RPW Column: The Champ Trail; The New NASCAR World We’re In; Racing During A Pandemic

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – NASCAR announced that events at Chicagoland Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and the April Cup race at Richmond Raceway have been realigned because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicagoland Speedway Cup and Xfinity races have been moved to Darlington Raceway on May 17 and May 19. Richmond Raceway’s spring Cup race has been realigned to May 20 at Darlington Raceway.

Sonoma Raceway’s Cup event moves to May 27 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That race will be on Charlotte’s oval. NASCAR stated that further schedule adjustments will be released in the near future.

NASCAR stated: “Due to the current pandemic, NASCAR has faced several difficult decisions, including realigning race dates from several race tracks. These decisions were made following thorough collaboration with local and state government officials from across the country, including the areas of the affected race tracks. We thank all our fans for their support, and we look forward to our return to racing.”

On the local New England level Teddy Hodgdon is coming off a championship season in the SK Light Modifieds at Stafford Motor Speedway, and is set to make the move to the premier SK Modified division at the Connecticut oval in 2020. Hodgdon, who began his Stafford career racing at the infield mini-mile, has been successful for over a decade. He raced in the Wild Thing Karts division from 2008-2013, before jumping to the INEX Legends Cars through 2017, all on that mini-mile.

Last year was his most successful campaign, in his second year on the half-mile, with the SK Light Modified — winning a championship in their Division III class. He earned five checkered flags and was 18 points ahead in the final tally.

He will receive plenty of competition for Rookie honors from Bryan Narducci.

The actual start of the racing season at Stafford as well as the season at Thompson continue in a holding pattern. Both tracks are aware of Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont’s Executive Order 7X which extends all current prohibitions on business activities through May 20. They will continue to abide by the directives of our local government and health officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile down on the Connecticut shoreline the erection of the all new grandstands at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl are in the completion mode. Hopefully shortly after April 20 there will once again be Thunder on the shores of Long Island Sound along the Connecticut shoreline.

The balloting for the NASCAR Hall of Fame is in full swing. Mike Stefanik is in the running for induction and could use your help. Go to www.nascar.com/halloffame to cast your vote. Votes can be cast daily. Seven of his titles came in his primary racing series, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. In 2003, he was named one of the Tour’s 10 Greatest Drivers, an obvious choice if there ever was one, Stefanik holds the all-time series record in championships, wins, poles, top fives and top 10s.

Stefanik won two championships consecutively in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competition, in 1997-98. That, along with a win total that ties for ninth on the all-time series wins list, earned him a spot on the Top 10 Drivers of the First 25 Years of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East list in 2011. In addition, Stefanik spent one full-time season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and it was a successful one. He captured the Rookie of the Year Award in 1999.

Mike Stefanik was as one of the Fifty Greatest Modified Drivers of All-time as voted on by the public in the Stafford Speedway Salutes NASCAR at 50 program. Stefanik was the 1986 Stafford Modified Track Champion. He was also the 1979 Six Cylinder Limited Sportsman Champion. It wasn’t until 1986, the last year Stafford ran full bore modifieds on a weekly basis, that Stefanik won his first feature, which came in the Winston 100 on May 30. It was the only feature he won at Stafford that season, but coupled with consistent top 5 finishes, he was able to garner the title.

Stefanik began his racing career at Stafford in 1976, driving a back up 6 cylinder car belonging to Bob Witcop. Believe it or not, the night before he was to make his debut, he was hit by a car outside an auto dealership where he worked. Stefanik picked up his first Limited Sportsman win in 1978, but it was in 1979 when he dominated the division with 9 wins. He moved up to the modifieds in 1980 and garnered his first open wheel win at Riverside Park on July 12. Stefanik ran at both Stafford and Riverside, gaining confidence and experience plus, he caught the eye of Richie Evans. Evans talked Sonny Koszela into giving the young hot shoe a ride in the famous Woodchopper Special that had been formerly driven by Ernie Gahan, Leo Cleary, Fred DeSarro, and Bugsy Stevens.

The combination worked so well that Stefanik literally became part of the family as he married Koszela’s daughter Julie. The alliance and marriage into the Koszela family enabled Stefanik to become a full time race car fabricator as well as a driver. Stefanik began racing on the NASCAR Modified Tour and was the most successful driver in Tour history. From 1985 through 2014, Stefanik made 453 starts and he holds the series record for most career wins with 74 and championships with 7. Stefanik recorded Spring Sizzler® wins in 1989, 1990, 1997, and 1998, Fall Final wins in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 2002, 2007, and 2008. Stefanik’s 2008 Fall Final victory was the 34th and final Stafford win of his career.

When the opportunity to race on the Busch Grand National North series presented itself in 1991, Stefanik jumped at the chance and was been equally successful there. From 1991 through 2005, Stefanik made 164 starts and won 12 races. Stefanik won the championship in 1997 and 1998, marking an unprecedented 2-year stretch where he won the championships in both the NASCAR Modified Tour and Busch North Series.