WATERFORD — His accomplishments at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl are mind-boggling. Keith Rocco has racked up 121 wins in his 13 seasons at the Bowl, 15 more than any other competitor. He’s the all-time win leader in the SK Modified division with 73 victories. He’s also nailed down eight track championships, including five in the SK Modifieds, and has won the last three SK crowns in a row.
Even with all those accomplishments in his resume, Rocco says his desire and determination remain at full speed. He’s just as hungry as he ever was.
“Nothing beats winning races,” Rocco said. “When you get older, it does get more difficult in the shop, especially when you and your crew do all the work on the car. And I have a lot more going on in my life, with two kids and a lawn to mow.
“But when you step on the track, it makes it all worth it.”
Rocco will be in action Saturday at the 2016 season opening Blastoff. Ten Divisions will be making the debuts Saturday, including the SK Modifieds.
That means Rocco will be out to defend his title.
“Nothing has changed from last year,” Rocco said. “We have the same car, same team. Hopefully we can pick up where we left off. Obviously, we’ll be shooting for victories. We always have, and we always will.”
Rocco won the final race of 2015, the Modified Nationals, as he fought off the challenges posed by Tyler Chadwick, Ted Christopher, Rob Janovic and Diego Monahan.
“We missed the opening practice because we didn’t want to show all our cards,” Rocco said. “But we’ll be ready.”
So will Chadwick, who missed winning his second SK championship by just four points.
“That’s given me extra motivation to get ready for the season,” Chadwick said. “I have been on both sides of the championship picture — I’ve won one and I’ve lost one, and last year taught me I’m capable of winning another one. I’m much more focused.”
Chadwick has upgraded his game. His team has renovated his back-up car, Old Betty, and it has become his new ride for 2016.
“It’s not a new car, but it feels like one,” Chadwick said. “It’s the best piece I’ve had in a few years. We practiced last week, and we did everything we wanted to accomplish.”
Chadwick knows the Speedbowl’s SK competition level also has been upgraded.
“Nothing is better than beating the best in the business,” Chadwick said. “There are going to be a lot more good teams this year. And there’s also Keith Rocco and Ted Christopher. Last year they had everyone’s number. I definitely hope to stay with those guys this year.”
That’s why Chadwick and his team made sweeping changes to his car.
“We couldn’t come back with the same stuff we had last year and hope to run with those guys,” Chadwick said. “We knew we had to make some changes. We made those changes and now we’ll see what happens.”
Ted Christopher finished third in the SK standings in 2015, 13 points out of the lead. He led the division in wins, however, with eight. The same car-driver combination is back for another season.
“We practiced last week, and the car started to come around,” Christopher said. “I’m happy.”
He’s also healthy. Christopher underwent rotator-cuff surgery on his right shoulder during the off-season and now has 95 percent motion back in the arm.
“I kept it a secret last year, but I was driving on adrenaline,” Christopher said. “But now I’m 100 percent healthy.”
And that means he’s in perfect shape to renew his rivalry with Rocco, one of the best in Modified racing.
“It was a lot of fun last year,” Christopher said. “We seem to mirror each other. And we’ll probably be doing it again this year.”
Also expected to be part of the field are Speedbowl veterans such as Janovic Jr., Monahan, Joe Gada, Tim Jordan, Paul Kusheba, Frank Mucciacciaro, Dylan Izzo, Ryan Morgan, Kyle James and Tom Abele Jr. Bo Gunning, a three-time Stafford SK champ, will be joining the field , along with rookie Paul Buzel, the reigning SK Light champ.
The SK division is just one layer of Saturday’s blastoff. The race program will also feature the Late Models, Limited Sportsmen, Mini Stocks, the Magnus Racing Products SK Lights, the Joie of Seating Legend Cars, the Micro Blue Bandoleros, the Coastline Fire Protection Super X Cars, the X Cars and the Mr. Rooter Trucks.
Qualifying heats for all divisions will get under way at 2 p.m. The features will get under way at 5:30 p.m.
Admission is $22 for adults. Tickets for youths 13-16 are $5 and children 12 and under will be admitted free. For more information, go to speedbowlct.com