New Horizons: Jeff Pearl Branching Out From Waterford Speedbowl for 2013 Season

WATERFORD – For 19 years Jeff Pearl was a fixture in the SK Modified pit area of the Waterford Speedbowl on opening weekend at the track.

Jeff Pearl

Saturday, during Budweiser Blastoff weekend at the shoreline oval, the Salem driver couldn’t bring himself to walk through the area behind turn three at the track where SK Modified teams prepare for competition.

“People were coming through the pits asking me, ‘You’re not running an SK [Modified]?’” Pearl said. “I didn’t really tell too many people about the decision we made.”

Pearl’s SK Modified parked just a few yards from the turn three gate in the pits is part of the fabric of Speedbowl history woven over the last two decades.

But this past weekend it wasn’t there. Pearl made the decision not to compete in the 63-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series SK Modified feature Sunday at the Waterford Speedbowl.

“It’s been a little difficult,” Peael said. “Twenty years I’ve been running opening day here in an SK [Modified], it’s a little different not doing that.”

It was a decision not to race for Pearl that served as a guarantee that he would follow through on plans he’s been putting on hold year after year.

Pearl said for the last five years he and his crew have wanted to split the racing season by running a partial schedule at the Speedbowl and a partial schedule on the Valenti Modified Racing Series.

Though Pearl’s status as a perennial championship contender in the SK Modified division at the Speedbowl became the worst enemy of his plans.

Each year, when it came time to take a week or two off from the Speedbowl and venture out to some Valenti Modified Racing Series events, Pearl would look at the SK Modified division point standings at Waterford, realize he was still in the hunt for a title, and decide chasing a championship was more important.

Taking Sunday off from the first weekend of racing was the guarantee for Pearl that he wouldn’t have to worry about his status in the standings keeping him from taking weeks away from the Speedbowl.

“We kind of decided we wanted to take ourselves out of the point hunt immediately by not running opening day so we wouldn’t have to worry about that throughout the season,” Pearl said. “Takes some of the pressure off of us.”

Pearl said he still plans on racing the bulk of the SK Modified schedule at the Speedbowl this year. But he also plans on running about six Valenti Modified Racing Series events and possibly some open Modified events. He finished 12th in Sunday’s Valenti Modified Racing Series season opener at the Speedbowl.

“If I have my way, we would do about 16-17 [SK Modified] races [at the Speedbowl] this year,” Pearl said. “If my wife has her way it will be less than that. Normally we would do one or two [Valenti Modified Racing Series] races. We’re going to try to run somewhere around six. Plus there’s at least a couple open races that we’re going to try to go to.

“The [VMRS] races that we want to go to are on Saturday nights. In the past we had talked about maybe running a couple of their Saturday night shows but we’ve always been in the top-three in points here with the SK and we’re always just like ‘Eh, we’ll just stay in Waterford and do it here and I’ve kind of missed out on that.’ Missing opening weekend in the SK Modified makes sure that won’t happen this year.”

Pearl has spent the last 19 years running full-time in the SK Modified division at Waterford. He said a level of burnout is creeping in. Pearl, the 1998 SK Modified division champion at Waterford, finished second in the standings to division champion Tyler Chadwick last year.

“I love running here, but it almost gets to the point where it’s almost like a job because so much goes into the cars and you have to be here,” Pearl said. “Last year I was kind of burned out. Finishing second in points, the amount of time and effort that goes into it, the whole crew and I kind of decided, ‘Let’s do what we’ve been talking about doing for the last five years.’”

And then there’s the matter of the third generation of Modified drivers for the Pearl family. Pearl followed in the footsteps of his father Jerry, a legendary Modified racer in Southern New England.

Pearl’s two sons, 12-year old Alexander and 8-year old Cameron, are both involved in kart racing and compete weekly during the summer at the Ceric Fabrication Racing Series at Stafford Motor Speedway.

“With both kids racing karts, it’s kind of getting stressful,” Pearl said. “There’s only one of me. But I’m keeping the seat warm in the SK [Modified] for Alexander in a couple of years.”

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