WATERFORD – New number, new race team, same old result for Keith Rocco at the Waterford Speedbowl.
The most dominant SK Modified driver in recent history at the Speedbowl showed the offseason did nothing to slow him down. Rocco, of Wallingford, held off a charging Rob Janovic Jr over the final lap and a half to win the 62-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series SK Modified feature at the season opening Bud Blastoff Weekend.
Janovic, of Groton, held on for second and Todd Ceravolo of Gales Ferry was third.
It was Rocco’s first race behind the wheel of the SK Modified team he now owns, Keith Rocco Racing.
“It’s 100 percent my operation,” said Rocco, who is now running car No. 88 at the track instead of No. 57. “It’s a great feeling to come out in the first race and be able to win right out of the box.”
It marked Rocco’s 37th career SK Modified victory at Waterford since he started competing in the division at the Speedbowl in 2008, breaking a tie with Jeff Pearl for second place all-time in the division. Dennis Gada is the division’s all-time winningest driver with 62 victories.
It was the fourth consecutive year that Rocco has won the season opening event at Waterford. Rocco said when it comes to racking up victories, winning the offseason battle of preparation in the shop is as important as making passes on the track.
“Shane Hopkins, when I started racing he was the crew chief and maintained the No. 6 car when I drove it at Thompson,” Rocco said. “He always taught me when I started racing with him, he’d say ‘Races are won in the shop. You just go there to race, but if the car is not prepared and ready to go don’t even bother going.’ Ever since he taught me that and taught me a few of his tricks, I just learn so much from him. To this day I still learn tricks from him.
“I was taught you’ve got to take good notes and pay attention. I’ve got a notebook that goes back to four years ago and I can look and compare opening day from the last three years and say ‘This week I ran this, this time I ran that.’ I know where the car has got to be for the weather conditions.”
Rocco passed Todd Ceravolo for the lead with 48 laps remaining and never trailed again. Rocco and Ceravolo have a history of bruising battles and wrecks on the oval at Waterford. Ceravolo is the father of Rocco’s fiance Cassie.
“It was really fun to race with him,” Rocco said. “He gave me a plenty of room. We had a good battle going there. I wish he could have stayed up there and made the whole race exciting.”
Janovic went past Ceravolo for second on a restart with five laps remaining and caught Rocco’s bumper with less than two laps left.
“Started right off the bat, unexpectedly, the car was tight everywhere,” Ceravolo said. “Keith got underneath me, he was the class of the field today. Congratulations to him. I drove my heart out. I gave everything I had. It was horrible to sit in that racecar today. I would have rather been watching it.”
Janovic pounded Rocco’s bumper for the final half lap to no avail.
“I know Rob, if he can’t pass me he’s going to let me know he’s there,” Rocco said. “If he wasn’t hitting my bumper then I might be worried that he was trying to going around me. He was just trying to give me a little shove here and there.”
Said Janovic: “I think I probably could have gotten Keith if his car went away and I had time to work on him. But there was only a lap or two left when I caught him so I figured I would just tattoo his rear bumper a few times to let him know I was there.”
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