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   The Chrome Horn - Valenti Modified Racing Series





Polly Reid

The top fifteen Valenti Modified Racing Series drivers and car owners were recognized Saturday night at the 9th Annual Awards Banquet held at the Clarion in West Springfield, MA. Along with a host of special awards, the evening was highlighted by the presentation of the 2012 VMRS Championship trophy to driver Jon McKennedy, car owner Art Barry and crew chief Ken Barry.

McKennedy from Chelmsford, MA is no stranger to the championship podium in the VMRS having now collected three titles in the series tying Kirk Alexander’s record. But there is a little something different about this one, something a little more special. It could be how it all started- a phone call from Art Barry asking him to drive his car on a limited schedule, would he be interested? It could be it was that the newly formed team went out on opening day at Waterford Speedbowl and won, eventually collecting the checkered flag a total of three times, Waterford, Monadnock and Stafford. It could be the dedicated work of the team with longer days than anyone wants to remember, a long ride home or two after a less than satisfying run, it could be the fierce competition of the VMRS knowing that you are the one everyone is chasing, it could be this title is indeed a little more special.

“Sometimes going into a new team, new guys, you don’t know what to expect, sometimes things just don’t work out as far as chemistry and communication,” said McKennedy. “It was obvious right off the bat we had all of the above in a positive way. We had good communication, everyone got along, I mean the record showed that, we won the first two races of the year. What started as part time racing, a few here and there turned into a full time deal.” McKennedy knows that what they did as a team was special. “It does mean a little more probably because Art is pretty well respected in the racing world. Ask anyone in the Northeast area, up and down the East Coast, everyone knows him, has heard him, he’s had some great drivers, it’s great to be a part of it, to win a championship. I’m lucky for the opportunity he gave me.”

McKennedy started racing go-karts when he was 8 years old and moved up from there. There is no waiver in his dedication, the admitted sacrifice to get where he is, “I want to do good in this sport, the whole deal worked out and I’m glad it ended the way it did.”

“It’s an honor to win in this Series,” said Championship Car Owner Art Barry who received a standing ovation when called to accept his award. “I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to the top again. We were at the top before and I never expected to be in this situation again.” Art had only positive words for McKennedy. “I have a lot of respect for that man. Not only is he a good driver he drives with respect for all his competitors. I’m just honored to have him drive my car. He’s such a down to earth person, I can’t say enough about him.” Art was also presented the VMRS Dedication to Racing Award later in the evening by Jenn Ready and Pete Newsham.

“We were going to hit the first five because those were the ones we were going to do anyways” said Champion Crew Chief Ken Barry about their plans for the beginning of the 2012 season, “at that point Jon was leading the points and it turned into ‘keep going.’ Jon’s a great kid. He uses his head, he doesn’t wreck it very often. When I talked to him that was pretty much the deal. I had to run the car for business reasons, develop new stuff but we didn’t have time to maintain the car if it gets wrecked every week so I needed someone who could win but also use his head and bring it home in one piece each week. He did an awesome job with that.”

“I think it’s neat to be the first team to win both- a title in both series, that’s a pretty neat feather to go in my Dad’s hat.” Someday, there could be more. If you look closely at the championship picture from Lee you will see three generations of Barry’s surrounding the car with McKennedy and the team- Art, Ken and Ken’s son Tyler. “I started my son at Stafford Monday nights (Ceric Fabrication Racing Series). He’s only six and he’s been racing for two years already. He did real good this year winning six races.” Tyler, who turns 7 in a couple of weeks, is already a help in the garage. “He has a blast, he loves racing.”

Plans for the 2013 season are far from being locked in but when asked about racing going forward, Art Barry didn’t hesitate, “as long as we can keep winning we’re not going to quit.”

The Mountainside Graphix Rookie of the Year honors was presented by Jill and Madison Jarvis to 31-year old Mark Bakaj of Lebanon, CT who finished 9th in the VMRS point standings. Bakaj started racing motocross at 18 and after a few years moved to Legend cars. “We raced up and down the east coast with the Legend cars, had pretty good success with that then went to an SK Light at Stafford, then an SK at Stafford and an SK at Waterford-then we decided to try the Modified Racing Series.” The experience of racing at different tracks with the Legend car was helpful in approaching his thought process at new tracks for the team with the modified. “I saw some of the same tracks with the modified that I did with the Legend car but they were totally different with the modified, going faster, tires, but it did help me at least get acquainted with the track and find the line.” His most outstanding races of the season Bakaj had a couple. “It’s kind of a toss-up between the second Waterford and the second Stafford race. We were running third at Waterford and would have had a really good finish then the rear end came apart on us. At the next race at Stafford, we backed up what we were doing at Waterford. We ended up fifth but we were running third and fourth most of the race at Stafford. It proved we could run up front which was really good. To be a rookie and run with those guys, it was a real confidence booster to be able to be up there with them.” A select schedule will be on the books for Bakaj in 2013 who just recently became engaged to Kate- a June 28th wedding is planned.

Several other awards were presented including the Hoosier Tire East Award that went to Jon McKennedy. Charlie Holland presented the Sunoco Hard Charger Award to Norm Wrenn while the entire #17 Bateman Team was presented the Sportsmanship Award by Bob and Tres Carrita.

Chip Pettengill and AJ Vogel presented the Mechanic of the Year to Dave Berghman, while Jack Bateman announced the Above and Beyond Award to Jenn Ready. Rich Keator and Art Chartier presented the Tough Luck Award to the Montville team with the Spafco Most Improved Driver to Max Zachem. Younger brother Jack was the official acceptor for Max who was in Maryland working the Baltimore Indoor Race event. Last year’s Bob Polverari Award winner Rob Goodenough was this year’s presenter to recipient Joe Doucette.

Jack Bateman’s State of the Series speech was highlighted with the confirmation of a 19 race schedule for 2013 including a return to Maine- Beech Ridge and Oxford Speedway. Scott Tapley was introduced as the new Race Director for the VMRS.

John Spence Sr. the voice of the VMRS, hosted the evening and as I listened to Spence and looked around the banquet hall, the Series has much to be proud of for what they have accomplished in a relatively short time. The VMRS has much to look forward to as they begin their 10th season in 2013.

Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: December 9, 2012

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