Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – Prior to the start of the 2018 SK Modified® season at Stafford Speedway, Ellington native Ronnie Williams made the switch from his family owned team to the driver’s seat of the #50 Les’s Auto Center/Empower Financial car owned by Les and Tina Skowyra. The move has paid immediate dividends as the Williams/Skowyra combination has been one of the most consistent cars through the first 8 races of the 2018 season, scoring a win, three second place finishes, and a fourth place finish to go along with an 8th and 18th place finish.
The #50 team won the NAPA SK 5K last season with Chase Dowling as the driver and Williams will be looking to continue his good fortune and take home the lion’s share of the over $30,000 in total posted awards in the June 29th NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K.
“I definitely think that the NAPA SK 5k is always a race that you circle on the calendar because it’s an important race. These guys won the race last year with Chase driving, this is the one that we all want to win” explained Williams. “We’ve had a strong car this year so I’m definitely looking forward to the 5k. I look forward to every Friday but especially the 5k, it would be a good race to check off the list, especially after almost winning the race in 2015.”
The NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K boasts a base purse of over $27,000 with the winner guaranteed to take home $5,000. First place contingency bonuses from Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Repair, Maybury Material Handling, Starrett Tools, and New England Racing Fuel will push the winner’s total to $5,475 with even more money possible with the Kevin Harvick bonus and the Dunleavy’s Gambler’s Challenge. An annual hit at the NAPA SK 5K, the Gambler’s challenge has each SK Modified® driver post $100 with Doug Dunleavy matching up to $2500. With 16 drivers currently entered in the Dunleavy’s Gambler’s Challenge, the bonus is up to $3,200. The Gambler’s Bonus is distributed to either the winner, evenly across the top 5, top 10, or 10th through 20th. The winner will draw from a hat in victory lane to see how the bonus will be distributed.
“It’s great that Stafford and NAPA have been able to put up a bunch of money for that race along with Doug Dunleavy’s help,” said Williams. “It’s always great when you race extra laps and have a nice payday at the end of the race. I know the guys were a little disappointed last year when they were the first team to not have the winner take all option so hopefully we can change that around this year.”
Williams is one of 12 drivers who have participated in all four previous runnings of the NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K at Stafford. Williams has an average finish of 9.0 in those four NAPA SK 5K starts with two top-5 and three top-10 efforts. With the combination of Williams’ experience and how well the #50 team has performed this season, Williams feels confident that he can put the #50 car back in NAPA Victory Lane for the second year in a row in the NAPA SK 5K.
“With this team, I think we have a pretty good chance of winning the race,” said Williams. “Adam [Skowyra, crew chief] and these guys really know what they’re doing. It showed last year and it’s really showing this year. I know every Friday we have a good chance at winning so it’s always good to have that feeling. Going to the shop during the week, I feel like we have a great chemistry with the whole team. I think that’s a big reason for our good finishes along the way this year. The 5k is a whole new ballgame because there’s a lot of guys who haven’t raced longer races. You have a lot more time to pick and chose what kind of moves you want to make. In a 40-lap race, you have to take what you can get. Experience is huge, I remember the first time I ran an SK race going from 20 laps to 40 laps and thinking was the race ever going to end? A lot of people don’t think race car drivers are athletes but it takes a lot to drive a lot of laps especially at Stafford, so I think stamina will come into play as well as how well your car is handling.”
With Williams and the #50 team having already built up a wave of positive momentum with their race results, a good finish in the NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K could help boost their momentum to an even higher level as they prepare for the second half of the 2018 season looking to make a run for the SK Modified® track championship.
“We’re almost at the halfway point of the season and one race is all it takes to turn your season upside down,” said Williams. “Every race is a big race so I’m approaching the NAPA SK 5k like it’s just a regular race and we’re going to do all we can to win it. I would say we’re right there. I would prefer to not have that 18th place finish on our record, but it was great to get our first win together a couple weeks ago and now we can look forward to the rest of the season. There’s a lot more racing to go this season and hopefully we can get some more wins and the championship at the end of the year. I have a lot of great support behind me and thanks to Empower Financial, Les’s Auto Center, All Town Recycling and Hauling, Flamingo Motorsports, Centurn Machine, NAPA of Tolland, Pettit Race Engines, and all the Stafford contingency sponsors Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Repair, Maybury Handling, Starrett Tools, Casagrande Builders, New England Race Fuel, Sunoco, and Kevin Harvick Management, Inc. for their support.”
