Two different drivers exited their cars thinking they were the 2017 SK Modified champion following Sunday night’s season finale at New London-Waterford Speedbowl (CT). At first, Kyle James was announced as the champion after winning the final race of the season. A short time after, Keith Rocco was crowned champion after a review and discussion of the rule book.
Rocco entered the night as the championship leader with James hot on his heels in the championship standings.
While James dominated the majority of the 80-lap race to come home with the win, things were more chaotic for Rocco, who led briefly early on but fell to the rear when he had to pit early under yellow for a flat tire. Things would get worse when Ronnie Williams spun with less than 20 laps to go, with Rocco clipping Williams with his left front tire. After spending seven laps in the pits for repairs, Rocco rejoined the track with nine to go.
With five to go, the hasty repairs came undone as a welding patch on the left front snapped, causing Rocco to slow and smoke. Rocco received the black flag with four laps to go. After Rocco pulled off three laps later, James eventually took the win.
Following a period of deliberation, the scorers at first awarded the championship to James by two points over Rocco. But immediately objections came up from the Rocco crew, who made their way to the fronstretch and contended that Rocco had made up enough positions from cars that had fallen out of the race before pulling off to win the championship.
After some discussion, both Rocco and James were brought into the race control booth for a review of the race. Originally, scorers had stopped scoring Rocco immediately upon the black flag being displayed from the flag stand. This was found to be an error in postrace by track officials, with the rules dictating a driver has two laps to heed the black flag before scoring ceases. Race director Chris Forster explained the situation to Speed51.com powered by JEGS after the race.
“The official ruling after the rule was written in the New London-Waterford Speedbowl rules: with four laps to go Keith Rocco got the black flag, he had two laps to heed the black flag, that would have stopped scoring him with two laps to go when the final outcome came to be position sixteen, which put him up one point on Kyle James,” Forster explained
“There was a protest as far as the rule. When the rule was brought to our attention, I put Keith and Kyle in there (race control booth), went over the rules and we did the points and multiplied the points. Even if it ended in a tie, Keith would’ve won the championship on wins when it was all said and done. But the final outcome was Keith Rocco by one point over Kyle James.”
While Forster was glad that the staff had straightened things out in the end, he was unhappy that the original error had been made.
“I feel confident with our final decision. I do feel bad on our first decision, but when the protest was brought to my attention, every competitor has the right to protest a race,” he stated. “Keith Rocco brought the protest to my attention. I took the two of them to the tower, we did the math, we did the math in front of both of them and the final outcome was a one point decision in favor of Rocco, pending tech.”
While all results at the Speedbowl are not official until mid-week, as per standard procedure, it is still a time for celebration for Rocco who becomes the first driver to win SK Modified championships at all three Connecticut short tracks (Waterford, Thompson and Stafford) in the same season.
While “Kid Roc” has been in plenty of championship battles before, he said that this one was the hardest. He also discussed just how beat up his No. 88 Modified was at the end of Sunday night’s feature.
“There was nowhere to go, there was nothing to fix, the rack was ripped apart so we went to the welding truck and got it back together,” Rocco explained. “We made it back out, the tie-rod finished breaking the rest of the way off. They stopped scoring us after running two laps, we ran three and won by one point. I guess that’s why you never give up. What can I say, it’s crazy. This (championship) was the hardest.”
Rocco’s biggest ally on the night may have been in twin brother Jeff Rocco, who was the one who first found the two-lap rule and brought it to everyone’s attention.
“I saw it in black and white in the rules, so I brought it to their attention,” Jeff stated. “All you could ask is that they look at it and it hope it ends up in your favor. I’m glad that I helped him out; it’s quite an accomplishment to win four championships and I’m very proud of him.”
Despite being told he was the champion and then being told he wasn’t the champion, there was no anger for James, just disappointment.
“Not surprised. I was nowhere near where he was when he got black flagged so I don’t know the numbers. I’m only going by what they tell me up there, but I don’t know what to say,” James said. “Speechless. Told one thing one minute, they start begging and pleading, now the call is changed. I don’t know. The night was exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to come and win the race. That’s the only part I could control, what happens behind us is not up to us.”
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Rick Ibsen