The latest off-track news surrounding the New London-Waterford Speedbowl (CT) has been a polarizing topic over the past three months, including the lead up to the season opening Blastoff event this past Saturday. While there were a few names not in attendance, the names that were the exceeded the no-shows. On Saturday, the drivers got down to the business of racing with some sharing their thoughts on returning to the Connecticut shore after a long period of uncertainty surrounding the track’s future.
One of the most outspoken in the pits, not surprising to many, was veteran Connecticut SK Modified ace Bo Gunning, who is one of many competitors that at one time came close to seeing time, money and effort almost be for not.
“I love racing, a race is a race, that’s why I don’t understand why there isn’t more people here today,” Gunning told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It’s a race track we’re trying to keep going. As far as the owner goes, we still have to support the race track; the track did not wrong anybody. I don’t want to see another track go to the wayside.”
“This is a brand-new car, brand new motor, that we built for the Bowl this year, and we were really sad because everybody works. It’s hard to do Friday nights at Stafford and Thompson is a long ride. This is perfect for us. We’re here, we’re going to give it our all. Last year we ran with underrated equipment but we had a lot of fun, this year we’re going to try and win some.”
Another driver mirroring Gunning’s sentiments was two-time and defending Mini Stock champion Wayne Burroughs, Jr. who is not just seeking a third straight title, but also looking to break into Modified racing with Tom Abele, Jr. in the SK Light divisions.
“We got a lot of time and money invested,” Burroughs said. “We go to Thompson also, but you’re talking seven races, so it’s not really worth the investment. Coming back to the Bowl, running every Saturday from here on out, supporting them with two cars, and we’re here to stay as long as the gates are open.”
SK Modified competitor Matt Galko has made a name up at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) most of his career, but has put in time at the Speedbowl in recent seasons, including getting a career first SK Modified win at the Bowl in September 2016. He hopes if things go right, he can compete for a Speedbowl championship in 2017.
“It’s good to be back, hopefully everything continues to go smoothly and we continue to get good car counts. But it’s definitely good to see the track hosting some races this year. Our plan is to start off the season, run each race they have and see how it goes. If we start racking off some good finishes in the car, and keep it in one piece we’ll keep going,” Galko said Saturday afternoon. “I love this track, I always like driving it, when there was news that it wasn’t going to open and the rumors started flying it was going to close for good, it definitely would’ve sucked because it’s pretty sentimental for me. I got my first SK win here. It’s good to see it open and hopefully we can get a couple more wins.”
A lot of the greatest joy comes from the Bowl’s most well-known champions. Five-time champion and the all-time win leader in the Mini Stock division, Ken Cassidy, Jr. has been going to the Speedbowl since day one, watching his father race before taking it up himself. He is ready to get it after it once again.
“This is home for us, this is my playground,” Cassidy stated. “I can’t wait to get on with it. I grew up here as a little kid watching everybody race and now I’m doing it myself. Hopefully the crowds will come and the cars will come. We’re here to stay, it’s the best racing in the world; we spent all winter building a brand-new car to go out and have some fun.”
The possibility of losing his home track hit four-time and defending Limited Sportsman champion Al Stone, III hard at first and the relief was still visible on Saturday.
“We were upset. We didn’t know where we were going to go racing. We had a few ideas, but the Bowl is our home,” said Stone, who went on to win the Limited Sportsman feature later in the day. “Regardless of the situation we’re just happy it’s open and we have some place to race. Championship? We’ll see, the competition is always tough, the guys are fast and everybody always gets faster every week, so we’ll see what happens.”
One Speedbowl local who has done anything but twiddle his thumbs is Late Model driver Ray Christian, III. “RCIII” has been busy running both the American-Canadian Tour schedule along with races up the road at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. But the return of racing to the Bowl, and the possibility of Late Model championship contention, has the No. 93 team looking to stay home for conflicting dates with ACT and go for it.
“It’s awesome to be back here, this is home. We’re literally five miles down the road, so to come here instead of having to drive four hours is definitely nice. This is where we love to race, this is the best racing in New England. We’re here to support the race track and all the other people who put time and money into it, we’re here to race. If this week and next week go well and we’re in good shape, we’ll have to rethink Seekonk, but we’ve got a few weeks to figure it out and we’ll see what happens.”
After a night of hard racing throughout all divisions, it was no surprise that Keith Rocco had won in both the Late Model and SK Modified features, extending his all-time record to 138 victories overall at the track. While some say that Kid Roc now finds it easy to get around, Rocco still sees it as the greatest challenge in the land of short track racing, and he’s looking forward to facing that challenge for time to come.
“Still the best place to race, and there’s the most action, probably the most fun I have racing all year,” Rocco explained. “You can never take a breath, you’re always up on the wheel.”
The New London-Waterford Speedbowl will host Saturday night racing throughout the summer and early fall. Wednesday racing and Friday night holeshot drag racing are set to begin this week.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com