed that he isn’t falling victim to a sophomore slump as he recorded a career best finish of fourth with his #95 Elmo’s Dockside Chevrolet in the season opener.
Street Stock Division
In his first season of racing at Stafford in 2020, Chris Meyer scored 2 wins and nearly won the championship. Meyer and the #87 D and L Services team showed they will once again be championship contenders as Meyer made a slick 3-wide move on the final lap of the Street Stock season opener to take the lead and the win.
In his second season of Street Stock competition at Stafford, 15 year old Nickolas Hovey scored his best finish with a second place finish in the season opener. Hovey nearly got by Chris Meyer for the win on the final lap of the race but he had to settle for second place with his #16 Busy Bees Learning Center Chevrolet.
Former 2-time Street Stock champion Frank L’Etoile, Jr. took the lead at the green flag and looked like he was going to cruise to victory in the season opener. L’Etoile led the first 19 laps of the race before getting shuffled back to fifth place on the final lap. L’Etoile and the #8 O’Reilly Auto Parts team will be looking to rebound from missing out on what would have been a dominating win to kick off the 2021 season.
Stafford’s SK Modifieds®, Late Models, SK Lights, Limited Late Models, and Street Stocks will all be in feature action this Friday night, May 7. General admission and paddock tickets can be purchased online at https://staffordmotorspeedway.com/tickets.