Stafford Springs, CT — As the 36th Annual Coors Light SK Modified® 100 approaches at Stafford Motor Speedway, the race for the track’s Reliable Welding and Speed Rookie of the Year award is in full swing. The 2009 rookie race in the track’s premier division has seen a quartet of SK Light Modified graduates engaged in one of the tightest rookie battles in recent SK Modified® memory.
Matt Gallo and Mark Bakaj are separated by only two points in the chase for 2009 Reliable Welding and Speed Rookie of the Year honors. Behind Gallo and Bakaj in the rookie standings are two former SK Light Modified track champions, Chris Matthews and Joe Allegro, Jr. Gallo and Bakaj are also third and fourth in the current SK Modified® points standings behind veterans Ted Christopher and Jeff Malave, a start to the season that has both met and exceeded their pre-season goals.
“We knew we were going to run well,” said Gallo. “We knew from our SK experience at Waterford that we had a fast car put together. We’re racing against some tough guys out there and now we’re looking to be consistent and stay smooth on the track.”
“I think we’ve definitely exceeded our expectations,” said Bakaj. “At the start of the season, our goal was to finish in the top-10 and we had a fifth place finish last week. I think the SK is easier to drive than the SK Light because with the extra power, you can control the car with the throttle more than with the SK Light. It’s similar to the Legends car, which is what I’m familiar with. So far it’s been so good, but we still have a lot to learn.”
While Allegro hasn’t quite been able to have the finishes that Gallo and Bakaj have enjoyed, he is comfortable with where he and his team are at this stage of the 2009 season.
“We’re pretty happy with where we are right now,” said Allegro. “The Sizzler definitely exceeded our expectations, we went from the back of the pack to the front twice before we got caught up in the big wreck. We struggled with the car the second week, but we’ve got the car pretty good the last couple weeks. With the SK Light, the car was like an on/off switch. You were either full on the throttle, or you were full off the throttle. With the SK, you have to be easier getting back on the throttle, or you’ll burn the tires off the car. I’m getting more comfortable in the car and I think we have a top-5 car now that we can compete with every week.”
Along with being rookie drivers who are moving up from Stafford’s SK Light division, Allegro, Bakaj, and Gallo have something else in common. All three cars utilize the new Stafford SK Modified® Spec Engine, which was introduced as a cost saving initiative for SK Modified® competitors. The spec engine has powered Bakaj to one top-5 and four top-10 finishes, while Gallo has three top-10 finishes, and Allegro scored his first top-10 finish of the 2009 season on May 22nd.
“The spec motor has been real good for us,” said Allegro. “We’re not lacking anywhere for power. The old motors seems to be a little bit better on restarts, but we’re able to run them back down once we get to the back straightaway. Tony from T/A Engines has given us a real good piece and we’re happy with the motor.”
“We can’t thank Tony from T/A enough,” said Gallo. “He’s built us a great spec motor and he has given us great service with the motor.”
“The spec motor feels real good in the car,” said Bakaj. “The first three races, we had a borrowed Waterford engine in our car. That motor was old and tired, but we were still able to get it into the top-10. The last race was our first race with the spec engine, and we were able to get a fifth place finish, so we’re pleased with that. Bobby Lecce from Robico Racing Engines has been working with us on the motor, and we’re looking forward to the rest of the year.”
As Allegro, Bakaj, and Gallo continue their rookie seasons, their next big challenge is this Friday night’s Coors Light SK Modified® 100. The 100-lap event is the next step in their SK Modified® learning curves, and of the three, only Gallo has any substantial extra distance experience. However, both Allegro and Bakaj are looking forward to the race and have their race strategies already planned out.
“The longest race I’ve ever run is 40-laps in go karts and the SK’s,” says Allegro. “We’re going to treat this race like a normal feature. We’ll try to ride the first half of the race and pick off a few positions and then the last 25 laps of the race will be go time. The car was real comfortable to drive at the last race, so we’ll leave the car like it was and we’ll fill it up with fuel. We’ll probably have to sacrifice a little in the beginning until the fuel burns off and the car gets back to where we had it for the last show.”
“I went to Waterford for their final show of the year last season, but we only lasted about 70 laps before we got taken out,” said Bakaj. “I’m glad we went to that show because it gave us a real eye opener on where we need to be with the setup. We know where we have to be at the start of the race so we can have the car good at the end. My brother has been great to have on the radio spotting for me, he keeps me real calm in the car. I think that’s a big part of our success this year, he helps keep me from burning the tires off of the car.”
“My dad has been racing for 30 years, so he gives me a good basic setup for the car, and I can go out there and do my thing,” said Gallo. “I’m hungry to learn and I’m hungry to win. If I have to let a faster car by, then I’ll let him by and follow him around the track. I love racing with guys like Teddy [Christopher], Frank [Ruocco], Woody [Pitkat, and Wade [Mattesen]. They’re the best modified drivers out there and those are the guys that I want to be racing with.”
As the 2009 season continues to progress, and Allegro, Bakaj, and Gallo get further along in their rookie campaigns, all three drivers see CARQUEST Victory Lane in their futures.
“Right now, we’re just trying to finish consistently where we’ve been running,” said Allegro. “We’ve had a top-5 and top-10 car the past couple weeks. We’re happy where we are now, and hopefully by the end of the season we can get a win or a top-3 finish.”
“I think a win is possible, but we’re not getting our hopes up yet,” said Bakaj. “We’d like to continue to run the way we’ve been running this season and stay in the top-5. If we can do that, a win will come our way. Our main goal is to win that Rookie of the Year title.”
“I think where we are right now, a win is definitely within our grasp,” said Gallo. “Right now, I’m looking to stay consistent and settle for good finishes every week.”
Allegro, Bakaj, and Gallo will continue their battle for the 2009 Reliable Welding and Speed Rookie of the Year title this Friday in the 36th Annual Coors Light SK Modified® 100. Tickets for the 36th Annual Coors Light SK Modified® 100 are now on sale at the Stafford Motor Speedway Box Office. Tickets are priced at $18.00 for adult general admission tickets, $5.00 for children ages 6-14, and free for children ages 5 & under. Reserved seating is available for $20.00 for all ages.
For more information, contact the Stafford Motor Speedway track office at 860-684-2783 or visit us on the web at www.staffordspeedway.com.
Sources: Scott Running/Staffird Motor Speedway PR