Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – Through the first 11 races of the 2019 season, Stafford Speedway’s premier SK Modified® division has provided race fans with plenty of thrilling action every time they take to the track. The year has already been filled with last lap passes and photo finishes and the first race of the season set the tone for what has become the norm.
Keith Rocco won the season opening race on May 4 but he had to hold off his teammate Michael Gervais, Jr. and Michael Christopher, Jr. in a tight photo finish as his #88 Wheelers Auto car ran out of gas and sputtered coming to the checkered flag. Gervais took over the points lead in the second race of the season and he had his #33 Gervais Bros. Roofing car at the top of the SK Modified® standings for the first month of the season before Todd Owen took over the point lead on June 14 following his first SK Modified® victory in over two years.
Owen followed up his June 14 win with a second consecutive win on June 21 and he has occupied the top spot in the SK Modified® standings each week since. The driver of the #81 Cooker Construction Chevrolet has been the most consistent SK Modified® driver this season with a top-10 finish in each of the first 11 races. Owen heads into the July 19 Girls Night Out & Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund Track Walk event with a 28 point lead over Rocco. Gervais sits third in the standings 50 points behind with last year’s SK Modified® champion Ronnie Williams fourth, 54 points behind. Glen Reen and the #17 Avery Construction team rounds out the top-5 drivers in the standings, 102 points behind Owen.
After a slow start to the 2019 season, Williams and the #50 Les’s Auto Center team have been on a tear of late. Williams and the #50 team enter the July 19 SK Modified® feature event with 4 consecutive podium finishes, including a win in the prestigious NAPA SK 5k on June 28 where he held off Rocco for the win in a thrilling duel that lasted the final 13 laps of the 100-lap extra distance race. Williams himself is also on a hot streak over the last 3 weeks with a VMRS win at Loudon, a Tri-Track win at Seekonk, and a win in last Friday night’s Bud Light Open 80 after finishing third in the SK Modified® feature that night.
The SK Modified® division kicked off the year with 5 different winners in the first 5 races with Rocco, Eric Berndt, Reen, Williams, and Andrew Molleur each winning before Berndt became the first repeat winner of the season on June 7. Berndt and the #54 Cos’ Central Auto team are tied for the division lead with Owen, Rocco, and Williams at 2 wins apiece with Stephen Kopcik, Molleur, and Reen each reaching NAPA Victory Lane once.
The race for the NAPA Auto Parts SK Modified® Rookie of the Year title sees two SK Light graduates in Molleur and Marcello Rufrano leading the way with Tyler Leary sitting third in the rookie standings. Molleur and Rufrano won 10 SK Light races between them last season with Rufrano winning the SK Light title. Molleur scored his first SK Modified® win on May 31 and the driver of the #35 Tick Mike Chevrolet is 8th in the points standings. Rufrano currently sits 14th in the standings and although his best finish has been a 6th place finish in the NAPA SK 5K, the #48 & #68 Wheelers Auto cars have showed the speed necessary to run in the top-5 this season.
With the second half of the 2019 season kicking off this Friday night, there are still several drivers who have won SK Modified® feature events in the past who have yet to win in 2019. Gervais, Joey Cipriano, Christopher, Jr., and Matt Galko are all still in search of their first win this season. With all 4 of those drivers in the top-10 of the SK Modified® standings, the second half of the 2019 season should be more of the same of what transpired in the first half with the competitors thrilling race fans each and every Friday night.
Youth Movement Prevails For SK Light Division
If there was a theme for the 2019 SK Light season at Stafford Speedway, it would be a youth movement. Of the top-5 drivers in the current SK Light standings, the oldest driver is Noah Korner at 21 years old and the average age of the top-5 drivers consisting of Teddy Hodgdon, Steven Chapman, Alexander Pearl, Korner, and Mikey Flynn is 18 years old. Of those top-5 drivers, only Korner is not a graduate of the Wild Thing Karts program that races at Stafford on Monday nights.
In addition to the youth movement taking over the SK Light ranks this season, there has been a wide variety of drivers to lead the SK Light points standings this season. The season kicked off with Bryan Narducci and the #01 The Florida Connection team winning before his cousin Alexander Pearl steered his #7 Darling Auto Parts car to NAPA Victory Lane to lead the standings in week 2. Pearl would give way the following week to Mark Bakaj and the #76 RH2Way Radio Communications team with Noah Korner and the #31 Midstate Site Development team taking the point lead following their win in the May 24 Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair Modifiedz Night 40-lap extra distance feature event. SK Light rookie Steven Chapman took over the point lead following the May 31 feature with his #14 Chapman Apartment Homes car before Hodgdon moved his #55 Montanari Fuel machine to the top of the standings after the June 7 feature event. With the SK Light points lead changing hands after each of the first 6 races, Hodgdon has maintained the point lead since he first took it over and he heads into the July 19 feature with a 36 point lead over Chapman.
