WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The so-far-relentless winter was certainly on the minds of race fans, drivers, and speedway operators at this past weekend’s annual Frank Maratta’s Auto & Race-A-Rama Show at the Big E in West Springfield.
The race season for area drivers and fans begins in less than four weeks. Conversations at the show were filled with hope that winter would actually end in time for racing to start as scheduled, but with a certain amount of reasonable doubt that we’ll be feeling spring when we push the clocks forward this weekend.
The Waterford Speedbowl’s Blast Off Weekend is March 29th and 30th. The Valenti Modified Racing Series will begin its season at the Connecticut oval as part of the program. The following weekend will be the Icebreaker at the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut. That will be the first points race for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s 30th year, as well as the season opener for the Granite State Pro Stock Series. Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, New Hampshire will open for practice on April 12th and then begin their racing season a week later with the MRS.
When the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns Icebreaker weekend, 18 year old Tommy Barrett from Millis, Massachusetts will be in the seat of the Chris Our #22 which had previously been driven by veteran Mike Stefanik. Barrett comes to the Whelen Tour with six wins in two seasons in the Valenti Modified Racing Series. Barrett talked with 22News about taking over the ride driven by a racing legend: “I don’t really worry about that. I focus on doing what I can and doing my best. I don’t think that thinking about that is going to help you. If you have that in the back of your head, that’s not going to help you none. We’re just focused on going out there and winning as many races as we can.”
Barrett said he has really enjoyed watching Keith Rocco and Ted Christopher race. Barrett told 22News, “I like the way they drive and the aggressive driving style. I definitely learned a lot from watching them.” Barrett said his only goal for the 2014 season is to win as many races as they can.
Mike Stefanik is apparently without a NASCAR Modified Tour ride so far for this season, but is on the this year’s ballot for nomination to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. During Icebreaker weekend 2013, 22News talked with Stefanik about the possibility of being voted into the Hall of Fame. Stefanik told 22News, “It’s certainly something you never really think about as you’re a young guy coming up and try to make a name for yourself in racing. That’s the last hurrah, that’d be my last hurrah. It’s very humbling to think that possibly someday that could happen to me.” In that same interview, Stefanik told 22News, “I won’t be doing this too much longer. Next week, when I go to Stafford I think it will be my 37th season putting a helmet on over there. I don’t see me making 40. I want to go out on a high note and that’s why I don’t want to stay in this sport too long.” Stefanik will celebrate his 56th birthday in May.
The Granite State Pro Stock Series is now in its third season.
Belchertown’s Barry Gray will debut a new look to his #29 Chevrolet. Gray will now be the man in black in a change from his familiar yellow and orange paint scheme. The pro stock was introduced to area race fans in 1982 at the Riverside Park and Thompson Speedways. As time went on, weekly tracks dropped the pro stocks from their programs. There was always a belief that there were plenty of pro stocks sitting in garages and shops that could be part of a regional touring series. But GSPSS President Mike Parks told 22News that he was surprised by the number of young drivers that have joined his tour. “We’ve got some 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 year old kids that are good; good racers that are investing in new equipment to race in the series. That’s what surprises me more than anything else, is the guys that are buying new equipment to race in the series.”
Custom and classic cars were always the heart of the Frank Maratta Show. Visitors this weekend saw the innovation and design that defined America’s automotive industry. There were those who got a close-up look at cars that they had previously only seen and played in video games. One owner summed up his thoughts on the tailgate of his customized Chevrolet pickup truck: “It’s not what ya buy, It’s what ya build.”