Stafford Motor Speedway has long been known for producing some of the best drivers the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour offers.
Five-time Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby is a graduate of Stafford, having won championships there before making the move to begin his quest to win at a higher level. The late Ted Christopher, who won 131 races at Stafford and one Whelen Modified Tour championship, used the Connecticut half-mile as his stomping ground for many years. Ryan Preece, Woody Pitkat and Rowan Pennink have won track titles at Stafford and multiple tour races in recent years.
Now, another graduate of the premiere NASCAR Whelen All-American Series SK Modified division is going to take his shot at moving up. Joey Cipriano, who picked up his first SK Modified win last June, will make his Whelen Modified Tour debut in the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford on April 28.
“It’s a tough track. Both ends are different, so it’s one of those places that has two different driving styles to each end. It’s where the best drivers race,” Cirpriano told NASCAR.com. “As far as the SK Modifieds go, they have the best competition. It’s a lot of fun, and it teaches you most as a driver to race against the guys that are the best.”
After years of trying for a victory in the SK Modifieds, Cipriano was finally able to break into Victory Lane last year after taking a few years off from full-time action to focus on life at home.
“To go there and finally get a win, after being so close so many times and losing it just about every way we could, to finally cross it off the board was a really good feeling,” he said.
Cipriano will team with Steve Greer to compete in the No. 19 Gunsmoke Stables Chevrolet in the second-longest race of the season for the Whelen Modified Tour. The NAPA Spring Sizzler is one of the most prestigious events on the series schedule each year — and the 48th annual will again put drivers chasing Stafford glory.
Cipriano drove for Greer last year in Stafford’s Open Modified events and in the Valenti Modified Racing Series, so he does have previous experience with the team.
“It just worked out, when we sat down over the winter with Steve, we put our heads together and we ended up deciding trying our hand at the Tour was something we were willing to give a shot. I can’t thank all of them enough for giving me a shot and having the faith in me to go at it with the best in the Modifieds,” Cipriano said. “I’m excited. For me, it’s a dream come true, when I was 15-years-old, and started running SK Light Modifieds, you want to get to that level.”
Cipriano also isn’t a complete stranger to the Whelen Modified Tour. Since the middle of last year, and specifically at the beginning of this year, he has been working with Kevin Stuart Motorsports and driver Ron Silk. In the last two races, Silk picked up a victory at South Boston Speedway and a second-place finish at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
“I’m ready to go. I’ve watched a lot of video and tried to learn as much as I can. I was lucky enough to be able to do some pit stops last year in the open shows at Stafford, so I have a little bit of experience, but it’s just one of those things where you just take it as it goes,” Cipriano said. “Two-hundred laps with multiple stops and racing against guys that have done this forever, it’s going to be a really good challenge. You get better by racing the guys that are the best.”
For Cipriano, making his debut at his home track will ultimately help him adjust to what is sure to be at least a slight learning curve. But making it to the end of a race where tire strategy is going to be a major factor is important.
“The biggest thing I want to do is finish on the lead lap, trying to stay on pace with the leaders,” Cipriano said. “Realistically, if we can run in the top 15, that’s going to be a good day. There are a lot of good cars on the Whelen Modified Tour. If we can run inside the top 10, that’d be exceeding our expectations.”