This past winter, history was made when Glastonbury, CT business man Bruce Bemer took possession of the keys to the now New London-Waterford Speedbowl (CT), ushering in a new era of ownership for the 3/8-mile short track on the Connecticut shore. Bemer’s purchased helped to continue a legacy of racing which dates back to 1951, with scores of drivers, most of who struggled to attain even a single race victory in their driving careers, while a select few set high and mighty marks in both race wins and championships. While the story of drivers chasing their first win either in the current division they compete in or their entire career is always a question on race day, another which has been on the minds of the Speedbowl faithful since late last season, is that of six-time Speedbowl Late Model champion Phil Rondeau’s record of 106 overall feature wins, across all divisions. More specifically, could Wallingford, CT driver Keith Rocco match and surpass that mark?
Rocco, who’s the defending champion in both the Late Model and SK Modified divisions at the Speedbowl came into Saturday night on the cusp of this mark after getting wins 104 and 105 by taking victories in the feature races of both divisions the week before on opening night.
It would be a promising start to the night for Keith Rocco as he won the heat qualifying race for the Late Models while finishing second in his SK Modified heat. Rocco’s first big race of the night would be the 30-lap Late Model feature, and he would waste no time going from his starting position of fourth, to the lead in just seven laps. From then on Rocco would be untouchable as he took the victory for career win 106.
“Tying Phil Rondeau’s record is absolutely awesome, the guy’s set history here at the Speedbowl and I’m glad right now I’m able to sit alongside him,” said Rocco from victory lane.
It was the 29th career Late Model win for Rocco at the Speedbowl, to go along with his 66 SK Modified, four Limited Sportsman, three Valenti Modified Racing Series, two Truck Division, one Pro-4 Modified, and one NEMA Lite victories. Rocco got his first overall victory in the Limited Sportsman on August 30, 2003, where he followed up with the other three in 2004, en route to the 2004 Limited Sportsman championship. After some time away from the Speedbowl from 2005- 2007, Rocco returned to competition full-time at the Bowl in 2008 and has since picked up the other 102 feature wins, plus the 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 SK Modified championships, as well as the 2013 & 2014 Late Model championships.
The time for win 107 however would not come Saturday in the 35-lap SK Modified feature, after starting in the 17th position following a two week loss of preferred handicap in the SK’s after tight racing with Ted Christopher on a restart the week previous, Rocco would get hit hard in the left-rear on lap 1, slightly compromising his car. Despite this Rocco would storm forward, but would only get as far as fourth, citing wear on the right-rear tire. Despite the significance of the night, there was still some disappointment from Rocco.
“It’s special, we’re tied, we’re right there, we just gotta win one more. Little disappointed we weren’t able to win the SK race, the car wasn’t that great tonight. I think starting in the back you really abuse the right-rear just trying to get to the front and we got tangled up there a little in the beginning, but next week’s another week. I don’t care about finishing second, I don’t care about finishing third, we’re here to win races,” Rocco said to Speed51.com powered by JEGS at the end of the night.
In the end it would be Plainfield, Connecticut driver Timmy Jordan who would notch out the win in the SK Modified feature, for career victory number one in the division. Jordan, a champion in the Late Model division at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in the 2006 & 2010 seasons has struggled to find solid footing since moving to Modifieds in 2011. He broke into Modifieds first with a stint in the Valenti Modified Racing Series from 2011- 2013, before moving to the Speedbowl SK’s in 2014.
Saturday, he would use a healthy starting spot as springboard to jump to the lead on lap 2 and come out on top of hot battles with former SK Modified champions Ted Christopher and Rob Janovic Jr.
“It’s just tight racing, you know under caution you’re like, ‘Aw Ted (Christopher) is out there, Rob (Janovic Jr.) is behind me, Keith (Rocco) is behind him.’ But then you’re like, ‘It’s fine I’ve held them off all night,’” Jordan told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It (the win) feels like it should of happened last year at some point but it’s tough down here with the handicap system, usually we were very consistent so we always started towards the rear of the pack and I always find myself behind the 88 (Keith Rocco) with three laps to go and that was our season last year.”
The victory is also the first for the LFR Modified chassis in SK competition. Jordan switched to the new chassis this past winter and is currently the only driver running the chassis at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.
With the win, Jordan moves into third in the SK Modified championship standings, ten markers behind Rocco, who leads by four points over second-place Rob Janovic Jr. Rocco also leads the Late Model standings by 11 over second-place Jason Palmer.
Rocco will have two chances earn win 107 this coming Saturday with both the SK Modifieds and Late Models hitting the track again.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Rick Ibsen/Speed51.com
SK Modified Unofficial Feature Results
1 Tim Jordan
2 Robert Janovic Jr.
3 Ted Christopher
4 Keith Rocco
5 Tyler Chadwick
6 Craig Lutz
7 Ed Puleo
8 James Monahan
9 Joe Gada
10 John Montesanto
11 Adam Gada
12 Frank Mucciacciaro Jr.
13 Jeff Fialkovich
14 Jake Berchem
15 Wendell Dailey
16 Paul Kusheba IV
17 Joe Liskiewicz
18 Jeffrey Gallup
Late Model Unofficial Feature Results
1 Keith Rocco
2 Anthony Flannery
3 Jason Palmer
4 Jeff Rocco
5 Derryck Anderson Jr.
6 Christopher Garside
7 Ray Christian III
8 Ken Morin Jr.
9 Matthew Carlson