Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – Two-time Stafford Street Stock champion Frank L’Etoile, Jr. will make a full-time return to racing for the first time since the 2016 season at the Connecticut half-mile facility.
L’Etoile took over the driving duties of the #8 G.R.P. Services Chevrolet owned by Bill Staves in the fifth event of last season and although he missed the first 4 races, L’Etoile posted good enough results to place him fifth in the final 2020 Street Stock standings.
With a full season under his belt, L’Etoile is ready to challenge for what would be his third career Street Stock championship.
“I’m really excited to get back to racing on a weekly basis with everyone still around and it’s a really cool opportunity for me,” said L’Etoile. “I never wanted to stop racing but life happens. Winning the championship is definitely our goal and I’m hoping we can be a contender this season. Besides some cosmetic things, we really haven’t changed much on the car. My plan is to take things one lap at a time week to week and see how things shape out. The way I look at it is I have to beat everybody and not worry about any one individual. If we can focus on ourselves and do the best that we can, then it doesn’t matter who else is out there on the track.”
L’Etoile enters the 2021 season tied with Zack Robinson and Don Wood as drivers with 2 career Street Stock championships. Norm Sears is the current record holder for the Street Stock division with 3 career championships and L’Etoile would like to place himself next to Sears in the Street Stock record books.
“It would be pretty cool to jump ahead of those couple guys and be tied with Norm with 3 championships,” said L’Etoile. “If it works out, great, and if it doesn’t work out then it is what it is.”
If not for a stroke of fate and some good racing fortunes, L’Etoile might not be behind the wheel of the #8 car this season. L’Etoile originally was meant to only race a few times in 2020, but he kept on getting good results and his performance kept him in the car for the final 10 races of the season and opened the door for him to take the full reins this season.
“Last year Bill [Staves] was struggling a little bit and he wasn’t sure he was giving the correct feedback with the car,” said L’Etoile. “He was going to miss a race so he offered me the car to drive that night and we just kept on improving the car and getting it better week by week. The plan last year was that I was going to keep on racing until the car was better for Bill. We kept on getting podium finishes so that turned into driving until I won a race. I didn’t end up winning until the championship night and at that point we figured we’d go to the last race and try to win that as well. Each week I didn’t know if it was going to be my last race in the car or not but it all ended up working out in the end. After the season was over, Bill told me that the car was mine to drive for this season if I wanted and that he was all in with me as the driver.”
Despite not having a full-time Stafford ride since the 2016 season, L’Etoile showed very little rust in 2020. Known for his consistency during his first stint in the Street Stock division from 2013-2015 as well as a full season in the Limited Late Model division in 2016, L’Etoile was once again a model of consistency, posting a worst finish of 6th in his 10 starts last season with 1 win as part of his 9 top-5 finishes.
“My goal is the same as always, keep the car in one piece, complete every lap possible, and make strides every time we go out on the track and continue to build from where we left off last season,” said L’Etoile. “I heard it said once and it’s the truest thing in the world. ‘To finish first, you first must finish.’ That’s what I base things off of and I also know if I crash the car, I might not come back the next week so I’d rather finish 5th or 6th or 2nd or 3rd instead of crashing the car trying to get a little more out of it. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I wasn’t surprised at all with how consistent we were last season. From watching Bill race the car I knew it was good, it just needed a little fine tuning. Everyone on the crew knows what they’re doing so I knew if I wasn’t racing near the front then I was doing something wrong. I always put a lot of pressure on myself to perform because I don’t want to have all the crew guys putting all their effort into the car and then have me go out and do something stupid and crash the car.”
One variable that changed since the last time L’Etoile ran Street Stocks is the fact that the feature races have changed from 15 laps in length to 20 laps. Five extra laps might not sound like a lot but L’Etoile says it was a big help, especially in his first 3 starts when he had to start at the rear of the field.
“Back when I last ran in the Street Stocks, we only had 15 laps so those extra 5 laps give you a chance to take your time to get through the pack safely,” said L’Etoile. “Because I was able to take my time getting through the field, I wasn’t beating my tires up which gave me an opportunity to be better than the cars that were already up front if they used their stuff up getting to the front.”
As he prepares for the 2021 season, L’Etoile is comfortable in the knowledge that everyone on the #8 team will be returning. L’Etoile and the #8 team are also looking for additional sponsorship for the 2021 season.
“I’m really excited to get back to racing and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun getting the whole crew all back together,” said L’Etoile. “I have to give a big thanks to Bill, my Dad, Auntie, Sully, Gil, G.R.P. Services, and Star Fabrication. We really don’t have that much lined up for sponsorship so if there’s anyone out there looking to get their name on a front running car, we’re always looking for sponsors to add to the car.”
The 2021 Street Stock season kicks off on Saturday, April 24 as part of NAPA Auto Parts Opening Day festivities. The Street Stocks will be joined by the Granite State ProStock Series, the SK Modifieds®, Late Models, and Limited Late Models. Feature action at Stafford continues on Sunday, April 25 with the 49th Annual NAPA Spring Sizzler featuring the Whelen Modified Tour, the SK Modifieds® in the second race of a weekend doubleheader, the SK Lights, and the Vintage All-Stars.