STAFFORD – With the calendar turning to September and the close of another racing season nearing at Stafford Motor Speedway, Keith Rocco has had a streak on his mind of late.
Every year since 2005 Rocco has won at least one SK Modified event at the half-mile oval. With only four races remaining this season before Friday, it was starting to look like that streak was in dire jeopardy.
But Rocco has long had a flair for the dramatic when it comes to getting behind the wheel of a Modified and that was once again the case Friday at Stafford Speedway.
When it came to breaking a year-plus winless streak in the SK Modified division at the track, Rocco, of Wallingford, made it one to remember for the fans.
Rocco came out on top of a late race showdown with Ted Christopher to win the 40-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series SK Modified feature Friday at Stafford Speedway.
“It’s always fun to race against Ted and beat the best over here,” Rocco said. “Great battle between me and him. We ran clean, we ran side-by-side for five, six laps at a time. That goes to show respect really is between two drivers.”
It was the first SK Modified division victory at Stafford for Rocco since June 26, 2015. Rocco is the track’s third winningest SK Modified division driver of all time with 43 career victories. Christopher is the all-time leader in the division with 103 wins.
“It’s not like we don’t try,” Rocco said. “With [car owner John Rufrano], there’s no corners cut when it comes to the quality of the equipment, so it was pretty much all on me. I do all the setup and everything. So it was kind of shining on me that we weren’t winning. We just kept searching and searching. It was coming toward the end when I was starting to get a little nervous. We’ve won here every year since 2005 and I didn’t want to break that streak. But no better to way to win than we did tonight. Coming from the back and racing our way to the front and battling all night.”
Christopher, of Plainville, held on for second. Stephen Kopcik of Newtown was third.
Rocco passed Kopcik for the lead on lap 15, but Kopcik rallied back and regained the top spot on lap 23. Rocco came back two laps later and went back to the lead. The battle with Kopcik was just the pre-show for the bigger showdown coming.
On a lap 30 restart Christopher went from third and Kopcik for second and under Rocco for the lead off turn two.
On lap 35 Rocco got under Christopher in turn two and the pair went to the line side-by-side in a near dead heat. On lap 36 the pair remained side-by-side with Rocco leading by less than a car length at the line. The side-by-side battle continued on lap 37 before Rocco cleared Christopher off turn two on lap 38.
“We tried a new setup tonight,” Christopher said. “It’s actually really really good. Just not enough on the bottom. It rolled pretty good on the top, but that’s the long way around. I’ve got to congratulate Keith. That was a good run, he gave me a lot of room. That was fun.”
Said Rocco: “I just want to say happy anniversary to my wife [Cassie]. I had a feeling that I was going to win tonight and all the luck was on our side.”