Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – When the 2020 SK Modified® season kicked off at Stafford Speedway back on June 26, Keith Rocco and the #88 Wheelers Auto team began with a victory and they closed out the 2020 season with a victory and a 4th career track championship at Stafford.
Rocco actually clinched the title with one race remaining but he closed out his championship season in grand style, bookending the 2020 season with victories.
“It’s awesome, any time you win a championship at Stafford you’re definitely doing something,” said Rocco. “I always race to win and I race week by week. We want to win every race but starting around 13th to 15th every week makes it tough. I’m not usually the one to look at the points. When we saw Todd Owen get wrecked two weeks in a row, I knew he was our competition. We got a little bit of a lead, which makes life easier to just go out and race harder knowing you have a gap. Thanks to my entire crew and my sponsors Wheelers Auto, Hocon Industrial Gas, 811 Call Before You Dig, Arbitell Convenience Stores, Green Construction, Mike’s Auto, D & G Paving, FK Rod Ends, Fragola Performance Systems, Pettit Racing Engines.”
Rocco’s championship set a NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Division I record, breaking a tie he held with Nebraska native Joe Kosiski. Rocco was previously tied with Kosiski on 17 championships. This 18th career Division I championship increases his SK Modified® titles at Stafford to 4, breaking a tie with Mike Christopher and Bo Gunning for third place on the list of all-time SK Modified® champions. With 4 Stafford SK Modified® titles to his name, Rocco only trails Bob Potter with 5 and Ted Christopher with 9.
“It left me speechless,” said Rocco. “We’ve clicked off a lot of championships over the last 5 years or so and there was one year where we won the championship at all 3 tracks. Over the last 3 or 4 years we’ve won I think 5 championships so it’s kind of mind blowing to even think about. I think I might have been a little more exciting to watch when I was younger because I tore a lot of stuff up but nowadays I race a little more with my head and it shows in our finishes. To win a race you have to finish and back in the day I wanted to win the race on the first lap and now I try to win the race on the last lap. I wanted to close out the second to last Friday with a win but we fell just short of that. We gave it 110% to do that and it was very nice to go into the last race not having to worry about the championship.”
Rocco was not only dominant in 2020, but he was consistent as well. Rocco won 6 of the 14 SK Modified® races held this season and his worst finish of the season was seventh place. Rocco’s average finish for the 2020 season was a miniscule 3.3, meaning that he fell just short of averaging a podium finish each time he took to the track in 2020.
“We always want to win the first race and we’ve been fortunate the last handful of years we always seem to win the opening race,” said Rocco. “It seemed like where we struggled was always mid-season with not keeping up with the track and the way the weather changed. This year I feel like that’s where we had our best consecutive finishes and I feel like we were more dominant at the end of the season than we were at the beginning even though we won the first two races.”
As dominant as Rocco was during the 2020 season, his season wasn’t without its share of issues to deal with. Rocco had to rely on his pit crew several times during the year to get his #88 not only fixed, but fixed well enough to where he could drive his way back through the pack and get into the top-10 or top-5.
“We had some luck on our side but the majority of it all comes down to having a great team and great help behind me,” said Rocco. “There was one night where we got wrecked early and the nerf bar was stuffed into the tire and there were two other nights where we got tangled up and had flat tires and knocked the toe out. At the end of the day it’s all about having good help on pit road that really makes a difference. Everyone will have a bad night and have to come down pit road at some point during the season. My guys were able to turn things around and get the car back out on the track and we were able to get top-10 finishes in those races.”