WATERFORD – Over the last five seasons Keith Rocco recorded 37 Late Model victories at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl driving for team owner Scott Fearn.
And over that span there was plenty of talk that team owner Scott Fearn’s car may have been a little better than everyone else’s in unfair manners it might be said.
Last year Fearn decided to shut the team down midseason, leaving Rocco without a regular Late Model ride at the track.
This year Rocco is back once again in the Late Model division at Waterford and Saturday he kicked off the season with a victory that he tabbed as the statement type.
Rocco, of Wallingford, took the lead from Ray Christian III at the drop of the green flag and went virtually unchallenged the rest of the way in winning the 30-lap Late Model feature.
Anthony Flannery of East Hampton was second and Adam Gray of Belchertown, making his track debut, was third.
Despite numerous cautions over the course of the event, Rocco was able to easily check out from his pursuers after every restart of the event.
Rocco, who won Late Model championships at Waterford in 2013 and 2014, is racing in the division at the Speedbowl this year for team owners Mike and Beth Sullivan.
“Everybody was saying it was Fearn’s car, whatever,” Rocco said. “They all thought it was something special. We brought a completely different car that we couldn’t even win a race at Thompson with last year, we brought that here and we found some stuff over the winter. We were able to contend for the win at the Icebreaker [at Thompson Speedway on April 10], we were able to win here. I think that’s a good thing. We’ve got the Late Model program back on track since Scott Fearn disappeared.”
The victory proved even sweeter for the team in that their car was mangled in a hard wreck that happened while battling for the lead at Thompson on April 10.
“Everybody who works on this car does a great job and man they worked their tails off,” Rocco said. “The Late Model race was a little rough at Thompson. That’s racing, you take it with a grain of salt. You work hard and you put it back together and you go on and try to win and that’s what we did.”
Rocco started second in the feature and went to the lead when Christian’s car slowed at the drop of the green flag.
“I don’t know if he broke a transmission or something,” Rocco said. “We took it equally to the start and he just stopped at the start.”
From there Rocco was in another world from his competition.
“I knew we were going to be good,” Rocco said. “I didn’t know were going to be that good. We were really really good on the short runs and we tend to fade a little bit on the longer runs. The longer runs we kind of backed up to where everybody else was but on the short runs we were really good.”
With Rocco checking out after each restart it left Flannery and Gray to put on the best battles on the track. Gray, a former Late Model champion at Stafford Motor Speedway, was making his Waterford debut.
“That was awesome,” Flannery said. “It was good hard racing and we were both trying to give eachother as much room as we could. It was starting to mist and there was a little bit of sliding and banging. That was the first time I ever raced with Adam, we had a great time.”
Said Gray: “First time coming here in a Late Model. I had a blast. It brings back when I was running Monadnock [Speedway in Wincehster, N.H.].”