Jeff Rocco Looks to Build On Thompson Speedway Late Model Success

(Press Release from Thompson Speedway)

Jeff Rocco - Late Model

Jeff Rocco (Photo: Thompson Speedway/Clarus Studios)

With a full season under his belt driving the Eric Grant owned entry at Thompson Speedway, Jeff Rocco’s name ranks high on the list of contenders in 2016. Rocco drove to victory lane 4 times last season, in addition to winning the special Late Model 20/20 Sprint comprised of 3 distinct segment of racing on one night. It was the 14th, 16th, and 17th place efforts that spelled misfortune for Rocco that made him fade from the spotlight at the Sunoco World Series.

“It was a lot less pressure last year coming into a new series,” said Rocco. “If we ran in the top-5 it was a success for us. Now we have set the bar high to go back and achieve that. If you look at where we stacked up against touring competition (American-Canadian Tour) that set the bar of where we need to be. As good as we were for weekly competition we wanted to get better.”

Rocco’s team is one of several that take advantage of Thompson’s Late Model rules aligning with the American-Canadian Tour rules. Defending champion Brian Tagg honed his craft on the ACT circuit for a year before winning the title in his rookie season.

“The biggest thing for us and me is the confidence; having the confidence of what happened last year and rebuilding the car throughout the winter, everything was a positive note,” said Tagg. “It made the winter go through kind of slow because we want to repeat what we did.”

It won’t be easy to repeat in a division of so much talent. Keith Rocco returns for a full season after losing the championship by virtue of a last lap pass made by Tagg in the 2015 finale.

Six time division champion, Rick Gentes returns with a new engine package for 2016. After running a blue oval power plant last season, Gentes made the switch back to the bowtie seeking that competitive edge. Looking back on his years of racing at Thompson, he recalled the competition as being the same as it was back in the 1990’s when there were 10-12 cars on the track who could win any given night.

“It is tough just to finish in the top-5 now let alone winning and we have probably fallen behind a little,” said Gentes. “We used to be right on top of it. We need to step of our game to get back to where we were.”

During the open test in March, Gentes backed his car into the outside wall forcing him to rebuild the car in time for the season opener.

While names like Rocco, Gentes, and Tagg are just a few of the proven winners in the division, there will be some interesting newcomers to the class this season. Well, relative newcomers that is. William Wall was among one of the first names Tagg noted as one to watch in 2016. Wall led laps last season as a rookie and is back for his sophomore season. A graduate of the Limited Sportsman ranks, Wall is looking for late run speed to propel him to his first victory.

“A lot of times I would get a good start and pick off a few cars in the early stages of the race,” said Wall. As it went the car tended to fall off and I wouldn’t be able to complete a pass and you need to have it fast at the end.”

After the open test, Wall was confident in the speed his team gained in the off-season.

Returning to Thompson as a rookie is Corey Fanning who began racing in the Limited Sportsman division before spending two years racing at Seekonk Speedway. Fanning is back and for the first time will compete in a late model. Fanning finished 3rd in the standings during his last full season at the Big T in 2013. Last season, he managed a 4th in points at Seekonk after a dismal start backed by a late season charge that saw 7 consecutive runner-up finishes.

Michael Bennett will be running a three race schedule this season which includes the Icebreaker. Bennett is the defending Late Model champion at Stafford Speedway coming off a 7 win season and this year will be his first time competing on Thompson’s high banks. Bennett plans to run the Late Model 20/20 Sprint and the World Series, in addition to a slate of ACT events.

Thompson Speedway opens its gates for The Icebreaker on the weekend of April 9-10. An additional practice day is scheduled for Friday, April 8. For more information on Thompson Speedway news and events, visit


  1. Good Luck

  2. Jeff Rocco and Eric Grant, two class acts in my book! I hope they continue to do well.

  3. I can’t believe there wasn’t any mention of Larry Gelinas he finished third last year in points after starting the season with a seventeenth place finish and finished second in points in 2014. Maybe that World Series win was a fluke

  4. Chevy guy says

    No the win by Gelinas was not a fluke. They let him run the ford with no restrictor plate, so he easily won.

    The Thompson rules don’t align with the ACT Tour. Fords have a huge advantage at Thompson now. That’s why Rocco switched to a ford and Gentes will have his ford back in for the icebreaker.

    Bad news for the Chevys. The two fords with transponders were over a tenth faster than the best Chevys at the open test.

  5. If you read the article it says Gentes is staying with Chevy. Actually the Fords ran with the plate for a good part of the season. Not sure why Rocco would switch when he won four races with Chevy power last year and he won those races without anyone being close. Ford wins one race and are fast in practice and now they are whining

  6. Chevy guy says

    I know what the artical says. Gentes will have a ford. There is a reason the ACT tour makes the fords run a restrictor plate on 1/2 mile and over tracks. They also have to run 100rpm less at every track. Pretty sure Rocco got a ford right after the rules came out lol he should win them all this year

  7. And if you knew so much then you know that Thompson has already stated that it is a race by race bases for the fords “In an effort to achieve Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park’s goal of complete competitive balance, we allowed our Ford Late Model teams to compete without the use of the mandated American-Canadian Tour (ACT) restrictor plate during the 2015 season. This decision was the result of the competitive balance issues created by the significantly shorter race distances, compared to the longer ACT events.
    In 2016, we continue to work with this situation and understand that advances in technology are made each year and even each week. With that, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park will continue its process that began in 2015 as it relates to the ACT Ford restrictor plate and will, like in 2015, reserve the right to institute the ACT mandated Ford restrictor plate to all Ford competitors at any time, if competitive balance dictates that Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park needs to do so for the equality of our racing product.”
    The staff at Thompson want the best racing product for the fans they realized the bow ties had an advantage and allowed the fords to take off the plate. I guess we will see as the season goes along maybe teams will b switching out engines every other race from ford back to Chevy.

  8. Just a fan says

    The Thompson press release sounds rediculous. Guys went out and spent 12k plus to buy a ford because the rules were geared to them. Thompson is going to change the rules mid stream? That is messed up. I thought Thompson ran ACT Rules? Also what does the length of the race matter?

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