Quarantine Chronicles Volume 7: Remembering Jack Arute Sr.

Some semi-regular musings on racing and life in a COVID-19 Pandemic Quarantine World 

From Stafford Motor Speedway in 2001 pictured from left to right: Peter Vanderveer, Matt Buckler, Jack Arute Jr., the late Charlie Mitchell, the late Jack Arute Sr., Shawn Courchesne and the late Deane Mercier

Like so many other people during these trying last few weeks of life I’ve found myself at times just trying to block out all the noise that is the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

Maybe it’s using Netflix for binge watching, maybe falling down rabbit holes of odd viewing on YouTube, maybe just going for long walks. Just things to do to keep the mind from straying too deeply to anxiety ridden thoughts. 

One thing I’ve also done is to go digging through stories I’ve written over the years, whether for the Hartford Courant or RaceDayCT. 

It was 14 years ago this week that the patriarch of Stafford Motor Speedway, Jack Arute Sr., passed away. And 14 years ago yesterday I wrote this column below for the Hartford Courant about a man that to me represented the most giant figure I knew in short track racing. 

Jack Arute Sr.: A Friend, A Legend

By Shawn Courchesne / Column 

From the Hartford Courant from April 7, 2006 

Slowly, the golf cart would pull alongside me in the paddock at Stafford Motor Speedway, and Jack Arute Sr. would pat his hand on the empty passenger seat.

He didn’t have to say a word.

The first time I saw a reporter riding with Arute, someone in the press box joked that the track owner had the reporter in his pocket because that was only way Arute would let someone from the media ride with him.

In later years, when I was riding shotgun with Arute, I wondered if other reporters were saying that about me. But I didn’t care.

Arute, who seemed to know more about racing than anyone I had ever met, cared about what I wrote. He didn’t pander. He just talked.

Almost every week he would stop me to talk about what I had written in my Friday column. It didn’t matter if the topic was short track racing or the Nextel Cup Series or sports car racing. He always had an opinion.

Good, bad or indifferent, he paid attention and told me what he thought. He told me if I was wrong, he told me if I was right. It mattered.

On Monday, Stafford Motor Speedway lost its patriarch with the passing of Jack Arute Sr.

I lost my ride. Lost the treasure chest of racing stories that came with the rides on that golf cart. Lost a friend.

At the close of the 1998 racing season I wrote a column about some problems between tracks in Connecticut. I mentioned promoters at the tracks back-stabbing each other. It was a bad choice of words, and Jack let me know that. A typed letter from Jack arrived at The Courant explaining in detail his disappointment with my column. In it he took some personal shots at me that hurt. He mentioned that I spent an internship for media and public relations training at his track while I was in college and now he had to wonder if the program was working if it was turning out reporters such as me.

I had just started covering racing and we didn’t have a relationship. Over the winter, I stewed over that letter and we never spoke.

When the 1999 season began, I worried about how things would go. When that golf cart pulled up next to me in the paddock that first weekend, nerves took over and I was frozen.

The scowl on his face told me I was about to get it. With a booming voice, he said, “I’m mad at you.” There was a pause before he continued. “You didn’t call me and tell me off for what I wrote. I wrote that letter so you would call me and tell me off. I waited all winter for you to call me and yell at me.”

And then he laughed the laugh that would become so familiar.

“I know he was hard on you sometimes, but he wasn’t any harder on you than he was on his own kids,” Jack Arute Jr. said Monday as we shared stories of special times with his father. “That was his way. If he didn’t care about you, he wouldn’t give you the time of day. He only gave that attention to people that he cared for.”

The day before the first race of the 2005 season, I had a disagreement with Mark Arute, Stafford’s general manager and Jack’s son, which led to us having a closed-door meeting to vent our frustrations.

The next day, when the golf cart pulled up, Jack had a sly smile on his face and burst out laughing before I could say a word.

“You and Mark kiss and make up yet?” he asked me. “You two are like an old married couple. But it keeps me entertained.”

Arute was so proud of what he and his family built in Stafford and it didn’t bother him one bit that people in racing at times ridiculed the ego behind it all.

“That’s human nature,” he said to me two years ago. “Nobody likes General Motors, nobody likes NASCAR. I think we’re the most successful and the best of the three tracks in Connecticut and it’s natural for people in the sport to dislike us. … You know what the mystique is at Stafford? It’s playing the palace. They all know it, they all see it. The guys that can’t do it go somewhere else and take shots at us.”

Two years ago, I spent the better part of a March day with Jack at his home in Bedford, N.H., for a profile story. As we moved along the timeline of his life, he went down so many roads, most having nothing to do with the piece I was writing. He knew it, but I wasn’t about to stop him. It was a history lesson I’ll never forget.

At the end of the day, I told him that I would be contacting his sons David and Wayne, with whom he had strained relationships. He asked me not to call them. I had to and did. As expected, neither had very nice things to say about their dad.

The day the story came out, the golf cart pulled up and he tapped the seat. I got on, ready to feel his wrath. He put his arm around me, leaned over and said, “You did good with that story.”

I asked him if he was upset that I talked to David and Wayne. He laughed. “You just did your job. Keep doing what you’re doing no matter what anybody says.”

I told him I still had the letter he sent to me in 1998. I asked him if he was still worried about what his internship program was turning out. He laughed and told me he was still waiting for me to call him and yell at him.

I wish I could still make that call.

That’s all for today. We’ll be back with more binge watching and such soon.

Stay safe everyone. Keep positive. Help your neighbors if you can. And wash your damn hands.

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  1. Jack At was a great guy, a gentleman. I remember him on his golf cart, always keeping an eye on things. He used to ride around the paddock before practices, talking to the teams, making sure Stafford was treating them well. I remember one time, shortly after the track had been replaced. They didn’t have radios back then. A competitor lost a wheel going into turn 1, and was dragging on the track. Jack Sr flew out there in his golf cart and really chewed the guy out. Although you couldn’t hear him, his body language told the whole story. I’ve never seen him so animated. Jack , along with his family built a first class racing institution. Today, Mark has taken on dad’s role, and Paul and David have been brought in to the mix. It’s great to see this family run track continue on, and someday, long after I’m gone Paul and David will hopefully pass on responsibility to their children.

  2. In my day Arute may have been tooling around on a golf cart but the guy that ruled the roost on race day was race director and promoter Ed Yarrington. You absolutely did not want to cross swords with that guy. Even if you had the winning argument you’d end up losing. My view is that from everything I’ve read and seen the current generation and management has adjusted with the times and is light years ahead of what it used to be. Not every track can say that.
    Maybe Arute and Yarrington were the only guys for the job at the time. In 1987 they went to SK’s and Streets only with attendance that could only be described as a smattering. In years prior the energy and enthusiasm with all the big names in modified racing at the time was off the charts. Big crowds every Friday night and a full season ticket parking lot. As a lowly Street Stocker it was just a thrill to drive in front of a big crowd or lend my car to Joie Chitwood to jump over on special nights. The pandemic is a challenge now but I can’t imagine it being as bad as it was in 1987. It took ironed willed people to survive that change in division line up. It was so bad that even now I think they are ultra careful in making division lineup changes knowing how severe the reaction can be.
    Even in a crises you can find some positive things if you look hard enough. One is Mr. Courchesne allowing the curtain to be pulled back to reveal things that are more personal. Normally we are here spilling our guts with too much information while the moderator hovers about it all providing the facts via stories and keeping us from jumping off the rails in the comments. The Quarantine Chronicles is a welcome, free form, peek into what’s on the owners mind and what he prioritizes.
    Thanks for that.

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