Waterford, CT- Waterford Speedbowl hosted the final Saturday night racing program of the season before its big Finale Weekend of racing, putting seven race divisions in action on a seasonable late September evening. While seven drivers captured wins on the night, four more champions were unofficially crowned in the season long war. In NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing, Keith Rocco of Meriden unofficially captured his third track championship in the headline SK Modified® division following his ninth win of the year. Rocco also won his fourth straight Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model division feature to inch him closer to a 53-year old record. Uncasville’s Phil Evans outdueled the competition for an entertaining victory in the night’s Street Stock race while Salem’s Corey Hutchings clinched the division championship. Ken Cassidy Jr. of Lisbon claimed his fifth Mini Stock championship in convincing fashion with his third straight victory. In INEX racing, Dylan Izzo of Monroe won both the race and the division’s Saturday night series championship. Brad Voglesong of Middletown won the X-Car race and Dave Yardley of Berlin won the Super X-Car feature.
The 35-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series SK Modified® feature had a hard time getting started smoothly with multiple caution flags plaguing the opening six laps. Two attempts to begin the race went awry before the field could get to turn one, the second involving multiple cars and knocking Ted Christopher and Frank Mucciacciaro Jr. out of the race. Diego Monahan took the lead from pole-sitter Tyler Chadwick when racing finally got underway. Rocco started in fourth position and quickly was in contention, moving up to second behind Monahan by lap-2 when Rob Janovic Jr. spun in turn one to trigger another yellow flag after the field scattered around his spinning car.
Rocco powered into the lead over Monahan after two false starts by the front row trying to restart the race on lap-2. After a Jeff Gallup spin on lap-6, another great restart over Monahan enabled Rocco to drive away from the field. Kyle James moved to second place on lap-11 around Mohanan and when Tom Abele Jr. tried to follow, Monahan shut the door and the two came together. Monahan collected his car and held the spot but lost ground to James, who began a pursuit of Rocco’s lead which already had grown to several car lengths.
Behind Rocco and James, the best battle was for third as four cars ran together. Abele continued to pester Monahan while Craig Lutz had caught the pair looking to improve his position as the race approached halfway. Abele went to the outside lane in his quest to get by Monahan, working hard as Monahan tried to hold him off. Finally on lap-21 Abele had the spot after several laps trying. Lutz struck quickly on Monahan to pick up fourth position, dropping Monahan to fifth a lap later. James couldn’t reel in Rocco, but the lead evaporated when Jim Larsen Jr. spun in turn four just ahead of Rocco, returning the race to caution with seven laps remaining.
A good restart allowed Rocco to easily resume his lead over James, who settled back into second over Abele. Rocco quickly extinguished any hopes James may have had to spoil his championship-clinching run, pulling away. Rocco went on to score the win unchallenged with James second and Abele third. Lutz finished fourth and Janovic rebounded from his spin to take fifth.
Rocco’s title in the SK Modifieds® gives him three for his career, joining back-to-back championship seasons in 2010 and 2011. Coupled with the Late Model championship he clinched last Saturday, Rocco becomes the only driver in Speedbowl history to win both crowns in the same season.
Rocco checkered his fourth consecutive 30-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model race with another stellar performance. He picked off the competition one at a time during a steady climb through the top-five cars after starting the race eighth. Rocco was among the top-five in the race by lap-4 and challenging for second position just before halfway in a caution-free event. He got past Jeff Smith and quickly tracked down the race leader, Jason Palmer. He put a nifty crossover move on Palmer to get to his inside out of turn two on lap-17 and although Palmer did an admirable job trying to take away Rocco’s momentum for a lap, Rocco proved too much and wrestled away the lead on lap-18. From there he remained a safe two car lengths ahead to capture his 11th victory of the year in the division. Palmer was second and Smith finished in third. Rocco already clinched the division title over Palmer following last Saturday’s event.
Rocco’s two wins on the night brought him within one victory of the single-season record of 23 wins at the track, accomplished by Don Collins in 1960. Rocco has four chances to eclipse the mark at the track’s Finale Weekend, next Saturday and Sunday, when he’s scheduled to compete in four different divisions.
The 25-lap Street Stock race was a fight down to the final lap. Joe Arena looked impressive racing to an early lead, however five caution flags slowed the pace to keep the competition hot on his tail. Following the final yellow flag on lap-18, Evans gave Arena a stiff challenge to his outside. Evans timed the restart well to stay even with Arena through turns one and two and lead lap-19 by inches. Arena refused to back down, rallying as the two remained side-by-side in a classic battle, swapping the lead over the next three laps. Evans took the white flag in the lead and Arena gave a final charge to the inside, coming up a half-car length short at the finish. Hutchings ran a great race to finish in third and clinch the division championship, his first in the division since 1998. Hutchings closest contenders, Josh Galvin and Al Stone, each encountered trouble and were involved in a skirmish, aiding Hutchings title run. He also won Late Model division titles in 2003 and 2004.
Cassidy continued to roll in Mini Stock competition, claiming a third straight victory to lift his season win total to eight. This one vaulted him to a fifth division championship, putting him in elite company in track record books. After a yellow flag on the opening lap for a single car incident, the field ran through the checkered flag in the 25-lapper. Cassidy marched through the field to sneak underneath leader Bill Leonard on lap-16. Teenager Garrett Denton chased him the rest of the way but could not make a bid for the win, finishing in the runner-up position. Leonard finished third. Cassidy’s title places him along with legendary Speedbowl names Dennis Gada, Phil Rondeau, Don Collins and George “Moose” Hewitt as the only drivers with five championships or more in a single division.
Izzo came out on top of his second consecutive 25-lap INEX Legend Cars feature race, clinching his title for the division’s Saturday series. He took the lead on lap-17 after his first move to take command from Paul Kusheba was negated by the third caution flag of the race. Izzo had to restart the race outside of Kusheba, then surged ahead on the top of the track into the lead. Once there, Izzo kept Kusheba behind him over two late race restarts before taking his win. Veteran racer George Whitney wound up finishing second after a hard fought run through the field while Kusheba, last year’s division champion, settled for third.
Voglesong continued to put the finishing touches on a memorable final season competing in the X-Car division. After sewing up his third Wild ‘n Wacky Wednesday title earlier this month and announcing his retirement from competing at the end of the year, his winning ways followed to the division’s Saturday Night Showdown Series. Voglesong took the lead from Dave Gargaro Jr. just after halfway and was able to score the 20-lap win. In the Super X-Cars, Yardley was quick as he made his way to the front and was able to overtake the rest of the field to cap a memorable end to the season. Yardley also won three of the final four Wednesday night events.
The Speedbowl’s popular Finale Weekend puts 13-divisions on the track next weekend. The three-day event kicks off with practice and hauler drop off Friday October 5, qualifying and seven feature events on Saturday October 6, with six features on Sunday October 7. The NEMA Midgets and NEMA Lites are joined by the New England Truck Seres, all five of the Speedbowl’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions plus the Saturday Showdown Series for Legend Cars, Bandoleros, X-Cars and Super X-Cars. An Outlaw Stock race welcomes outside competitors providing a chance to race the historic shoreline oval with cars from other speedways. More information on the event is available at Speedbowl.com