Rocco Tops List

October 08, 2010 at 11:47 AM

nascar-whelen.jpgNational champ collects third straight Connecticut crown

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 5, 2010) – When Keith Rocco steps on to the stage in the Crown Ballroom at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he will receive more than just the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship trophy.

Rocco will also be honored with his record-setting third straight Connecticut state championship.

The 25-year-old Wallingford, Conn., driver rolled off 21 wins, 39 top fives and 50 top 10s in 53 starts racing in the asphalt Modified divisions at three Connecticut tracks: Thompson International Speedway, Stafford Motor Speedway and Waterford Speedbowl.

Rocco will be one of 25 U.S. state and Canadian provincial champions that will be recognized at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Dec. 10. The awards ceremony will be streamed live on nascarhometracks.com.

The crowning of champions in a U.S. state or Canadian provincial continues a tradition of honoring the best short-track racers which dates back to the earliest days of NASCAR.

Don Rounds was the first Connecticut state champion in the Sportsman Division in 1959. Sportsman Division driver Rene Charland (1961-62), Limited Sportsman driver Thomas Rosati (1977-78), and Modified Division greats Bugs Stevens (1968-69), Geoff Bodine (1977-78) and Richie Evans (1980-81) won back-to-back Connecticut state titles.

Rocco is the first to win three in a row.

“Just talking about those guys and what they did is awesome in itself,” said Rocco. “To be put on that list and be mentioned in the same sentence is just a huge accomplishment. That’s something you could only dream of.”

Bodine won three Connecticut championships, also taking home the title in 1975, before embarking on his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. Fred DeSarro, who won the state Sportsman title in 1967 and the Modified titles in 1972 and ’76, is the only other driver to win the state crown three times.

"It's great to see NASCAR honor the champions on the state level," Geoff Bodine said. "Racing Modifieds on those Connecticut tracks will always hold a special place in my heart. What Keith accomplished this season is pretty remarkable. To be able to do what he did at Stafford, Thompson and Waterford on a weekly basis against the best Modified drivers in the state isn't easy to do. And to be able to say you're the best in Connecticut three straight years is an amazing accomplishment."

The realignment of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series in 1982 briefly interrupted the naming of state champions. It was resumed in 2007.

Craig Preble, of Yutan, Neb., captured his first NASCAR state championship by beating two-time state champion Bill Leighton Jr. for the top honors in Nebraska. Preble collected 22 wins, 37 top fives and 37 top 10s in 38 starts while running at I-80 Speedway in Omaha and Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, and finished second to Rocco in the national standings.

Duane Howard, who just missed out on the Pennsylvania championship last year, was able to capture his second state title with a late-season run that saw him end with eight wins, 19 top fives and 21 top 10s in 21 starts. Howard previously won the state championship in 2007.

One of the closest state battles was Virginia, where Justin Johnson, of Durham, N.C., edged CE Falk III, of Virginia Beach, Va., by just four points. The championship wasn’t decided until the final race of the season at Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Va. Johnson won the track title at South Boston Speedway, while Falk took home the track title at Langley Speedway in Hampton. Both also raced at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., and finished fourth and fifth in the national standings, respectively.

The NASCAR U.S. state and Canadian provincial champions are determined by the driver’s highest 18 finishes at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks within the respective state or province.

Like Rocco, South Carolina's Marty Ward won his third straight state title on the strength of 13 wins at Greenville Pickens Speedway.

After missing out last year, Andy Bozell Sr. (Michigan) and Donny Reuvers (Minnesota) both bounced back to win their third state championship in four years. Bozell races at Kalamazoo Speedway, while Reuvers drove at Elko Speedway and Raceway Park.

Mike Rowe, of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, won his second straight Maine championship, while John Fortin of Riverhead Raceway collected back-to-back New York titles.

First time champions include Roy Wallace (Alberta), Justin Johnson (California), Ronnie Hults (Colorado), Tim Sargent (Illinois), Leon Zeitner (Iowa), Wayne Helliwell Jr. (New Hampshire), Burt Myers (North Carolina), Donald Mahaffey Jr. (Ohio), Joe Duvall (Oklahoma), Ron Sheridan (Ontario), Steve Cote (Quebec), Bob Moore (South Dakota), Lane Sundholm (Washington) and Pat Doar (Wisconsin).

The list of NASCAR state champions throughout the years includes Ralph Earnhardt, Richie Evans, Ray Elder, Jack Ingram, Ned Jarrett, David Pearson, Wendell Scott, and Cale Yarborough.

For Myers, who won his fourth track championship at historic Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., winning the North Carolina championship carries added significance. His uncle, Bobby Myers, won the North Carolina Sportsman Division title in 1952 and his grandfather, Bill Myers, won it the following year.

“I’ve heard all the stories through the years about my grandfather and Bobby running and winning all these races and state championships,” Burt Myers said. “To become a state champion and following in the Myers’ racing steps is just exciting.”
In an illustration of the tight competition on every level across North America, Virginia wasn't the only championship that came down to the final race weekends. Doar's championship was decided by just four points, while Rowe and Hults won by five points and Maheffey won by six.

The top five state or provincial champions that enter the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in January at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.) will have secured starting spots in the Late Model event.

Since its inception, NASCAR Home Tracks have served as a springboard in the careers of many NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr., and Brian Vickers all began their careers racing in NASCAR weekly and regional touring series. More information on the NASCAR Whelen All American Series is available at www.NASCARHomeTracks.com.

U.S. State/Canadian Provincial Champions

ALBERTA
Roy Wallace Edmonton 16 6 16 16 266
CALIFORNIA
Justin A Johnson Toyota at Irwindale 19 10 18 19 604
COLORADO
Ronnie Hults Colorado National 14 4 10 13 416
CONNECTICUT
Keith Rocco Waterford, Stafford & Thompson 53 21 39 50 810
ILLINOIS
Tim Sargent Rockford 18 5 15 16 483
IOWA
Leon Zeitner Adams County 15 5 11 14 331
MAINE
Mike Rowe Beech ridge Motor 12 1 7 11 295
MICHIGAN
Andy Bozell, Sr. Kalamazoo 11 2 8 11 306
MINNESOTA
Donny Reuvers Elko & Raceway Park 20 10 18 19 554
NEBRASKA
Craig Preble I-80 & Junction Motor 38 22 37 37 784
NEW HAMPSHIRE
Wayne Helliwell, Jr. Lee USA & Monadnock 19 9 17 17 403
NEW YORK
John Fortin Riverhead 18 1 13 16 547
NORTH CAROLINA
Burt Myers Bowman Gray 19 5 9 18 597
OHIO
Donald Mahaffey, Jr. Kil-Kare, Columbus & Lake County 25 13 21 23 503
OKLAHOMA
Joe Duvall Outlaw 21 7 16 21 281
ONTARIO
Ron Sheridan Delaware 20 6 16 20 638
PENNSYLVANIA
Duane Howard Grandview 21 8 19 21 730
QUEBEC
Steve Cote Autodrome St. Eustache 17 8 14 16 402
SOUTH CAROLINA
Marty Ward Greenville Pickens 26 13 26 26 598
SOUTH DAKOTA
Bob Moore Park Jefferson 16 4 15 16 316
VIRGINIA
Justin T. Johnson South Boston & Motor Mile 25 12 19 24 724
WASHINGTON
Lane Sundholm Evergreen Speedway 18 12 15 16 434
WISCONSIN
Pat Doar Cedar Lake & Superior 19 6 15 17 632

For more information, contact:
Jason Christley, NASCAR Public Relations, (386) 947-6788 or jchristley@nascar.com
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