Keith Rocco (top left) celebrates victory in the Sunoco Modified Triple Crown Series with his family. (Nicholas Teto/ Photo)
Keith Rocco (top left) celebrates victory in the Sunoco Modified Triple Crown Series with his family. (Nicholas Teto/ Photo)

Rocco Remains Perfect As Thompson World Series Begins

THOMPSON, Conn. – Keith Rocco and Ryan Morgan emerged as the biggest winners of day one action for the 59th Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Friday.

Rocco remained perfect in the Sunoco Modifieds for the season while Morgan bounced back from an opening-lap late model melee to hang on for his first championship.

Rocco rolled off eighth for the 30-lap opening round of the Sunoco Modified Triple Crown Series as part of World Series Weekend. After Andrew Molleur went hard into the backstretch wall on the opening circuit, Rocco began following Mike Christopher Jr. through the field. Christopher got to the front first, swinging underneath polesitter Paul LaPlante entering turn one to take the lead on lap eight.

Rocco slingshot past LaPlante on the opposite end of the track and set his sights on Christopher. But before Rocco could even contemplate a move, Christopher lost power as the field came off the fourth corner to complete lap 11. Christopher could only pull to the inside and helplessly watch as the field flew past.

Newly crowned Stafford Speedway and New London-Waterford Speedbowl champion Todd Owen eventually picked his way through the pack to second. Owen then closed to within two car lengths of Rocco but could not seal the deal. It was the 60th career win for Rocco at Thompson Speedway. He also has won all five Sunoco Modified events held at Thompson under the sanction of the American-Canadian Tour and Pro All Stars Series.

Danny Cates had a strong run to take third. Jonathan Puleo, Ronnie Williams, Teddy Hodgdon, John Lowinski-Loh, Troy Talman, LaPlante, and Brett Meservey rounded out the top-10.

Tom Carey III won the Late Model battle while Ryan Morgan’s scarred steed won the war. Morgan entered the 30-lap feature four points ahead of Woody Pitkat for the Late Model track championship. But as the field came to complete lap one, both Pitkat and Morgan found themselves squeezed into the frontstretch wall. Matthew Lowinski-Loh, Jacob Burns, and R.J. Marcotte were also collected in the resulting carnage.

Both title contenders were able to continue with Ryan missing all the front sheet metal on his No. 31CT. Carey bolted to the front on the restart, but three more cautions over the next 12 laps kept him from showing his full hand. Those yellows allowed Morgan to head pit-side and make further repairs while Pitkat’s efforts were further hampered by a loose hood.

The title contenders were nose-to-tail for the start of the final 18-lap run. Carey checked out at the front while Pitkat and Morgan fought for every position they could. Pitkat settled in 10th while Morgan desperately fended off Jordan Hadley and Dennis Dumas in the 12th spot. Charles Bailey III got past Pitkat for 10th coming to the white flag, and with Morgan successfully parrying Hadley’s moves, the title went to Morgan by two points. It was the first championship of any kind for Morgan in 22 years of auto racing.

Carey sailed off to the victory, bookending his Thompson Late Model season with victories in the Icebreaker and the Sunoco World Series. Brian Tagg took second while Ryan Kuhn beat out a multi-car tango for third. Mike Benevides, Alby Ovitt, Rick Gentes, Mark Jenison, Burns, Nicholas Johnson, and Bailey were fourth through 10th.

Paul Newcomb completed the 8-Cylinder Street Stock Open trifecta by a whisker in the 25-lap main event. Newcomb earned the pole in qualifying under the ACT plus-minus system, leading the 31-car field to the green after two Street Stock Open wins earlier in the season.

The veteran walked away at the front over a clean first 17 circuits until Chad Baxter spun trying to pass Devin McConologue for the second spot, bringing out the first caution. Mapleville, RI’s Corey Fanning had stormed from dead last on the grid to fifth, and when the green flew again, he completed his charge to the front and muscled past Newcomb with four laps to go.

A lap later, Keith Johnson slammed the frontstretch wall for another yellow. On the restart, third-place runner Christopher Buffone appeared to have a tire go flat, triggering a fracas off turn four that swept up Ryan Waterman, Andrew Morin, and Jason Finkbein.

Fanning chose the outside for the restart, and he and Newcomb leaned on each other when the race resumed. One last yellow for Jon Porter’s stalled automobile set up a green-white-checkered finish. Newcomb led the white flag lap, and it appeared Fanning might have a run as they exited turn four for the final time. But the two got together again, and as they swapped paint coming to the checkered, Newcomb grabbed the $1,000 payday by .006 seconds.

Shane Gendron, who quietly ran near the front all night, ended up second in the final rundown after Fanning was disqualified for refusing post-race technical inspection. That handed the third spot on the podium to McConologue. Ryan Lineham, Troy Waterman, Nickolas Hovey, Baxter, Tanner Woodard, Jimmy Silvia, and Waterman completed the top-10.

Skip Swiantek fended off Glen Billings to win the Senior Tour Auto Racers (STAR) Modified feature. Thomas Trempe led the field to the green for the 15-lap feature before James Allen’s car shut down to bring out the only caution. After going back-and-forth on the restart, Siwantek secured the point on the back chute.

Billings sliced his way through the pack and looked to the bottom on Swiantek off the final corner, but Swiantek had enough to hold on for the win. Gary Moore, Thomas Trempe, and Ed Mulligan followed them across the stripe.

Skip Stearns came out on top of a barnburner in the STAR Late Model Sportsmen. Rick MacDowell led the way early in the 15-lap feature until coming under attack from Stearns. As part of an eight-car pack at the front, Stearns kept working the outside groove until he finally shot past MacDowell on the backstretch with five laps to go.

MacDowell came back after Stearns multiple times, but Stearns held on for the victory in his 1965 Chevy Nova. Joseph Keefner took third in a sister 1970 Chevy Camaro to MacDowell’s mount. Bob Guyon and Michael Rucci completed the top-five.

Gary Byington beat Ben Levangie for victory in the Outlaw Vintage Modified feature. The two went back and forth early before Byington asserted himself, keeping Levangie at bay down the stretch. It was Byington’s first ever victory at Thompson Speedway. Paul Jacques finished third.

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