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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Keith Rocco’s pursuit of winning is relentless. He led the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I in number of point race starts (48) for the second consecutive season. With engines were barely cooled from the 2013 campaign, the first of his cars has already had been disassembled, freshened and rebuilt, ready for the first green flag of 2014.
A NASCAR Hall of Fame driver is big part of his inspiration.
“It’s just a passion for the sport. Racing is what I love to do,” he said. “It’s what I live for. I’m a throwback to Richie Evans. I have five cars to race in five divisions at three tracks every weekend.”
The late legendary Evans is the all-time leading NASCAR Modified division national champion with nine titles. He won the first championship of the modern era NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 1985. Evans won dozens of track championships and hundreds of races.
Rocco’s passion to compete is illustrated by a new single-season record he set at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl this year. He set a new benchmark of 24 feature wins at the .375-mile paved oval, spread over four divisions: Late Models (12), SK Modifieds (10), Pro 4 Modifieds (1), and Modified Racing Series (1). The old record of 23 wins stood for 53 years and was set by Don Collins. Rocco won Waterford championships in both SK Modifieds and Late Models this year.
His overall NASCAR Division I Modified racing record for the season is 14 wins, 30 top-fives and 39 top-10s in 48 starts.
|Keith Rocco By The Numbers|
|2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion|
|2013 National Ranking: No. 3|
|2013 SM Modified record: 48 starts, 14 wins, 30 top-fives 39 top-10s|
|SK Modified career track championships: Thompson International Speedway, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013; Stafford Motor Speedway, 2008, 2010; Waterford Speedbowl, 2010-11, 2013|
|Other division track championships - Waterford Speedbowl, 2004: Sportsman; 2013 Late Models|
|Special awards - 2005: Stafford SK Modified Rookie of the Year|
|Winning streak: Six consecutive NASCAR state championships, 2008-2013|
|Seven Year Streak: Finished fourth or higher in NWAAS national point standings beginning in 2007 - 2007, 4th; 2008, 4th; 2009, 2nd; 2010, 1st; 2011, 2nd; 2012, 2nd; 2013, 3rd)|
His 2013 weekly schedule included Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway on Thursdays, where he won his fourth Sunoco Modified track championship; Fridays at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway, where he won SK Modified track titles in 2008 and 2010; and Saturdays at Waterford. The results of that schedule helped him win his sixth consecutive state championship and placed third in the national point race.
There is a prestige factor with a top-three national point race finish in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. The top-three finishers get solo stage time and speaking roles at the series’ lavish awards event in December. And to Rocco’s own satisfaction, he hasn’t placed outside the top-three in national points since 2007-08 when he was fourth in points.
“We had to work hard for third this year,” Rocco said. “Things just went our way over the last few weeks.”
Rocco took over third place in national standings in July. The position became a pressure point. He couldn’t quite get the traction to challenge season-long second-place driver Deac McCaskill. Then he had a sudden late season charge for third by Ryan Preece. With three weeks to go Preece pulled to within four points. Rocco bounced back and finished third by a 12-point margin over Preece. Meanwhile, Preece went onto win the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship.
“We really struggled at Stafford this year,” Rocco said. “I won the most races there for the last few years. Getting only two Stafford wins this year hurt. We finally took our Thompson car there and improved. I was glad to find out it was the car that had a problem and not the driver.”
Rocco wants to win races, championships and be among the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series point leaders in perpetuity.
“Last year (2012) we still finished second in points even though I broke my wrist and spent time out of the car. What’s impressive to me is that it was still fun. It shows the hard work and determination of my teams and me. We don’t want to get on a hot streak for a couple of years then fade away.
“I’m fortunate to have this bunch behind me. It takes years to put together a team that’s this incredible,” Rocco said.
Rocco owns the SK Modifieds he drives at Waterford and Thompson. John and Maina Rufrano own the Stafford SK and Scott Fearn owns the Waterford Late Model. Primary sponsors include Wheeler’s Auto, Mr. Rooter Plumbing, FMR Racing and D&G Paving. Rocco is also known to compete in a NEMA Lites Midget, Legends cars and other car-types. He’s competed in selected NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events each year since 2008 with a best finish of third at Stafford in 2012.
Rocco will be honored for his state and track championships during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event on Friday, Dec. 13, in the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
More information on the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is available at http://hometracks.nascar.com.
Keith Rocco and teams won the 2013 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model and SK Modified track championships at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl. Courtesy Keith Cyr/RaceDogPhotography.com