Century Mark: Jason Palmer Shines Over Two Decade Milestone Grabbing Career At Speedbowl 

Jason Palmer (Photo: Mitch Bombard/TK Race Photos)

Last Saturday, like he has has done so many nights over the past 20 years at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, Jason Palmer rolled his car into victory lane for a feature win celebration. 

It was the seventh time this season Palmer has celebrated a Late Model division victory at the Speedbowl and the 46th time overall he’s done it since 2011. 

But the big number looming over victory lane for Palmer last week at the Speedbowl wasn’t No. 7 or even No. 46. 

It was 99. 

Last Saturday’s Late Model win was the 99th feature victory for Palmer at the Speedbowl. The 35-year old from Berlin had 53 victories in the Legends car division at the Speedbowl from 2005 and 2009. With his next victory Palmer will become just the fourth driver in New London-Waterford Speedbowl history to eclipse the 100-victory mark at the historic shoreline oval. 

Keith Rocco (154 wins), Phil Rondeau (107 wins) and Don Collins (101 wins) are the only drivers to reach 100 wins at the Speedbowl. 

Asked what 100 wins would mean to him, Palmer was succinct: “Not a thing.” 

“Keith Rocco is so far out,” Palmer said of the track’s all-time wins leader. “It would be one thing if Rocco had like 102 or 110 and that was a goal to shoot for. When you look at it, I’m 66 percent of what he has right now. 

“It’s cool that I’m catching guys, but Phil Rondeau is a legend. When I was a kid watching cars go around, I used to love watching Allen Coates [88 wins]. He was probably one of my favorite guys to watch because he always put on a show. And then one day, I’m like ‘Holy smokes, I’ve got more wins now than Coates? That guy was my hero.’ Phil Rondeau has always been a Late Model legend. You’re catching people like that, but I don’t put myself on that same platform. If it was the 90’s I don’t know if I’d be able to hang with those guys. I’d sure as hell would try to, but things are definitely different now than they were then.” 

It’s fair to say Jags Palmer, Jason’s father, wasn’t thinking there would be a day celebrating anything close to 100 wins during their first season running together in a Legends car at the Speedbowl in 2004. 

At 16 years old Jason Palmer had been working on the Legends cars his father competed in for eight years, but he had never raced in anything himself. 

“We were at the track one day and I said to him, ‘Why don’t you take this thing out. … Take it out and see how you like it.’” Jags Palmer said. “I said to him, ‘Just run it like it’s your quad, just act like you’re on your quad riding around.’ He goes out in practice, he spins the thing out and he goes through the infield. He comes into the pits and the whole inside of the car is full of mud. I said ‘Forget about the quad kid, don’t run this thing like it’s your quad.’ 

“The whole first year, we had a learning year that was kind of scary. I think I put six clips on the car in the first year. Who knows how many wrecks we had just learning. He got better. He got the hang of it. But that first year, I would have never thought he was going turn out as good as he did.” 

Taking Over For The Family Ride

In the early 1990’s Legends cars were introduced as a new low cost alternative spec style racing division across the country. Jags Palmer got involved on the ground floor of the division making its way into the Northeast short track scene through his affiliation with the Manafort family. Jags Palmer ultimately ended up behind the wheel of a Legends car out of the Manafort racing stable of entries. 

Jags Palmer eventually would record 16 Legends division victories at the Speedbowl and win both the Saturday night and Wednesday night championship in 2003. Behind the scenes young Jason Palmer was working on the cars in the shop. 

“I was involved in it with him building the stuff,” Jason Palmer said. “I was building cars on my own at eight years old. I always wanted to drive. I enjoyed working on the cars and helping [my dad] and they really fascinated me. I wanted to drive them but I didn’t really see the opportunity because my father was racing.”

At 16 years old Jason Palmer was eligible to compete at the Speedbowl in 2004 and made his debut in a Legends car. 

“I kind of got thrown to the wolves,” Jason Palmer said. “There was a lot of people in the division that had a lot of experience. At that time it was mostly [grown men]. Almost everyone was in their 30’s or 40’s. I was a really young kid in that division. There was the Bakaj brothers and Jeffrey Paul and me that were the young guys. Everyone else had been doing it for a while. And I came in with no prior racing experience. The Bakaj’s came in with motocross experience and Jeffrey Paul had years of Quarter Midget experience. I came in probably knowing the car better than any of those guys, but with these least knowledge of actually racing it.

“There was definitely a big learning curve as far as car control and stuff like that. I guess the good thing was I didn’t come in with any bad habits.” 

Jason Palmer got his first Legends win at the Speedbowl in 2005, finishing that season with four wins overall between the Saturday night and Wednesday night divisions. He would get four wins in 2006. In 2007 came seven wins overall and the Wednesday night championship. In 2008 the success went through the roof with 12 wins overall and another Wednesday night championship. 