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.
SK Modified® Rookie Race Locked in 3-Way Tie
As the premier division at Stafford Speedway, the race for the SK Modified® championship is usually what grabs headlines. But the race for the NAPA Auto Parts Rookie of the Year in the SK Modified® division has quietly produced the tightest battle of the 2018 season to date in any of Stafford’s five Whelen All-American Series divisions. Through the first 8 races of the season, there is a three-way tie between Matt Vassar, Dan Wesson, and David Arute.
While Arute and Wesson come to the SK Modified® ranks with experience in the SK Light division, Vassar comes from a background in Late Model cars. The season started out promising for Vassar with a 7th place finish in the season opening NAPA Spring Sizzler feature but his best finish since then has been a 12th place run on May 11th. Vassar says that the #11 Hummel Brothers Hot Dogs team has been improving every week and they have their sights set squarely on winning the NAPA R.O.Y. award and the $1,000 bonus that goes along with it.
“I would say the season has been good and bad,” said Vassar. “We’ve had some promising runs and some runs that should have been better. I think the biggest thing for me is getting used to how much side bite these cars have and finding a balance that I’m looking for. I think we’re night and day better than we were at the Sizzler but we’re not where we want to be with the car yet. We’re improving the car every time we go out on the track and I don’t see any reason why by the end of the year if we’re not at least a contender for wins, we can be a top-5 car. We’d like to get into the top-10 in the points at the end of the season and win that Rookie of the Year award. Rookie of the Year was one of our main goals at the beginning of the season and we check the rookie standings every week. It’s going to be a tough battle right down to the end of the season. We’re all battling hard and it’s going to be fun to see who comes out on top at the end of the year.”
Arute made the move to the SK Modified® division after scoring 2 wins and 2 top-5 finishes in the points standings in his 2 full seasons of SK Light racing. Despite his success in the SK Light ranks, he has found the world of SK Modified® racing to be a tougher battle with his #75 Big Haus USA Racing Products Chevrolet. Arute’s season started off with just about the worst possible circumstances as his motor blew during the NAPA Spring Sizzler feature event. Arute has been trying to dig himself out of the hole that the blown engine created and he is still looking for the first top-10 finish of his rookie campaign.
“It’s definitely a big difference between SK Lights and SK Modifieds®,” said Arute. “The competition in the SK Modifieds® is second to none. Every race is all out, up on the wheel for every lap. We have had a tough start, with a blown motor at the Sizzler, which hasn’t helped with handicapping. Even with a good qualifying run I’m still starting just outside the top 15. In order to win Rookie honors it’s important to be on your game every week. Seeing that 3 of the rookies are tied in points, the NAPA Rookie of the Year chase looks like it’s going to be a heated battle right down to the final race.”
Wesson also moved to the SK Modified® ranks this season having enjoyed a large amount of success in the SK Light division. In 3 seasons, Wesson racked up 10 wins and he was the runner up in the championship standings in 2017. Just like Arute, despite his SK Light success, he has yet to enjoy the same kind of success during his rookie season. Wesson has 1 top-10 finish this season with his #92 Competitive Edge Coatings machine, an 8th place run on May 25th in the first 8 races of the season.
“The transition has been hard,” said Wesson. “I think I’m learning pretty quickly how the car feels and we’re making a lot of adjustments week to week to make the car faster because the competition is a lot harder. Probably everyone in the field could win a race on any given night. Our goal has been to finish races, we haven’t focused yet on getting a top-10 or top-5 finish. We’ve tried a lot of different things and gone way out of our comfort box and some things have worked and some have not worked. Sometimes the car is really loose and other times it’s wicked tight pushing up into the wall so we have to find a happy medium and I think it’s just a matter of time before we finally get to that spot. I’d like to get a top-5 or a good, solid top-10 finish under our belts before the season ends.”
With all three drivers having won races at Stafford prior to moving into the SK Modified® division this season, the race for the NAPA Auto Parts Rookie of the Year title is sure to be an exciting and thrilling duel right down to the last race of the season, the NAPA Fall Final on Sept. 29-30.