April 22, 2014 — By Jason Cunningham, NASCAR — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – If the stars are to align for Woody Pitkat to get his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory, perhaps this week’s NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway will be the time and place.
Pitkat, a Stafford native, has racked up an impressive 69 career feature victories at his home track in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action. He’s earned modified track championships and late model division crowns at both Stafford and Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park during his career. In southern New England racing, there aren’t a lot of things left for Pitkat to accomplish, but a Whelen Modified Tour win would be near the top of the list.
Pitkat has come close. He has three runner-up finishes in the last four seasons, including this year’s opener at Thompson. In addition to Sunday’s race taking place at the one venue he is most familiar with, it is that Thompson performance that inspires the most confidence in a potential breakthrough in the Spring Sizzler 200. Pitkat piloted the No. 88 Buzz Chew Motorsports Chevrolet to the pole in qualifying and led more than one-third of the race before he was overcome by eventual winner Justin Bonsignore just nine laps short of victory. It was a situation similar to the 2012 Fall Final at Stafford when he had the lead with six laps to go.
If Pitkat is able to power through to victory this Sunday, it would not only be a special moment for driver and team, but for the community as a whole. The Spring Sizzler has yet to see a Stafford native reach Victory Lane in the headlining race through 42 editions – yet another streak the hometown boy hopes to end this weekend.
The Race: The 43rd Annual NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler 200 will be the second of 14 races on the 2014 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule, and the first of four events at Stafford Motor Speedway.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 33 cars, including provisionals. The first 28 cars will have secured starting positions based on two-lap qualifying. The remaining five spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race is scheduled for 200 laps (100 miles) and the tire change rule for the race is three tires, any position.
The Track: A half-mile, slightly-banked oval, Stafford originated as a horse racing track in the 1870s. After seven decades as a horse track, the dirt oval started holding automobile races following World War II. Stafford became a NASCAR-sanctioned track in 1959 and was paved for the first time in 1967.
Race Winners: There have been 31 different race winners at Stafford all-time, led by Mike Stefanik’s 20 victories. Bobby Santos is the defending winner of the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler 200 while Ted Christopher has the most Whelen Modified Tour triumphs in the event with five.
Pole Winners: There have been 41 different pole winners at Stafford, led by Stefanik’s 17. Ryan Preece holds the tour’s track qualifying record at 17.924 seconds (100.424 mph).
Stafford Race Notes:
Spring Sizzler the “Greatest Race in the History of Spring”: Unofficially dubbed the “Greatest Race in the History of Spring,” the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler has been Stafford Motor Speedway’s season-opening staple event since 1972 when Fred DeSarro piloted Len Boehler’s “Ole Blue” No. 3 to Victory Lane. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has headlined the event each year since 1989, and 28 times overall.
Christopher the “Greatest Winner in the History of Spring”: If the race itself has a nickname, then the driver with the most wins in the event should as well. Ted Christopher has been victorious in the Spring Sizzler’s headlining race a total of six times: five in Whelen Modified Tour action and one in SK Modifieds. Stafford’s winningest driver all-time, Christopher earned Whelen Modified Tour Sizzler wins in 2002-03 and 2008-10 while his SK feature win was registered in 1988, the one year the tour wasn’t on the weekend race card.
Four Races, Four Winners: Each of the four Whelen Modified Tour races at Stafford last year produced a different winner. The last time that happened was 2009. Of the 28 previous seasons that the tour has competed at the historic half-mile, only 10 saw a different winner in each event.
Bonsignore Looks for Two in a Row: The winner in the 2014 season opener at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, Justin Bonsignore will have a lot of reasons to chase a second straight victory. The runner-up in last year’s NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler 200, a win for Bonsignore this week would be his first in the iconic event, and his first at Stafford overall. Should he take the checkered flag on Sunday, Bonsignore would join Christopher (2009) as the only drivers in 30 years of Whelen Modified Tour competition to win the first two races of a season.
NASCAR Next to be Revealed Friday: The 2014-15 NASCAR Next class will be revealed on Friday, April 25 from Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. NASCAR Next is an industry initiative that shines a light on the top up-and-coming drivers in the NASCAR developmental ranks. Reigning Whelen Modified Tour titlist Ryan Preece was a member of the 2013-14 class – the lone modified driver in the group.
Home Tracks: Pitkat to Defend Stafford Title
There hasn’t been a repeat NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champion at Stafford Motor Speedway since Ted Christopher earned back-to-back titles in 2000-01, and Woody Pitkat will surely have his hands full if he wants to break the trend. A first-time titlist in 2013, Pitkat will have to contend with past track champs Christopher, Ryan Preece and Keith Rocco – as well as against the likes of Doug Coby, Rowan Pennink and Todd Szegedy – all competitors on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Preece led the division with eight wins in 18 events a year ago and finished just two tallies behind Pitkat in the final standings.
Last Time Out: Thompson
The 2014 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener was held on April 6 at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park. Here are some highlights from the Icebreaker 150 pres. by Town Fair Tire:
- Justin Bonsignore took the lead for the second and final time with nine laps to go and emerged with his fourth career victory, and second at Thompson.
- Woody Pitkat led 55 laps and finished second after he recorded his first career Coors Light Pole Award.
- The race featured seven lead change, the most at the track since the 2011 Icebreaker had eight.
Next Time Out: Stafford
Following the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler 200, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will head back to Stafford Motor Speedway for the 24th Annual TSI Harley-Davidson 125 on Friday, May 23. Ryan Preece is the defending winner of the event, which has produced a different victor each year since it returned to a late-May date in 2007.