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   The Chrome Horn - Valenti Modified Racing Series



Woody Pitkat in the Pete Kulessa owned modified marked another milestone in his racing career, the hometown driver held off a tenacious Keith Rocco in the closing circuits to collect his first win in the Valenti Modified Racing Series 80 at Stafford Motor Speedway.

“I just keep clicking,” said Pitkat. “It’s showing I’m in top notch equipment, I’ve got great people backing me, great supporting cast, just great fans that have been through the ups and downs of my Tour career. Obviously it’s huge, especially to win here. I really felt like we were going to have a good car and have a good opportunity – we were so strong at Monadnock.”

Rocco, a threat for the win from the start, crossed for second with Todd Szegedy on the podium in the Stuart’s Automobile third. Ted Christopher rallied from an incident hitting the turn three wall to cross for fourth while Todd Patnode, his first race at Stafford brought the Dan Stebbins modified across for fifth.

Starting on the pole, Rocco brought the twenty-five car field to the green flag for the VMRS 80 lap event with Rowan Pennink on the outside, Ryan Preece third, Pitkat fourth and Dylan Kopec fifth. Preece took over second before the first circuit was complete and tucking in just behind Rocco, the fans were treated to a show as Rocco and Preece swapped first place at least six times before twenty laps were ticked off the board.

The green flag stayed out as the field appeared to settle into a run that by lap 25 had Preece on the point, Rocco, Pitkat, Kopec and Pennink the top five.

Rocco continued to answer back to Preece taking the lead again by lap 32, only to have Preece pass again seven circuits later.

At the half way mark, the top ten, still under green, was Preece, Rocco, Pitkat, Steve Masse, Richard Savary, Todd Szegedy, Kopec, Christopher, Todd Patnode and Kirk Alexander.

Five circuits later, Preece, Rocco and Pitkat had broken from the pack the trio seeming to set a torrid pace as the long green run continued.

Pitkat made his first move closer to the front by passing Rocco for second on lap 47 then quickly sizing up Preece, made his move for the lead to become the new leader on lap 49.

One lap later, the first yellow of the night waved as Pennink went around in turn two. Pennink, fresh off of his SK modified win earlier in the night, was able to continue. Pitkat at the point, brought the field back to green with Preece on the outside, Rocco in third, Masse and Savary the top five.

The restart got dicey on the front stretch, Masse, Savary and Donnie Lashua tangled bringing out another yellow.

The next restart fared little better - while one lap would register, a cluster of cars around in turn two involving Kopec, Charlie Pasteryak, David Schneider, George Sherman, Dennis Perry, Donnie Lashua and Chris Bolton taking evasive action, closed the field up again for another shot at the green.

Pitkat, Rocco, Preece, Szegedy and Alexander the top five came around to the green on lap 51.

Rocco on the outside powered by Pitkat to become the new leader one lap later. Rocco and Pitkat broke from the pack as Szegedy, Preece,Patnode, Pennink, Ted Christopher and Alexander made up the second pack of cars as the board showed less than twenty to go.

Lap 68 Pitkat made his move. Approaching a lap car, Pitkat went low into turn three, under Rocco, then high around a lap car, Pitkat crossed the line to become the final leader of the night with 11 to go. Rocco stayed with Pitkat, as the action was pulled in one more time. Norm Wrenn took a hard hit on the frontstretch wall right under the starter stand bringing out the final yellow flag on lap 74.

Pitkat, Rocco, Szegedy, Christopher and Preece the top five, the VMRS 80 came down to a six lap dash to the checkers.

Pitkat persevered, holding off Rocco to earn his first VMRS victory with Rocco crossing second, Szegedy third, Christopher fourth and Patnode the top five. Preece, a top contender to the end, faded on the last restart crossing the line 13th.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Pitkat in victory lane. Pitkat was quick to point out what was unique about his wins at Stafford in the SK, the NWMT and now the VMRS. “I accomplished that in all different cars- Chassis Dynamics, a Troyer and now a Spafco. The Spafco Chassis was really stout today. I knew we were going to have a good car this year. We put a notebook together last year with these guys and I just kept working on it, kept working on it – Greg (Felton) and Bob (Norris), those guys at the shop, they just work their tails off – Greg gave me a great car. I thank Pete Kulessa for giving me the opportunity to run this car. I wasn’t sure how Keith was going to be, I could see Ryan was getting a little free, but Keith, I wasn’t sure what he was going to do- we just tried to get a good restart there at the end and check out. This is cool, I can’t believe it- win my first Tour here, now a MRS race here.”

