When you hear the name Rocco in Connecticut racing circles, more often than not you probably think of the name Keith Rocco, the current leader in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings. But there has always been another half to this current generation of the Rocco family, twin brother Jeff Rocco. Jeff has shown a talent of working with the wrenches, either on his own cars or someone else’s, usually his brother’s. Behind the wheel, Jeff has found victory lane on occasion, usually at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in the SK Modifieds. But Wednesday night at Thompson Speedway Motosports Park (CT), Jeff Rocco rose to the top for the first time at the “Big T” in a full-bodied Late Model, winning the uniquely formatted Late Model 20/20 Sprint event.
The format, which made its debut last year, is an event that consists of two 20-Lap features, which each distribute points for the season championship, and a 10-lap non-points sprint race. The winner of the overall event is determined by the driver with best average finish over all three segments.
The talk of the night was of the final 10 laps which saw brothers Jeff and Keith battling door-to-door after starting on the front row. The last four laps would be the closest following the last restart, with neither driver giving an inch while trading a fair amount of paint. But Jeff who had the inside line, indicated he had shown a bit of restraint.
“I probably wouldn’t have a conscience against anyone else. We ran pretty hard there, it wasn’t anything he wouldn’t have done to us. All and all it was pretty good race. I ran hard, I didn’t slam him, I didn’t bump him, we rubbed, good race for the fans. We’ll have something to talk about next Thanksgiving,” Jeff Rocco said to Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
Marc Curtis would soon crash the Rocco’s party, attempting three wide passes on the inside of both turns in the last two laps. Curtis’ bid for the lead resulted in Keith Rocco getting shuffled out of the lead battle on the last lap, and Jeff Rocco beating Curtis to the line in by .03 seconds in a photo finish.
“I was nervous there I’ve been in three-wide situations before and they usually don’t turn out good. Whatever he did to not do anything stupid or not use us up, I got to give hats off to him. He maintained his lane, he didn’t bounce me, he didn’t rub me and we just put on a show for the fans,” Rocco said of the finish.
For Marc Curtis, the opportunity to challenge for the win came a bit too late.
“Can’t even tell you how much I was hoping Jeff would not take Keith out, but just run him a little up the track there to give me the opening I needed,” said Curtis. “They were really bouncing off each other and all I need just a little break to keep that momentum going and really put my nose under him.”
For Jeff Rocco the victory in the Sprint helped to secure the overall event title in the longest night of the season for the Late Models.
In the first 20-Lap feature Jeff Rocco started on the pole and managed to stay there for the entire feature, with just one caution and restart with five laps remaining being the only obstacle on the journey to his first ever Thompson feature victory.
But in the second 20-lap segment, an inversion of the top-12 put Rocco on the outside of the sixth row to start, but it did not diminish his view on the event.
“It was great for the fans, it kept us on our toes, it gave us a chance to work on our cars and adjust. The first race there I was a little snug, probably over adjusted for the second one, but we clawed our way to the front. We knew it was going to be scratch and claw to get to the front. I passed a car on the last lap (of the second segment). I’m glad I did because I think it came down to one on the average that separated us. I don’t think anybody has time to do math out there while on the edge. Just keep passing cars and let the cards fall as they are,” Jeff Rocco said of his sixth-place finish in the second segment.
With Rocco and other fast cars mired back in traffic, another Late Model newcomer Brian Tagg took advantage of the situation, winning the second segment for his first Thompson win in a Late Model.
“That was incredibly exciting, I didn’t think it was going to come this early or who knows if I was ever going to get a win. We had a car that was capable of winning, very excited to win against the caliber of people we’re racing against,” said Tagg at the end of the night.
But Jeff Rocco fast driving in the first segment had paid off for the third with the starting lineup for the sprint being determined by the fastest laps by drivers in the first segment, which was also a bit of a feat given Jeff’s limited Thompson experience.
“I don’t have a lot of laps around this place in general, this is probably my fifth race ever here, probably got less than 200 laps around this joint.”
All this has made the victory a major career mark for Rocco.
“I’ve won SK races and there are certain ones that are special. I don’t have a ton of wins like my brother. I get limited opportunities to drive racecars and this is the first consistent thing I’ve been in probably two years. I’d have to say this is a special one. I’ve never won here. I’ve never won in a Late Model. It wasn’t just a regular race and we got a guaranteed starting spot in the ACT race, so that’s pretty special too.”
The automatic berth in October’s World Series ACT Tour season finale race plus the $1,000 prize are significant for Rocco, but the biggest story for Rocco is his first victory behind the wheel of Eric Grant’s No. 68.
“Eric Grant he puts his heart and soul into this thing. He’s in the garage five days a week. He eats, breathes and sleeps racing. He stepped up from a Sportsman car, I ran it a few times for him last year and he wanted to do something with me, but I wanted out of the Sportsman class. It was a little too rough. He stepped up to the plate, he went full swing.”
Another first was witnessed earlier in the evening at Thompson with Cam McDermott winning the 30-Lap Sunoco Modified feature over Woody Pitkat and Ryan Morgan. Cory Hutchings won the Limited Sportsman feature, while Scott Michalski won in the Mini Stocks, both adding to their win total on the season.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Late Model 20/20 Overall Results (Unofficial)
Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) – July 7, 2015
(Car Number, Name, Total Points)
|15||62||Les Rose, Jr.||45|
|18||96||Art Moran III||51|