Thundering: SRX Series Ready To Kick Off 2023 Season At Stafford

STAFFORD, Conn. – Plenty of change is in store for the third season of the Camping World SRX Series, but one constant since the creation of the series will be back on display for the first event of the 2023 season Thursday. 

The third season for the series kicks off today at a short track that has become very familiar to SRX Series competitors and fans. 

Stafford Speedway in Stafford, Connecticut hosts the season opening event Thursday. The iconic half-mile speedway has been a part of the schedule for all three seasons with the SRX Series. 

Stafford hosted the inaugural series event on June 12, 2021. That event saw track veteran and six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby best the superstars on his home turf. Last year Stafford played host to the third event on the series schedule, which featured a wildly popular victory for former NASCAR star Ryan Newman.

“Obviously we’re going back for the third straight year, which wasn’t what our initial plan was,” series co-founder and 2021 SRX champion Tony Stewart said. “We tried to plan on going to different tracks each season, but Stafford has always produced really good racing. It’s a fun, unique track. It’s a very technical track for — you don’t hear people talk about technical tracks, not technical tracks too often anymore, but Stafford is very unique. It’s got elevation change in Turns 1 and 2. It’s kind of a double apex corner. Turns 3 and 4 it’s kind of a decreasing radius, so to speak, so it gives the drivers a lot of options on where to go depending on how their driving style matches the car.” 

The 10,000 seat facility has sold out for all three series events it has hosted.

“We had pretty exciting races the last two years there, so we’re excited to go back. [track owners the Arute family and their] staff do an awesome job up there. It’s a fun place to go. The fans are amazing there. When you get there, the atmosphere is incredible.” 

Said series co-founder George Pyne: “It’s been an incredible journey for us. I think when you take a step back, if you said three years ago you’d be going to sold-out racetracks, would you take that, you’d be very happy with that. I think Stafford has been sold out for over a month. We have an incredible … field of drivers. The demand and the quality of the competition this year is going to be off the charts.” 

While Stafford Speedway has been a constant, the third season for the Camping World SRX Series will mark a rebirth in many ways. 

After running on Saturday nights the last two years, the series will move to running on six consecutive Thursday nights this year. All six events will be broadcast on ESPN and branded with the return of the Thursday Night Thunder moniker, which was a hallmark of grassroots motorsports coverage from 1989 to 2002. 

“I’m super excited about is being back on ESPN on Thursday nights,” Stewart said. “… That’s how I got recognized by car owners back in the day and got my opportunity to join with Harry Rainier in NASCAR and John Menard on the IndyCar side was because of what they saw on Thursday Night Thunder.” 

SRX CEO Don Hawk was the the president of Dale Earnhardt Inc. for NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt from 1993-2000 and remembers well what Thursday Night Thunder meant to many in the motorsports community, from the top levels down. 

“Thursday Night Thunder is where I met Jeff Gordon and I met Tony Stewart, and I met them through a TV screen,” Hawk said. “Earnhardt and I would go out for dinner and we’d get home to the hotel … We would eat early, and we’d go watch Tony and Jeff drive cars, and we’d say, wow. 

“I’m telling you, if you don’t know this stat, the last winner of Thursday Night Thunder in the year 2002 when they signed off the air was Tony Stewart. He’ll be in the first one when Thursday Night Thunder returns at Stafford Motor Speedway. … For me, I’m like a kid in the candy store. I’m so excited, it’s not funny.” 

Said series co-founder Sandy Montag: “I think the key for us moving to Thursday night really was the power of ESPN’s brand and everything that goes with that. They’re not the worldwide leader for nothing.” 

And the move to Thursday events has allowed series management to pursue more drivers who are active full-time in other divisions, especially from the roster of the NASCAR Cup Series. 

Former Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski will run all six events for the series in 2023. Current NASCAR Cup Series regulars who will run selected events for the series in 2023 include Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Daniel Suarez. 

“I think that’s what’s going to be fun about this for these guys is even though they’re full-time racers on the weekends with NASCAR, for them to have the opportunity to come back and go back to their roots and go to a lot of these short tracks, I think that’s something that means a lot to these guys,” Stewart said. “The amount of Cup drivers that raised their hand and said, ‘Hey, we want to race. We can’t run all of them but we want to run these two races or those two races or this one race,’ just the amount of excitement that we had from the current Cup roster was phenomenal.

“I think it shows that what we’re doing has merit, shows how much fun these drivers have going to these races, and to see that many guys raise their hand just was — obviously when you’re a partner in the series, it puts a smile on your face knowing that what you’re doing must be right.” 

In addition to Stewart, Newman and Keselowski, the full-time roster for the series for 2023 features 2022 SRX Series champion Marco Andretti, Hallie Deegan, Ken Schrader, Bobby Labonte and Paul Tracy. Other part-time drivers include Hello Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Kenny Wallace, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Tony Kanaan, Matt Kenseth and Ernie Francis Jr. 

Along with the full-time roster, the Stafford field for the season opener features part-timer’s Hamlin, Harvick, Bowyer and Kanaan, 

“In that field is five Daytona 500 wins and an Indy 500 winner,” Hawk said. “Six of NASCAR’s 75 greatest drivers, seven NASCAR championships combined.” 

In addition to Stafford, the series will visit Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont (July 20), Motor Mile Speedway in Fairlawn, Virginia (July 27), Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan (Aug. 3), Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio (Aug. 10) and Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri (Aug. 17). The first four events are on pavement with the final two at dirt tracks. 

“We have some of the greatest racetracks in the country, and Tony and I beat that to death,” Hawk said. “We had 43 tracks ask to … hold a race with SRX. [And] while we were on the telephone narrowing it down to six, a 44th call came in on my phone during that call.” 

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