2019 RULES PACKAGE FOCUSES ON WEEKLY COMPETIVNESS
SEEKONK, Mass. – Seekonk Speedway is always looking for ways to improve the quality of racing at the third-mile oval, and this year, the Massachusetts track will take another step in that direction.
The announcement of the 2019 NASCAR Whelen All American Series rules includes multiple amendments to the Pro Stock division, headlined by the elimination of teams using bump stops. Teams may also keep their cars as low to the ground as they would like, with the ground clearance rule no longer in affect.
The exact amendment to the rule reads: “No bump stops, nothing may be positioned on the shock shaft except the travel indicator.” Although this newest technology in racing may provide some drivers across the country the opportunity to use bump stops to their advantage, Seekonk Speedway feels as though the division needs to reevaluate were its going at being a weekly racing division, where drivers don’t need a full-time setup crew member in order to be successful.
“A quote that always stuck in my head from my grandfather was ‘when standardization is replaced by specialization, we’re going in the wrong direction’,” Seekonk’s Competition Director David Alburn said. “The cars are getting to technical using bump stops and a team doesn’t have loads of resources and manpower and the ability to work on the cars as they did in the past.”
The Pro Stock division, a class that was started by track founder D. Anthony Venditti in 1978, became the track’s premiere class in 1984, jumping over a modified division. Since then, the Pro Stocks have been Seekonk’s top division and produced two–wide racing on the track, with various champions and feature winners.
In 2019, the evolution of Seekonk’s Pro Stock class will take the next step, but, in a sense, it’s a step back to the pastime that produced thrilling action at a track where side-by-side racing keeps fans on the edge of their seats.
With the rules changes, Seekonk is hoping the division puts the finishing position of a car somewhat back into the driver’s hands, and not rely solely on the setup under the hood. As with all divisions in racing, the setup plays a major role in the finishing position, but, with some of the driver talent Seekonk’s division includes, the bump stops have taken away the chance for some drivers to compete, simply because they don’t have the knowledge or resources to utilize the bump stops to their advantage.
“With this bump stop technology which is ever changing, you have to have everything in sync at the same time to perfection or you’re not going to be competitive or worse you can have a car you can’t control,” Alburn said. “There is a level for that type of racing, and we aren’t on that level with weekly racing.”
Seekonk’s newly appointed 2019 Race Director, Wall of Fame member and former champion Len Ellis, is no stranger to the Pro Stock division. Ellis won two championships in Seekonk’s top class (1997 & 2001), and was also a car owner for years, with former champion Dick Houlihan at the controls.
Ellis parked his own Pro Stock at the end of the 2017 season, and helped Rookie of the Year contender Dylan Estrella to one victory during the 2018 season as a spotter, but now, he’s making the move to become Race Director once again.
“I feel like we are building space shuttles. We started running some open shows, and guys would come down from up north, and they had all of the newest technology, like bump stops, and Seekonk allowed us to put different rear-ends, different transmissions, etc., and we all wanted it. If you didn’t pay for someone to start doing your shocks and setting up your car, you couldn’t compete. This can be fixed. It won’t be fixed over one night, but it can be fixed. I was one of the first four Pro Stocks that was ever built. I want this division to live. What we are trying to do is making this division a Saturday night Pro Stock back to the driver’s hands.”
And if there was any question about whether there are drivers who are ready for a new challenge, a look into the past, and present, shows you that there is interest in the new rules package. Four-time Pro Stock champion Rick Martin, who has been behind the wheel over two decades, is excited to see the way the cars react in 2019.
“Today’s technology is constantly advancing, and with the advance comes the financial increase to build a competitive short track car,” Martin said. “Local racers is what is going to take to keep short tracks alive. The track is trying to keep cost to a point where the average guy can home-build a car and be competitive. The track has to govern it, because racers will always search for the next, latest and greatest thing.”
With the elimination of bump stops and ground clearance, teams will have the chance to go back to some of the older setups in the front of the car. For Martin, the evolution of short-track racing is something he has witnessed firsthand for more than 20 years, in his own garage.
“On the bump stops, the cars drive like go-karts with no suspension, if you have the equipment to get them set right each week the car is faster, but faster in the corners takes more of the driver being able to manhandle the car through the corners,” Martin said.
“Corner speeds are too high these days in relation to straightaway speeds, and cars and tires have improved so much over the years that it’s turning tracks into one speed, and one groove, tracks. Cars are wrecking each other just to get to the bottom (faster) groove. I believe getting rid of bump stops is a step in the right direction. Now is the time we all need to get together and figure out what we need to do to make the racing exciting again. We need to bring it back to where “it’s not car against car, it’s about man against man.”
And, just behind Martin, a former Late Model champion who moved to the Pro Stock ranks nearly a decade ago is also looking forward to trying something new.
“I feel the new rules package helps the guys that can’t afford a pull-down rig and endless shock tuning,” Mike Brightman, driver of the No. 27, said. “Guys like Kyle Busch Motorsports and Bubba Pollard, and big dollar teams – I understand having that but there aren’t enough of those teams on a small track Saturday night. It’s about having an edge – and if I could guarantee an advantage over my competition, I would. It’s why we do what we do. I don’t fault anyone, but I just don’t think it’s a direction for Saturday night short track racing.”
Brightman is also looking forward to spending a little bit more time with his family and friends, instead of spending each night of the week in the garage trying to nail the perfect bump stop setup to be successful.
“Off the track, it should free up some time out of the garage for other things that we all enjoy in the summer,” Brightman said. “I think there is a lot of talent in our Pro Stocks, but sometimes, the talent stops when the bump stops don’t hit at the exact moment they should. We are talking about 1/8 or 1/16 of an inch from having a good car, to hanging on for 40 laps. Let’s see how it plays out. It should be fun.”
Seekonk’s 2019 NASCAR Whelen All American Series season opens on Sunday, May 5, where Pro Stock drivers will give the new rules the first racing test with a 45-lap Tomassi Law Associates Power 5 race to begin the season. The Late Models, Sport Trucks and Sportsman will also all be in action with Power 5 events.
Seekonk Pro Stock teams will also have three chances to tune on their cars before the first green flag, with practice sessions scheduled on April 20, April 27 and May 4.