One driver to keep an eye on during the second half of the 2019 season will be Narducci and the #01 team. They lead all drivers with 4 wins this season, including the last 2 in a row heading into this Friday night’s July 19 Girls Night Out & Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund Track Walk feature event. Narducci has four finishes outside the top-20 this season, which has him 10th in the standings, 114 points behind Hodgdon.
There have been 5 different feature winners this season in the SK Lights. Narducci leads all drivers with 4 wins, while Hodgdon, Korner, and Pearl have each won twice and Bakaj has one win thus far in 2019. Past SK Light feature winners who have yet to win in 2019 include Bob Charland in the #1 Charland Motorsports car, Joey Ferrigno in the #87 RH2Way Radio Communications car, Chris Matthews in the #29 Carter Chevrolet car, and Wesley Prucker in the #22 Accu-Rite Tool & Mfg. car.
The race for the R.A.D. Auto Machine SK Light Rookie of the Year award sees Wild Thing Karts graduate Steven Chapman leading the way by 16 points over Korner with Nick Anglace and the #10 Fox Pest Control team third in the rookie standings, 72 points behind. Korner has 2 wins thus far during his rookie season while Chapman has been close to reaching NAPA Victory Lane with a pair of podium finishes and Anglace also has a second place finish on his record.
With such parity at the top of the SK Light standings throughout the first 11 races of the 2019 season the question will be can Hodgdon continue to maintain his points lead or will other drivers once again take turns swapping the point lead amongst themselves.
Late Model Competition Heating Up
After dominating the Late Model division at Stafford Speedway with 12 wins and 19 podium finishes in 21 races last season, Tom Fearn and the #92 King Ward Coach Lines team have picked up in 2019 right where they left off last year. Through the first 11 races this season, Fearn and company have finished all 11 races in the top-5 with 5 wins and 10 podium finishes. Fearn enters this Friday night, July 19 with a commanding 86 point lead over Michael Wray. Kevin Gambacorta is third in the standings, 98 points behind Fearn.
Fearn and the #92 team are in currently in the midst of an unprecedented level of success over the last season and a half. Since the start of the 2018 season, Fearn has recorded 17 wins, 8 second place finishes, and 4 third place finishes for a total of 29 podium finishes in 32 races.
The 2019 season got started with 5 different winners in the first five events with Wray and the #42 DMW Graphics team winning the first race. That was followed by Cliff Saunders and the #14 American Sleeve Bearing team, Al Saunders and the #40 American Sleeve Bearing team, Gambacorta and the #23 Lavigne Law team, and Fearn each taking a turn in NAPA Victory Lane. Dating back to Fearn’s first win on May 31, he and the #92 team have turned on the afterburners by scoring 5 wins and 2 second place finishes in the last 7 races.
Fearn’s 5 wins lead the division with Gambacorta and Al Saunders joining Fearn as multiple feature winners with 2 wins each. Cliff Saunders and Wray have each won once thus far this season. Late Model drivers who have won in the past but have yet to win this season include Paul Arute in the #82 Supreme Industries Chevrolet, Michael Bennett in the #31 Aubuchon Hardware Chevrolet, Scott Cook in the #27 Erasable Images Powerwashing Chevrolet, Adam Gray in the #97 Meadows Motor Car Chevrolet, Darrell Keane in the #79 Botticello, Inc. Chevrolet, Tyler Leary in het #11 Amherst Trucking Chevrolet, and Ed Ricard in the #77 AA Budget Repair Chevrolet.
In the race for the NAPA Auto Parts Late Model Rookie of the Year award, Ryan Fearn has made a successful transition from the Limited Late Model ranks up to the Late Model division. Fearn has recorded three podium finishes this season, finishing second on May 24 and third on June 14 and July 5. Fearn’s closest competition for the R.O.Y. award has been Greg DeMone and the #68 DemGen Electrical Contractors team. DeMone heads into this Friday night’s feature event 128 points behind Fearn in the rookie standings.
With the second half of the 2019 season set to get underway, the question will be can Fearn and the #92 team continue their dominance or will there be a new dominant driver in the final 10 races?
Battle Brewing In Limited Late Model Division
Stafford’s Limited Late Model division has seen a see-saw battle between defending track champion Jeremy Lavoie and the #6 L & S Equipment team and Matt Clement and the #59 Aquatic Wildlife team in the race for the 2019 track title.
Lavoie began his title defense in the best possible fashion by winning the season opening race on May 4th. Clement, who entered the 2019 season with 0 wins to his name in 4 seasons of Limited Late Model competition scored his first career win on May 11 and he has followed that up with 4 more wins this season to lead all Limited Late Model drivers with 5 wins. Clement and Lavoie are the only drivers with multiple feature wins this season with Lavoie having notched 3 wins. Drivers with one win each this season include Alexandra Fearn and the #12 SAFCO Foam team, Gary Patnode and the #22 GP Fence team, and Duane Provost and the #88 Facchini Law Firm team.
