DARLING DOMINATES: 2010s (2010-2019)
This decade was one dominated by David Darling. It was also the decade that watched some of Seekonk’s Youth Racing Association drivers roll through the ranks of Fast Friday, up into the NASCAR Saturday night program, and become successful in some of the most competitive fields in all of New England. In the middle, the track’s First Lady, Irene Venditti, would lose her battle, and hand the track over to son Francis and grandson David Alburn, as she passed in 2014.
Darling won five of his record seven track championships during the stretch, starting with two in ’12 and ’13, before taking a few years off the podium. He returned to glory winning three straight titles from 2017-2019, capturing victory in more than half of the races in the Pro Stocks. His tenacity on the track coupled with the addition of Jeff Belyea to his race team as setup master proved to be nearly unbeatable. Although Belyea worked with Darling en route to his success, it wasn’t lost that Ronnie Pond was the other master behind the Darling operation, there for all of the championships in the Pro Stock class as the crew chief and mechanic.
Outside of Darling, Fred Astle Jr. added his fifth and sixth titles to begin the decade, while Kenny Spencer finally broke into championship glory in 2014, driving with a unique body style. Angelo Belsito took the track by surprise and dominated 2015, becoming a champion in his sophomore season, while Tom Scully Jr. finally broke through after years of trying to earn his own Pro Stock crown, which goes down as one of the more emotional moments from the decade. He would lose his car owner, his mother, just two years later.
Darling wasn’t the only driver to add to his resume in the 2010s — as Gerry DeGaspere Jr., the driver who sits tied with Darling with the most titles in track history entering 2020 (seven), was right on his tail. After storming through the end of the previous decade, DeGaspere dominated the early stages of this one — only defeated by Ryan Vanasse for the title in 2010 after a spirited battle with Kyle Casper. DeGaspere would earn titles from ’11-’13, capturing three straight for the second time in eight years. Bobby Pelland III would elevate himself to title glory in ’14 with a dominating campaign, while Dylan Estrella spearheaded the completion of Seekonk’s youth goals by capturing two Late Model titles in ’15 & ’16. Ryan Lineham, rising star Ryan Kuhn and Tom “The Bomb” Adams would also win titles to finish the decade.
Building on their impressive base, the Seekonk Street Stocks and Sport Trucks would continue to gain momentum, with the Street Stocks re-branding to the Sportsman mid-decade. Names like Axon, Lineham, Lallier, Bruneau, Lovelace and Fanning would score title glory. Lallier and Bruneau would earn the top honors three times, showing their dominant grasp. In the Sport Trucks, it was the decade of Cavallaro — as Mike took his recognized No. 80 to the head table and Victory Lane often. Cavallaro would win three titles and a variety of races, while John Pavia (2013) and Rob Murphy (2014) each cemented their legacy with dominant title efforts. At the end of the decade, three rising racing stars bolstered their own resumé — as Mike Duarte, Josh Hedges and Richie Murray all earned crowns. Murray comes from the storied racing family and opened his NASCAR tenure with a title in his Rookie season.
On Fast Friday, car counts continued to rise, divisions entered the scene and one left after showcasing youth for over a decade. Names like Nick Lascuola, David Hutchins Jr., Branden Dion and Austin Blais started their racing career at the beginning of the decade in the MiniCup division, and all ended up driving on NASCAR Saturday. Blais picked up victories in the Sportsman and Late Model classes across the span. Seekonk honored their first-ever female champion when Shelby Donavan scored the MiniCup title in 2014, while female Ava Chouinard followed it up by winning one of her own in the final MiniCup season in 2017. As part of the 2017 season, the Bandolero division launched with sponsorship from local business Seekonk Grand Prix, and it took off — with car counts soaring by the end of the decade — and Seekonk hoisting some of its youngest winners ever. This closed the door on the MiniCup tenure at Seekonk.
The Sport 4 division, Seekonk’s true division where you can take a car off the street and covert it to a racing machine, took a major step in 2010, when Ken Silva took top honors. Before that, Taylor Therrien (now Pelletier), was the frontrunner. The dominator of the decade was Dave Westgate, who won two titles and countless races, but also shared top honors with names like Devin Miranda and Mike Belanger. AJ Manuel blasted onto the scene in ’18-’19, winning the first title, and tying with eventual first-time champ Mikey LeFort in ’19. The Pure Stock division watched just one driver repeat as champion when Andrew Kun scored back-to-back in ’15 & ’16, while all others earned their first head table experience. The year 2013 marked the beginning of the Nick’s Pit Stop Legends Cars tenure, with Nick Lascuola earning the first two titles, and five others joining him. The cars picked up speed, and the divisions picked up momentum on Fast Friday. By the end of the decade, the pit area was busting at the seams.
Off the track, in a move that affected on-track action, Seekonk would integrate the NASCAR sanction back into the fold beginning in 2015 as part of the track’s 70th season and carry it through the remainder of the decade. “There’s a lot of history and this is an important effort to keep that history alive,” said Seekonk Speedway President Francis Venditti at the announcement. “We want to build our fanbase and our sponsor base. We have a great team here and we want to build on that and create a lasting and enduring relationship with NASCAR that is going to be notable.” As the only track in Massachusetts under the NASCAR sanction, the Pro Stock division also crowned a NASCAR State championship for the rest of the decade.
LINK: Seekonk Adds NASCAR Sanction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnm8rAu10XQ&feature=emb_title
Open Wheel Wednesday rolled on, starting with Todd Annaurmmo joining his father Vinny as the only father-son combination to win the race in 2010, while names like Hirschman and Coby cemented dominance at Seekonk with multiple checkered flags in the prestigious event.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returned after 11 years away, competing in four straight years to end the decade, with six-time tour champion Coby sparking two wins, and Justin Bonsignore and Timmy Solomito joining him. This decade also marked the beginning of the Phil’s Propane Triple Crown Series — one of Seekonk’s most historic set of events — where divisions on Fast Friday and NASCAR Saturday compete in a three-race series during the season where they crown a separate champion, with extra laps and extra crash on the line.
Seekonk’s Wall of Fame got off the ground running in 2013, with eight inductees in the first season, and it continued through the remainder of the decade, adding 16 more over the next six years. Seekonk’s Spectator Drag division went from a Thrill Show sensation to a NASCAR Saturday night reality, with select dates throughout the summer.
Possibly the biggest addition of this decade was the advanced pit area that extended out into the main parking lot, a major factor in Seekonk allowing teams to retain haulers in the pits during the night of action. Prior to this adjustment, race teams would have to unload equipment for the night and leave their haulers outside. However, before long, all of that was in the rear-view mirror, with the new pit area blueprinted and developed.