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   The Chrome Horn - Valenti Modified Racing Series




When the Valenti Modified Racing Series returns to Stafford Motor Speedway for the Shark Cycle 80 on August 31 and the Lincoln Tech 80 on Sept. 14, one driver who will be looking for a breakout performance is Mark Bakaj. The former SK Modified® and SK Light weekly competitor at Stafford made the transition into the VMRS for the 2012 season and he has four top-10 finishes in the first 8 races and currently sits 8th in the points standings. While Bakaj has yet to notch a top-5 finish this season, he is hoping that his track experience at Stafford will pay dividends and yield a top-5 finish for him and his #7 crew.

“I think we can get our first top-5 at Stafford,” said Bakaj. “I thought Waterford would be a good shot for us, but that race got rained out. I think Stafford is right up there with Waterford and Thompson as tracks where we can really have a good showing. I feel pretty confident we’ll have a good showing at Stafford and we’ll run up front with the top guys.”

The 2012 season got off to a slow start for Bakaj with 15th and 21st place finishes in the first two races, but he has finished in the top-10 in four of the last 6 races with a best finish thusfar of 9th. Bakaj and his team are still learning the intricacies of their MRS machine, but their recent form indicates that they are headed in the right direction with their car.

“It’s been a pretty good season so far, we’re leading the rookie points and we’re solidly in the top-10 in points,” said Bakaj. “We’re starting to figure things out with this new car and racing the different tracks. Some of the tracks I’ve raced at before, but it’s the first time I’ve seen them in this car. We’re still learning about the car, for instance even though it’s a modified, it reacts differently to a panhard adjustment than the SK car does. My goal at the start of the season was to qualify for every show and we’ve done that. We’ve been right around the top-10 all year so it would be nice to start to float around the top-5. We’ve been close but different circumstances or a couple of driver errors have kept us from getting there.”

For Bakaj, the biggest adjustment he has had to make this season is learning how to manage his tire wear with a more powerful engine than what was used in his SK Modified® and SK Light days.

“This season kind of brings me back to the legends car days where you had to be more careful with the right foot,” said Bakaj. “I’m having a lot more fun with the extra power in the car. My biggest thing is to conserve the right rear tire for the entire race. The tires are tricky, at some of the tracks you can use the tires up before halfway if you’re not careful with the tires. We have a basic Troyer setup with a couple minor tweaks and after that it’s learning the tracks and tire management. It can get a bit tricky with getting the stagger right and a lot of the other teams have notebooks from years past where we’re still going at it blind. Tire management is huge with the MRS series. If you look at a lot of the guys who run up front like McKennedy and Pasteryak, they’re so smooth and they never get the car out of shape. Just watching them and talking with them the tire management is the number one thing in the series. I’ve chatted with Chris a lot before the races and we’ve walked the tracks together and we talk about the grooves and where to try to make your passes.”

With tire management a critical part of the car’s performance, it brings up a conundrum for the VMRS drivers. Because drivers have to start the feature on the tires they qualify on, they have to find a balance between racing hard and saving the tires in their heat race. In finding that balance, drivers also have to race hard enough to be in one of the six transfer spots in their heat to avoid having to qualify for the feature through a consi race and put more wear on their tires.

“It helps to get a far back pick to start the heat and about halfway through the heat you know if you’re going to pass the guy in front of you or not,” said Bakaj. “From there, you can make a judgment call if it’s worth getting an extra plus or saving your tires and riding a bit. It’s one of those things where its give and take depending on the heat race and depending on the track. Track position is really important at some of the tracks, so you might take that extra chance in the heat race and maybe abuse the tires a little bit to get a couple of extra spots. I usually push it at the beginning of the heat as hard as I can. At the halfway point, I evaluate if I can catch the guy in front of me and if I can do anything with him, or I just maintain my position and save the tires a bit. I’m usually terrible at picking numbers, so usually not only am I trying to pass cars to get a good plus rating, I’m trying to pass cars to be one of the six transfer cars and not have to qualify in the consi.”

With the VMRS partaking in back to back races at Stafford, drivers will get a good idea of what they need in their car from the Aug. 31 Shark Cycle 80 and then apply those lessons learned for the Sept. 14 Lincoln Tech 80.

“The back to back races gives us the opportunity to have a little bit less work to do,” said Bakaj. “We won’t have to change the gear or the setup and we can improve the setup for the second race. Obviously everyone will have the same advantage for the second race, but I think it will be fun and it will make the second race better for the whole series. We can really focus on going back and being good.”

Tickets for the August 31st Shark Cycle 80 and the September 14th Lincoln Tech 80 are available and on sale now at the Speedway Box Office. Tickets for both events are priced at $27.50 for adult general admission tickets, $5.00 for children ages 6-14, and children ages 5 and under are admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult. Reserved seating will be priced at $30.00 for all ages. All ticket prices include 10% CT Admission Tax. Stafford Motor Speedway offers free parking with overnight parking available.

For more information on the Shark Cycle 80 or the Lincoln Tech 80, or to order tickets,
contact the Stafford Motor Speedway track office at 860-684-2783 or visit us on the web at www.staffordspeedway.com.

Source: Scott Running / Stafford Motor Speedway
Posted: August 17, 2012

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