After Lavoie won the first race of the season, Provost scored podium finishes in 4 of the first 5 races to take the points lead. A family vacation forced Provost to miss several races and Lavoie took over the points lead following the June 7 feature event. Patnode took over the point lead from Lavoie following the June 14 feature with Clement then taking the lead following the June 21 feature. Clement has been in control of the points standings since the June 21 feature but his point lead has not been more than 6 points during that 4-race stretch.
Patnode currently sits third in the standings, 26 points behind Clement while Fearn’s first feature win of the season last Friday night sees her sitting fourth in the standings, 34 points behind. The race for the Limited Late Model crown is a race that will be sure to go down to the final race of the season as part of the NAPA Fall Final Weekend on Sept. 28-29.
Leading the way in the race for the R.A.D. Auto Machine Limited Late Model Rookie of the Year award is Kevin Crosby and the #33 Crosby Motorsports team. Crosby holds a comfortable lead over Devon Jencik and the #23 Jencik Motorsports team although Jencik only began racing on June 28 and he has 3 starts thus far in 2019.
Competitive Racing Makes For Tight Points Battle In Street Stock Division
The Street Stock division at Stafford has produced the tightest championship race of the 2019 season. Entering this Friday night’s July 19 Girls Night Out & Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund Track Walk program, Zack Robinson and Meghan Fuller are tied for the championship lead with defending Street Stock champion George Bessette, Jr. only 2 points behind.
After a year away from full-time Street Stock competition, Zack Robinson returned to the division behind the wheel of the Bill Anderson owned #89 First Class Auto, LLC car. Robinson and the #89 team have been the dominant combination thus far in 2019, leading all Street Stock drivers with 4 wins.
Fuller was the R.A.D. Auto Machine Rookie of the Year last season and she had finished every Street Stock race in the top-8 until a wreck last Friday night relegated her to a 14th place finish. Fuller and the #2 Propane Plus team have posted 2 wins and 3 second place finishes through the first 11 races in their sophomore season but are currently ranked second in the points due to Robinson holding the tiebreaker with 4 wins to Fuller’s 2 wins.
Last year’s Street Stock champion George Bessette, Jr. finished 16th in the season opening race but since then, he has not finished lower than 7th and he has posted 9 top-5 finishes in the last 10 races, including 2 wins to put his #39 Lasco Roofing & Sheet Metal car firmly into championship contention.
Sitting fourth in the Street Stock standings is Travis Hydar and the #11 Hydar Construction team. Hydar is still in search of his first win of the 2019 season but he has been a model of consistency on the track, finishing 9 of his 10 starts this season in the top-5. Hydar is currently 44 points behind Robinson and Fuller in the championship chase, but that margin could be even lower had Hydar not encountered a mechanical issue that prevented him from starting the July 5 feature event.
New for the 2019 season in the Street Stock ranks is the RSMPCO.com Triple Crown. Drivers earn points from 10 points for a win down to 1 point for 10th place in three selected races which include the May 4 season opening race that was won by Mike Hopkins and the #78 Leading to Unlock team, the June 21 race that was won by Jason Lafayette in the #21 Tommy’s Tattoo Supplies car and the season ending NAPA Fall Final feature event on Saturday September 28. Teams also earn one point for every start they make this season in a non-triple crown event. Fuller is not only tied with Robinson for the overall point lead but she is also the leader by 4 points over Hopkins and Robinson in the chase for the RSMPCO.com Triple Crown. The overall winner will take home a $1,000 bonus from a prize pool of $4,500 that is furnished by Jason Derwin and Royal Screw Machine Products Company of Bristol, CT.
There has been 6 different feature winners this season in the Street Stock division with Robinson’s 4 wins leading all drivers. Scoring 2 wins each this season are Bessette and Fuller while Hopkins, Lafayette, and the #01 Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Repair car of Johnny Walker each have 1 win.
Leading the race for the R.A.D. Auto Machine Rookie of the Year award is Adrien Paradis, III, who made the move to the Street Stock division after racing the last 3 seasons in the Sportsman division at Waterford. The driver of the #19 CSB Communications car has a comfortable 180 point lead over Steve Kenneway in the #55 Greener Blast Technologies car.
The second half of the Street Stock season is sure to continue to provide thrilling on track action as drivers attempt to win the track championship as well as the RSMPCO.com Triple Crown.
This Friday night, July 19, is Girls Night Out & the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund Track Walk with Ladies General Admission Tickets just $10. All other Adult General Admission Tickets are $20.00. As always kids ages 6-14 are just $5.00 and kids 5 & under are free. Reserved seating is available and is priced at $23.00 for all ages. All ticket prices include 10% CT Admission Tax. Stafford Motor Speedway offers plenty of free parking for auto racing events along with overnight parking available for self contained Recreational Vehicles.