BNS: Stafford: Round two preview

STAFFORD SPRINGS, Conn. (May 3, 2003) - Combining the best of two worlds can be tricky proposition. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Sport utility vehicles, seafood pasta, and ice hockey in Florida have succeeded in blending elements that...

STAFFORD SPRINGS, Conn. (May 3, 2003) - Combining the best of two worlds can be tricky proposition. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Sport utility vehicles, seafood pasta, and ice hockey in Florida have succeeded in blending elements that seem to conflict. On the other hand, the jury is still out on arena football.

In speedway layouts, the two worlds are superspeedway and short track. The first carries the connotation of speed; the second means close-up action where the saying "rubbin is racin" rings true. If any track on the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series schedule has combined the best of both, it would be Stafford Motor Speedway.

The Busch North Series makes its first of three 2003 appearances at Stafford in the New England Dodge Dealers NASCAR 150 on Friday night, May 9. Action on the one-half mile track begins with practice at 3 p.m., followed by Bud Pole Qualifying at 5:30 p.m. and the feature event at approximately 9 p.m. Stafford's regular NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series classes will share the program.

Stafford's configuration didn't result from computer-aided design or extensive marketing studies. When the original half-mile fairgrounds oval was paved in 1966, the asphalt was laid where the dirt surface had been. The result has stood the test of time for over 35 years, and was upgraded with a new coat of asphalt for the new millennium. More recently, the Arute family has invested in state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and video systems that improve their facility even further.

Mike Olsen, the Little Trees Car Freshner Chevrolet driver who captured the 2001 Busch North Series title, has raced at Stafford since the early 1990's. While yet to visit victory lane there, he finished second at this race during his title year. He also tasted the steel guard rail in turn three while running in the top five at last September's Carquest Fall Final. "It's a nice track at a nice facility," Olsen observed. "We've led a lot of laps and had some good finishes. We just can't seem to put it all together. We need to get the monkey off our back, We don't a repeat of last fall," he added.

Speaking of Stafford's blend of superspeedway and short track traits, Olsen noted, "You've got the Loudon (N.H.) effect of long straights, but you've also got the tight turns. You need a good motor to drag down the straights, but you've got to have good brakes, and obviously, a good handling car to get through the turns, which is the short track aspect. Since they repaved it, it's got better grip and it's smoother."

Not surprisingly for a track with such a complex personality, Stafford has its specialists, one of whom returns to full-time Busch North Series action this year. Two-time Busch North champion Mike Stefanik has logged most of his Stafford laps in a modified, both during his Stafford weekly career and while winning six Featherlite Modified Series titles.

"Stefanik has a advantage, just like Ted Christopher has," Olsen declared. "Any laps you run, even in a completely different car, help you learn the characteristics of the track. Having that many laps gives you insight. Stefanik has a great feel for the track and he's a great driver, so he's definitely got the upper hand on the rest of us."

In fact Stefanik is a two-time Busch North Series winner at Stafford, but so are Andy Santerre, Brad Leighton, Kelly Moore, and Mike Johnson, none of whom enjoys the same kind of home-track advantage.

So Stafford is a classy facility, it's tricky, and it's a real driver's track. But is it a little superspeedway, or a big short track? Pressed for an answer, Mike Olsen declared "I think of it as a little Loudon, because it doesn't have as much banking in the turns as most of the short tracks we run." But, he added, "Some guys run real good on the bottom, so you need a little bumping and banging to get past them."

Bumping and banging... "rubbin is racin"... It sounds like Stafford's true identity is really a short track. That's good news for the fans attending the New England Dodge Dealers NASCAR 150.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Mike Johnson , Ted Christopher