Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – A popular addition to the 2018 NAPA Fall Final was the Inaugural Ladies Challenge, an 8-lap Street Stock shoot-out. Twelve Ladies associated with Stafford race teams were paired with Street Stock teams and raised an amazing $35,000, all in the interest of charitable giving.
Thirteen different charities reaped the benefits of this special event, thanks to the hard work of these amazing ladies and car owners in the Street Stock division.
The starting lineup for the Ladies Challenge was determined by the amount of money each raised for their selected foundation or charity. Maina Rufrano, car owner and proud mom of SK Light champion Marcello Rufrano, led the way with $5,350 and started the race on the pole. Racing for American Cancer Society in the #2 Meg Fuller Street Stock, Rufrano claimed a podium finish of 3rd.
Stafford Speedway Pit Reporter, Nicole LaRose was leading the fund raising challenge from the onset but was surpassed by Rufrano in the final appeal. LaRose raised a remarkable $5,220 for the Catherine V. Hubbard Animal Sanctuary located in Sandy Hook, CT, which earned her the outside pole starting position. Racing in the #11 Travis Hydar ride, LaRose posted a 2nd place podium finish.
Lianna Berndt, wife of SK Modified® driver Eric Berndt and mother of Wild Thing Kart drivers, Parker and Summer, must have received some great racing advice from the family as she raced like an experienced, no holds barred driver. Racing in the #89 Samantha Anderson ride, Berndt raised $4,255 for the Connecticut Humane Society and a 3rd place starting position while she finished in 7th place.
Debbie DeSanctis, drove Johnny Walker’s #01 and donated $4,169 to Honor and Remember. After starting in the 4th position, DeSanctis drove like a champion and held off the efforts of LaRose and Rufrano to take home the checkered flag.
Cassie Rocco, wife of SK Modified driver Keith Rocco, initiated the idea of the ladies race by challenging Maina Rufrano at the 2017 Fall Final. The pair accumulated nearly $6,000 from the racing community for the American Cancer Society last year. Fast forward one year and the event has grown to 12 drivers. Rocco, piloting the champion car of #39 George Bessette, Jr. raised $2,973 for the Mike Tidabeck Medical Expense Foundation and successfully completed all 8 laps bringing the car home in 5th place.
Racing for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Megan Surdell started in the 6th position raising $2,815 in the #16 Nichole Chambrello ride. Surdell is typically found in the pits as the crew chief for her husband, R.J. Surdell, in the Limited Late Model division. The ladies challenge race was her first career start and she adapted with enthusiasm to the change from crew chief to driver. Surdell started the Ladies Challenge in 6th and finished 9th.
Mary Ann Gambacorta, owner of the #23 Street Stock, raced for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance. Her husband, Vince Gambacorta, typically drives #23 Street Stock and her son Kevin races the #23 Late Model on Friday’s at Stafford. Racing is definitely a family affair for the Gambacorta’s. Inspired by a close friend and her positive outlook through a life altering challenge, $2,705 was raised for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance. Gambacorta started 7th and finished in 6th place.
Gail McClain, owner of the #6 Limited Late Model driven by her nephew, 2018 Champion Jeremy Lavoie and crew chief on the #21 Street Stock driven by nephew, Jason Lafayette, started in the 8th position. Racing for both the Alzheimer’s Association and Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation in memory of family members, McClain proudly donated $2653 and finished in the 4th place.
Shannon DiCostanzo drove lifelong friend Mike Hopkins’ #78 Street Stock while raising money for the American Lung Association in memory of friends and loved ones she has lost due to lung disease. DiCostanzo raised $2,724.95 to start the race in the 9th position and finished the race one spot higher in 8th place.
Elizabeth Vassar, wife of SK Modified® driver Matt Vassar, was racing to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. Vassar raised $1,185 to claim the 10th starting position, but she was unable to drive in the race due to recent surgery. Vassar’s replacement behind the wheel of the #33 car supplied by Rent A Racecar was Courtney Bergeron-Spacht, niece of Ed Flemke, Jr., and she drove the car to a 10th place finish. Vassar was able to take a small part in the race by serving as the honorary starter, waving the green flag to send the field on their way.
Tiffany Spinnato, wife of Rent A Racecar co-owner Gary Spinnato, was racing to raise money for Disabled American Veterans in memory of her grandfather. Spinnato got behind the wheel of the Rent A Racecar supplied #22 car and she raised $690 for D.A.V. to start 11th but her race was cut short by a mechanical issue and she finished 12th.
Filling out the field was Amber Larsen, daughter of Valenti Modified Series driver Jim Boyle. Larsen was scheduled to drive Greg DeMone’s #68 car in the race but she ended up driving the #66 car supplied by Rent A Racecar. Larsen’s charity was the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, a cause which is near and dear to the heart of DeMone. Larsen started the race in 12th position and she improved one spot to 11th in the Ladies Challenge feature.
With the overwhelming success of the Ladies Challenge, the race will return to the 2019 schedule as part of the season ending NAPA Fall Final Weekend festivities. Stay tuned to www.staffordspeedway.com in the coming days for the highly anticipated release of the full 2019 Stafford Motor Speedway event schedule.