STAFFORD, CT----Since the inception of
the NASCAR modified tour, drivers, owners and fans have been able to watch
their heroís on two of the nationís two best short tracks in the country,
the Thompson International Speedway and the Stafford Motor Speedway.
While the Thompson Speedway just
celebrated its birthday last week of the first race held at the 5/8th
mile oval some 70 years ago, the Stafford Motor Speedway too has a long
history associated with it.
Where the track sits now was called the
Stafford Spring Agricultural Park and way back in 1870, people would flock
to the little town and watch racing of a different breed, actual horsepower.
Horse and Trotter racing continued at the grounds until the end of World War
As race tracks were springing up across
the country after the Great War and small cars later known as midgets began
to take the country by storm as people gathered to watch their neighbors
compete in motorized cars. It wasnít long before Stafford became a weekly
stop for daredevils.
The Stafford Speedway became one of the
first members of NASCAR in 1959 and the dusty old dirt track was replaced by
asphalt in 1967.
Mel Barlow was a collector of
automobiles and owned the track but soon, a car owner of something called a
jalopy or modified would buy the place and turn it, along with his family,
into the showcase of NASCAR weekly and touring racing in America.
It was in June of 1969, when Arute
learned from fellow racer, Wild Bill Slater, that the track was going to
close unless something or someone came alongÖthe rest, as they say is
When Jack Arute, Sr. left turning the
wrenches and began upgrading the track, what you now see at Stafford is his
vision as well as his son, Mark, who now serves as President of the track
and has overseen some of its most dramatic growth.
The track is still a one-half mile oval
that drivers across the country insist is one of the most difficult tracks
in the country to conquer.
For as long as the modified tour has
existed, for all but one year, the modified tour has been a staple at the
Stafford Speedway but it is that one year that caused some hard feeling
between Arute and the car owners and fans of modifieds.
Jack Arute, Sr. has been called a lot
of things from stubborn and thick headed to a man so far ahead of his time
that people couldnít relate to him.
Arute began to see his weekly car count
for the modifieds begin to slip and he knew that car owners couldnít afford
to race weekly for the purses offered by promoters so he began to look into
another form of racing that he felt would give the fans the same opened
wheel racing that they loved but in an less expensive form that what car
owners were spending now.
Arute was one who believed that the
modifieds could only exist on a touring type series and he was one who
pushed for NASCAR to form what is now called the NASCAR Whelen modified
When Jack Sr., replaced the weekly
modifieds with his new SK series, fans stayed away in droves but Arute knew
that what he was doing would not only save open wheel modified racing but
also his track.
It wasnít easy for Arute or his family
who poured everything into the track. They replaced the bleachers, put in a
new Musco Lighting system, upgraded their public address system, as well as
expanding the pit area and amenities that race fans have come to expect from
a Sprint Cup track are now available at the weekly track.
Many of todayís best track announcers
and TV broadcasters have started their own careers right at Stafford. Jackie
Arute, Jr., known for his work at the Indianapolis 500 as well as a reporter
for ABC doing college football games. Throw in FOX lead announcer Mike Joy
to current ESPN NASCAR Now host, Mike Massaro, Stafford has been at the
forefront for bringing out the best.
When Arute handed over the reins of the
track in 1989 to his son, Mark, many wondered whether Mark could show the
strength and wisdom that his father showed but much to everyoneís surprise,
Mark has not only matched his father in keeping modified racing alive but
making Stafford Motor Speedway, a must visit for race fans across the
It hasnít been easy but it certainly
has been worth it, not only for the fans but the drivers and owners on the
modified tour but the other weekly series competitors that call Stafford
their home track.
The track has always featured some of
the best drivers in modified history and all have won at Stafford. In the
70ís, it was Hall of Famers such as Eddie Flemke, Sr., Bugsy Stevens, and
Fred DeSarro winning and setting up intense rivalries. In the 80ís it was
the addition of Richie Evans, Jerry Cook, Maynard Troyer, Ronnie Bouchard
and of course, Geoffrey Bodine.
As the 80ís turned into the 90ís and
the SK modifieds were the headline division, it was drivers such as Bo
Gunning and Ted Christopher, who is the all time leader in wins at Stafford
that have continued to bring fans into the track that is over 140 years old
but looks as new as today.
The road hasnít been easy but because
of a stubborn construction company owner from New Britain, CT. and his
family, the Stafford Motor Speedway is now one of the premier showcases of