By Souza Media/Kyle Souza
It’s David Darling’s world and we all seem to just be living in it.
After a year off due to COVID-19, Pro Stock drivers will begin their chase to try and beat Darling beginning on NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Opening Day on Sunday, May 2.
The Seekonk, Massachusetts, driver has won the last three Pro Stock championships — winning nearly 75 percent of the races — and has shown no signs of slowing down. As he enters 2021, looking to grab his elusive eighth Seekonk title, and break the record books in the process, his team is back together with a strong set of cars and tools at their disposal. There is no reason why Darling shouldn’t be considered the favorite in the search of track history. He also enters the year with the most wins in the history of the Pro Stock division since the inception in ’78, looking to increase that number even further.
Behind him, it’s a tight battle to see who will put up the best attempt to take him from the top. Two-time Late Model champion Dylan Estrella, and Pro Stock veteran and former Late Model champion Ryan Vanasse, seem to be two of the most consistent and two that have title experience. Vanasse scored a victory early in 2019, before wrapping the campaign with a third-place finish in the championship standings. Although some of his attention has turned to his son, racing Seekonk Grand Prix Bandolero’s on Friday nights, Vanasse wasn’t far from the winner’s circle every week, and should be a top contender once again.
Estrella, who has Everett’s Auto Parts on his side, was certainly a top contender in 2019. He rolled to Victory Lane a few different times, and was consistently a top-five car weekly — sometimes even topping Darling — including on opening night, where he won in his Pro Stock debut. Don’t count him out, especially with his Seekonk history, growing from the Seekonk Youth Racing Association all the way to premier Pro Stock division.
There are more than seven former track champions (mixed between all divisions) that might have their own say in the fight. And one of them is back for the first time in a few years going full-time. Kenny Spencer, who stepped away from competition for a bit, just couldn’t shake the drive to get back behind the wheel. A new ride, and a returned winning attitude, will have Spencer looking to start off consistent and blast the second half of the season to the head table.
Don’t count out Tom Scully Jr., Rick Martin and Fred Astle Jr. either. Scully, who earned his first Pro Stock title in 2016, has been one of the staples of the championship battle for over a decade. After coming so close on so many occasions, he finally earned glory just a few years ago. Entering 2021, he comes off a year in 2019 where he didn’t visit Victory Lane like he would have liked — but was able to consistently run inside the top six on most occasions. Martin, a veteran of racing and a driver who is close to his 100th career Seekonk win, is no stranger to Pro Stock success. But over the last few years, he hasn’t quite hit the setup right to be a weekly winning threat — will he return to glory in 2021?
Astle, who has struggled himself the last few years, seems to have a renewed attitude in hopes of winning success. He has six championships, and would love to pull even with Darling and Late Model front-runner Gerry DeGaspere Jr., by earning his seventh. Like Estrella, Astle carries the Everett’s Auto Parts banner and colors on the side.
Add two more to the mix: Mike Brightman and Ryan Kuhn. Both of them are former Late Model champions, and one of them a multiple-time Pro Stock winner. Brightman returned to checkered flag glory in 2019, holding off Martin in a spirited 40-lap battle during the summer. Kuhn, the 2018 Late Model champion, is coming back from a few years with the American Canadian Tour and Pro All Star Series, where he won Rookie of the Year with ACT. Kuhn was also announced as a Kulwicki Driver Development Program Finalist for the 2021 season, which makes him eligible for the $54,439 prize — the Kulwicki Cup Championship. Seekonk events could play a pivotal role in his chances with a limited schedule planned.
Ryan Lineham will be competing with car owner Richard Sprague in the No. 10, who he drove for en route to strong season in the Late Models in 2019. They will also registered to run at least part-time in the Late Models. Names like Dick Benoit and Danny Cabral are back for another campaign, while former Sport Truck regular David Simpson will be making the move to the Pro Stock division, running in the car that Kyle Casper built, after Simpson won the car as part of a sweepstakes. It will be his debut year in Seekonk’s top division.
Mark Jenison, a Late Model winner, is currently planning to make the jump to full-time action in Seekonk’s top class. Look for Jenison to get acclimated quickly and contend for wins before the season is out.
There are also some other familiar track faces returning for a run at the top NASCAR class. Colbey Fournier, a former Pro Stock winner who has been racing Modifieds the last few years, is in the same shop as Spencer, and looking to bring back some winning form on a weekly basis. Veterans Daryl Stampfl, Jeramee Lille, Mark Henshaw Jr. and Ron Nordbeck have also filed entires prior to the season.
Don’t count out Kevin Casper, who plans to run at least select events in the Phil’s Propane No. 88, along with names like Kevin Folan, Bob Hussey and Elmer Wing, who have all registered their cars. Additional registrations include Bill Joeress, Ted Urqhart, Richard Duranti and more.
The Pro Stock season will include multiple extra-distance races as part of the Phil’s Propane Triple Crown Series, Diamond Anniversary events, and the inaugural American Racer Pro Stock 75.
Seekonk’s 75th anniversary season of racing is scheduled to kick-off on Sunday May 2, under capacity restrictions due to COVID-19. For more information on Seekonk Speedway, visit seekonkspeedway.com and follow the track on social media channels.