DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Keith Rocco is in the business of collecting checkered flags and championships, and for the seventh year in a row, business was good.
The 29-year-old wheelman from Wallingford, Connecticut, first captured the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship in The Nutmeg State in 2008. He has yet to relinquish the title.
Rocco’s seventh state title was earned with 16 wins, 35 top fives and an additional five top 10s in 46 starts between the Connecticut short-track triangle of Waterford Speedbowl, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and Stafford Motor Speedway.
Those numbers were good enough to place him on the national championship podium for the sixth year in a row and the final margin of victory in the Connecticut standings was 65 points over Ryan Preece.
“Connecticut has some of the fiercest competition around and to be able to pull this off that many years in a row is pretty amazing,” Rocco said.
En route to the latest Connecticut crown, Rocco also took home a fourth career track championship at the .375-mile oval in Waterford out of the SK Modified division. He went back-to-back there for the second time, having won his first two titles there in 2010-11.
Rocco registered 11 wins in 23 SK Modified starts at Waterford and breezed to the title by a whopping 250 points behind the wheel of his No. 88 Mr. Rooter/FMR/D&G Paving Chevrolet co-owned by Vin Beedle. He also earned Waterford’s Whelen All-American Series Division II late model division crown for the second year in a row with 11 victories in 21 races.
The accomplishments have accumulated enough that Rocco’s 65 career SK Modified wins are now a division record. He’s also on the verge of breaking the all-time feature wins record at Waterford, which has been in operation since 1951. Phil Rondeau holds the mark at 106 and Rocco will enter 2015 with 103.
“Waterford is just my kind of race track,” Rocco said. “It’s the smallest track in Connecticut. Its tight racing and it’s what really suits my style.”
Rocco now has 10 career track championships overall. Only 12 drivers in Whelen All-American Series history have more, and he narrowly missed an 11th this year at Thompson.
Rocco also ran a No. 88 Mr. Rooter Chevrolet in the Sunoco Modified division at Thompson, where he was bested by Preece by just six points – or three positions on the track at any point in the season – for what could have been a fifth title at the .625-mile oval.
“There’s always disappointment when you lose one by that small of a margin,” Rocco said. “We broke a motor there one night and it put us behind. We had a lot of ground to make up since we basically lost that race. I really can’t complain, we won four races, so overall to me it was a great year there.”
A two-time titlist at the Stafford half-mile, Rocco finished fourth in SK Modified points there this year with a pair of wins behind the wheel of the No. 88 Wheelers Auto/Mr. Rooter Chevrolet owned by John Rufano.
“Stafford is very, very tough to win at,” Rocco said. “The competition over there is unbelievable. Not only do you have top-notch SK drivers, but you’ve got the best [NASCAR Whelen Modified] Tour drivers there racing SKs as well. It makes it challenging.”
Between racing at the three Connecticut tracks on a weekly basis and a part-time touring series schedule, and maintaining the cars himself for all of those efforts, Rocco also had to balance being a new father this year. Keith Rocco Jr., who goes by K.J., was born last winter.
“My wife makes it pretty easy on me, but if anything, (fatherhood) makes me more relaxed,” Rocco said. “When you come home from the track you forget about all of the stress and aggravation. Racing isn’t always a success, there are downfalls, so when you go home at night you forget about all of that stuff.”
K.J. made plenty of trips to Victory Lane in 2014 for post-race pictures, but his father has no current road map for what would be a third generation of racing Roccos.
“I didn’t get my start in go-karts until I was 13, so if he’s anything like me, he’ll know how to build them before he knows how to drive them,” Rocco said.
Rocco will be recognized alongside each of the track and state champions from across North America at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards on Dec. 12 in the Charlotte (North Carolina) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
-NASCAR IMC Release. Photo Credit: Speed51.com.