Full Experience: Gary Patnode Goes From Grandstand To Victory Lane At Stafford Speedway

Gary Patnode celebrates his first career victory in the Limited Late Model feature Friday at Stafford Speedway (Photo: Jim DuPont/RaceDayCT)

STAFFORD – Two years ago Gary Patnode was in the grandstands cheering on racers at Stafford Speedway. 

Patnode was just another fan watching the races at the start of the 2017 season at Stafford Speedway, having never raced a car in competition. 

Friday night the 53-year old from Barkhamstead was the one being cheered on by the fans in the grandstands while he celebrated in victory lane at Stafford. 

Patnode scored his first career victory in the 20-lap Limited Late Model feature Friday at Stafford Speedway. 

“It means the world,” Patnode said. “I don’t even know how to describe. I know we’ve been real close. This whole year we’ve had a winning car. I finally put it together.” 

Reigning division champion Jeremy Lavoie of Windsor Locks was second and Matthew Clement of Wethersfield third. 

For his 50thbirthday in 2016 Patnode’s girlfriend Donna Conklin gave him the chance to drive a car as part of the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience at Stafford Speedway. 

Stafford Speedway regular Glen Reen was driving fans as part of the Rusty Wallace Experience at Stafford and he met Patnode. 

“We started chatting and we just became buddies,” Patnode said. 

Not long after Patnode stepped up to help Reen with sponsorship and quickly turned into a regular at the track. 

“I looked at Donna one night and I said, I can do this,” Patnode said. “And she said ‘Oh no. No no no.’” 

Patnode said he went to the rest room not long after and there was an ad hanging on the bathroom wall for a race car for sale. 

“I pulled the little tab off and I went back and I said ‘Look honey, there’s a car for sale.’” Patnode said. “She said: ‘Oh no, no no no.’ Next thing you know, we bought [a car]. And she’s still around.” 

Patnode ended up purchasing a car prepared by Rob Russell and formerly driven by Justin Bren. 

“Got hooked up with Rob Russell who built that car originally,” Patnode said. “Those guys accepted and they just took me under their wing.” 

Patnode raced the final nine events of the 2017 season in the Limited Late Model division and born was a new Stafford Speedway regular. Friday the mission to chase victory was completed. 

At the green flag it was Alexandra Fearn moving past Kyle Casagrande for the lead with Patnode following to second on the second lap. 

On lap three Patnode got under Fearn at the front and the two came side-by-side to the line to complete circuit. 

Patnode took the advantage into turn three and came off turn four with Fearn cleared behind him in second. Lavoie quickly followed the line behind Patnode to get by Fearn for second place. 

Lavoie hunted down Patnode’s bumper, but spent the final five laps of the event stalking him in the spot. Patnode defely defended his lead over the closing laps. 

“I knew Jeremy was nipping at my heels,” Patnode said. “I just knew I couldn’t let him get by me. … If I let Jeremy by me that was it because he knows how to do it. But we did something right tonight.” 

Said Lavoie: “Congrats to Gary. He’s been racing his heart out the past two years and he finally checked that off his list. I ran him hard and I knew I wanted to keep him up on the wheel. I think I achieved that goal.”

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  1. dan butler says

    Great story!!! If anyone else sitting in the stands ever wants to give racing a try at a very affordable price call Gary or Paul with the Rent A Race Car program at Stafford. Congrats Mr. Patnode!!

  2. Michael “Slim” Barbieri says

    So happy to see my friend pursue his dream. Whether it means anything, I’m really proud of you Gary! First of many to come!

  3. Turn1Fan says

    Congrats Gary!

  4. One of the best stories at Stafford if not the best. Let me see if I can prove I paid attention.
    Completely out of his depth at the start in a division that is customarily the second step up the ladder. It would be a stretch to say he was in the same race at the start. Then the steep learning curve kicked in and in relative terms very quickly..
    Patnode started in front, showed some real speed, would make a mistake, fade and not be able to recover. Then he showed some real speed for a long stretches giving the traditional front runners headaches then would lose the groove and fade. Be honest. At times last year in certain races the 22 was like a pinless grenade you watched mostly to see how long it would take to go off. Smooth and fast then boom! Out of control and backwards fast.
    The last four races last year……abysmal. Then the beauty of crate racing combined with a smart guy kicked in over the winter and a light went on. All of a sudden the mistakes are gone and podium finishes are getting routine.
    It was never pre ordained in spite of the limited field. A limited field with a few experienced heavy hitters you have to beat that unless you’re smart and can climb the learning curve you’ll never beat.
    He did and it was a beautiful thing to watch.

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