“In 2008 after won I 12 times my father was like ‘We won 12 races this year. Don’t ever expect to have another season like this again.’ Jason Palmer said. “It was just an outstanding season. I could have never imagined what would happen the next year.

“I went into 2009 refusing to lose. There was no way that anyone was going to beat me. That was the mentality I went to the track with for every race. I didn’t care if there were four laps left in a race and I was in last place, I was convinced I was going to win the race. I never doubted myself that any night I wasn’t going to win the race.” 

In 2009 Jason Palmer won 10 of the 13 Saturday night events at Waterford and 12 of the 15 Wednesday night events. He won championships for both divisions. 

“I remember one time on the way to the track I said to him, “It isn’t all about winning all the time you know. It wouldn’t be awful if another guy would win once in a while.’ Jags Palmer said. “We were just winning everything. I really did want to see some other guys gets wins.” 

Said Jason Palmer: “Back then there were 24-26 cars in most Legends features. They would go by your previous finishes for the starting lineup, so I was starting last every week. It was a full field handicap and I loved that. You weren’t in the front of the field duking it out with the three fastest cars at the front of the field every week. It was the three fastest guys starting at the back of the field and it was about being the smartest guy in traffic. Who can get through without getting wrecked.” 

To this day Jason Palmer remains atop the all-time Legends division win list at the Speedbowl. Dana DiMatteo sits second on the list with 33 victories.  

Stepping Up The Game 

After the total domination of 2009 Jason Palmer and Jags Palmer decided it was time to move on to something new. 

“When I was running Legends, the challenged disappeared,” Jason Palmer said. “I felt like we were just going to the track to win every time. I wanted to do something on a larger stage. SK [Modifieds] were definitely out of our budget. With the motor, they were just too much. Watching Timmy Jordan and Bruce [Thomas Jr.] race out there, the Late Models just looked like a cool car to run. As far as the motors, it was much more affordable than the SK [Modified]. So we decided we were going to go with that step.” 

Jason Palmer (left) and Jags Palmer (right) in victory lane this year at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl (Photo: Passing Bird Photography)

In 2010 Jason Palmer made his debut in the Late Model division at the Speedbowl. 

“That first year we had some good stuff go on, but we just couldn’t get a win,” Jason Palmer said. “Just learning a new car, not having the experience with that style of car, we just had a lot of weird problems. My father didn’t have much Late Model experience or big car experience, but we just kind of learned it. 

“I was a rookie with four championships and 50 wins. I knew that I was capable of doing it, I just wasn’t comfortable yet and the car wasn’t quite where we wanted it yet. Driving a big car like that, I was looking for a feel that I was maybe never going to get in a Late Model. I’m used to driving a little short Legend car where you turn the wheel and the thing snaps and turns instantly. I kept trying to make a Late Model do that and they’re just not capable of doing that. We just had to learn so much stuff.” 

Jason Palmer got his first win in the Late Model division in 2011 and the team has won at least one race in the division every year since then besides 2019 when the track was closed. 

In 2015 he had five wins and scored his first Late Model championship. In 2021 he had a 10-win season and his second championship in the division. His third title came in 2022 after a six-win season. 

This year Jason Palmer looks on track for a fourth Late Model championship. He holds a 71-point lead in the standings with three races remaining. A start in the next feature will likely clinch the 2023 Late Model championship.

Jason Palmer (Photo: Mitch Bombard/TK Race Photos)

“We don’t even leave the house without expecting to win,” Palmer said. “We never leave the garage thinking ‘Hey, we’re going to finish second tonight.’ That would never happen. Even if we might have the slowest car in practice or the slowest car in a heat race, we’re still going out there for a win. We’re not looking for a top-three or a top-five. Maybe in my early years we were just going there to finish a race, but not now. We show up and it doesn’t matter what we have that day, we’re there to win.” 

And after nearly 13 full seasons in the Late Model division at the Speedbowl, there’s no place Jason Palmer would rather be in racing. 

“I love the Late Models,” Jason Palmer said. “I drove an SK [Modified] a couple times at Waterford and it just, I got in an SK I felt like it was boring. You’ve just got too much tire and I don’t feel like they have enough motor. At least in a Late Model you’re still sliding around a bit. With a Late Model it still feels like you can drive the car. In [an SK] it feels like you’re just along for the ride.” 


  1. Awesome job that’s a lot of hard work and time in the shop 👍
    Very respectful drive

  2. Jason Palmer is impressive at The Bowl. Has he ever ventured out to other tracks?

  3. Rafter Fan,
    He raced briefly at Monadnock Speedway early in the 2017 season when the Speedbowl was very late opening that year. He has also made some starts over the years at Thompson Speedway. He also did a late of traveling back when he was running the Legend car. But primarily, the bulk of his career has been spent running regularly at the Speedbowl.

Leave a Reply

Copyright 2018 E-Media Sports

Website Designed by Thirty Marketing