For almost all of the lead changes, one common denominator was Keith Rocco who flexed his experience at a track where he has earned a lot of success. There at the beginning, there at the end, Rocco was a threat for the win from the green.

“We had a lot of good cars up front there in the beginning,” said Rocco. “Some of them faded but still, Woody was strong, he snookered me on the lap car there and got by me. I’ve got to thank my whole team.”

“We had that restart with thirty to go and kind of at that point, we made a decision it was time to go,” said Rocco.“I thought we could have kept Pitkat behind us but the lap car kind of opened the door for him, I lost the lead and I wasn’t able to get it back.”

“The race went by fast, there were a lot of green flag laps. I was glad to be able to stay up front because when you battle that hard at the beginning you usually fall off, but we were able to stay up front.We have a lot of fun running with the MRS Series.”

“I definitely need to thank Kenny and Kevin Stuart for putting me in this race car,” said Todd Szegedy who followed up his season opening win at Monadnock Speedway with a solid podium finish tonight at Stafford. “They prepare a great race car for me. I had to start back in 12th because we won a couple of weeks ago so I knew I had to save my tires but at the same time I had to get to the front or at least up to the lead pack guys without doing too much damage to the tires, the car was pretty darn well balanced. A little tight there in the center, there wasn’t much I could do except protect my line then try not to make a mistake.I used up some stuff having to come from where I did. I didn’t want to stay back there too long, but at the same time I didn’t want to beat the car up – I just went as hard as I felt was right. It probably took a little bit of speed away from the car at the end but we came home third.”

“This series is growing,” added Szegedy who says the team will pick and choose their VMRS events this season. “There is a lot of great talent here in the northeast with modified racing and late models- you’re going to see a lot of good racing in the future.”

Greg Felton, the winning crew chief had sent a message to Woody earlier in the week. “I texted Woody on Wednesday, I just said ‘Friday W’.” And ‘W’ they did.

“It’s definitely a team effort,” said Felton. “Since we brought Woody on board with about five races to go last year, just the morale of everybody was lifted. Pete, the car owner, didn’t even know who Woody was. I went to him and told him I think I know who I want. But I said I want you, Bob (Norris) and me to agree on it. Pete said if you and Bob are happy with that decision- Bob just shook his head, yeah, and that was it.”

Getting what you want and making it work are too different things. Felton however, knew early on they were headed in the right direction. “I could feel the chemistry starting a couple races in. It took a little longer to get that ‘W’ than maybe I thought it would but you just couldn’t keep getting those top three finishes and not get it.”

Car owner Pete Kulessa is no stranger to racing having had tremendous success at tracks like Monadnock Speedway. After finishing second at the VMRS season opener at Monadnock, a win at Stafford certainly builds on the team momentum. “Awesome wasn’t it? Wasn’t he awesome out there? I’ve been working with Kirk Alexander for years winning all those races. It’s good to win one with my own car.”

The top four- Pitkat, Rocco, Szegedy and Christopher each have years, combined have decades of experience running at Stafford Motor Speedway. That equation makes what Todd Patnode accomplished Friday night rather eye opening. The NH driver had never really raced at Stafford and the team, largely made up of family members of car owner Dan Stebbins, who collectively have a lot of racing experience, still, they had never set up a car for Stafford. Finishing fifth behind the solid experience in front of them is well worth noting. “Basically, I watched some lines and we hit the right set up out of the box,” said Patnode. “We were a whisker too free, we probably should have tightened it up a little bit for the feature but when we went out there, we said a top ten and one piece would be awesome. So a fifth place and one piece, we’re even happier.”

Following Pitkat, Rocco, Szegedy, Christopher and Patnode across the line was Kirk Alexander in sixth, seventh to Rowan Pennink, Dan Meservey Jr, Dylan Kopec and Mike Willis Jr. the top ten.

Next up on the VMRS schedule will be Seekonk Speedway June 6th.
Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
: May 23, 2015

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