As the sun is ready to rise and shine over another NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway, one driver that is looking forward to the race is Woody Pitkat. In the off-season, Pitkat moved from the #79 team to the #88 Buzz Chew Auto team and he will take over the driving duties from Bryon Chew. While the #88 team is based in Old Forge, NY, Pitkat has already been to their shop several times in preparation for the 2014 season and he is excited about what he has seen at the shop.
"I brought a couple of seats up to them around Christmas time and we mounted one seat in the new car and put a seat in one of the old cars," said Pitkat. "I've been back to the shop a couple more times since then. Spot, the crew chief, has been unbelievable and this is the best deal I've ever had. I'm so appreciative of what they've done for me so far, they've given me snowmobiles to ride, we've stayed at their house, it's been pretty cool. It's been great to get up there and see how they maintain the cars and what they do to prep the cars and try to gel as a team early on.
"I've been so looking forward to the season, I've told them to send me a selfie of the racecar because I haven't seen the complete car yet. We're supposed to practice at Thompson this weekend and I feel like this is my best opportunity yet on the Tour. They have great equipment, the cars are prepped awesome, and everything is there so it's up to me now to show what I have in a Tour car. If I can't run up front or win now with this equipment, I probably shouldn't be on the Tour. They have Troyer cars with Billy the Kid engines so I'll have the same combination of chassis and engine as the SK car. I really have to thank Billy because he put in a good word for me with Bryon to get me that ride this season and I have to thank Buzz and Bryon for giving me the opportunity to drive their car. They're a great bunch of guys and I can't thank them enough. We have great sponsors with Buzz Chew Chevrolet, Elbow East Restaurant, NAPA Tolland, Goodridge Hoses, and Billy the Kid and hopefully I can get the job done for them."
In three seasons of competition, Chew has a career best finish of fourth at Monadnock this past season and a career best finish of 17th in the points standings. Pitkat is coming off of his best season on the Whelen Modified Tour with a 9th place finish in the points and he is confident that teaming up with the Chew team will lead to great things this season.
"I am hoping we're going to run well," said Pitkat. "I saw Mike Stefanik when I was traveling to the banquet in North Carolina and the first thing he said to me wasn't hi or anything like that, he told me that I'm going to win races this year in the 88. That was an awesome feeling to hear something like that from Mike who has won so many races and 7 championships. A lot of people are talking about we're going to be a team to be reckoned with this year and I don't see any reason why we can't do that. I run weekly at Stafford and Thompson, I've won at Waterford, I've raced at Monadnock before, I've been fast at Bristol and New Hampshire before, and last year my two best finishes were at Riverhead believe it or not. I have the confidence in myself that I can run good now we just have to see how good the cars are going to be. Bryon qualified outside pole at Bristol and he was third at New Hampshire and he was in the top-5 at the Fall Final last year so they have good setups everywhere. I'm anxious to get going to see the difference in the Troyer chassis versus the Raceworks and Chassis Dynamics cars I've driven in the past.
"I think some of the guys might have a slight advantage on us by going down to Florida, but we're going to test at Thompson and Stafford before the races and I think it makes more sense for us to test at the tracks that we'll be racing at this season. I don't feel any extra pressure, I just have to get on the same page with the guys and gel as a team and give them the best feedback that I can. They have 3 cars and 4 engines so we'll have two prepared cars on hand at the track at all times."
While Pitkat is still in search of his first career Whelen Modified Tour victory, Stafford would be a logical place for Pitkat to collect that first win. Pitkat has 27 career SK Modified® wins, 39 Late Model wins, and 3 DARE Stock wins at Stafford and he nearly had his first career win in the Fall Final at Stafford in 2012. Pitkat says that if he were to pick up his first win not only at Stafford but in the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler, it would be the biggest win of his career.
"It would be huge, by far the biggest win of my career," said Pitkat. "Just knowing the people who have won that race in the past, growing up in the town and with the extra laps knowing how big the race is. I was real close that one year at the Fall Final driving for the Hills. It would be huge. Being a few extra laps, you have to have the right strategy with when to pit, when you're going to pit, and how many tires you're going to change. With all those factors, the Sizzler is a harder race to win than other races on Tour. I've been trying for so long and I know Doug Coby probably felt the same way. I remember when he was hopping between three different cars in one year and he got the opportunity he needed with a great team and won a championship and now he is with another great team. I'd like to be able to follow in his footsteps and be able to do the same thing with these guys."
Pitkat has a good record at Stafford when it comes to extra distance events, having won features in both the SK Modified® and Late Model divisions. He says that the longer races suit his style and that a good qualifying effort won't necessarily win you the race, but it will go a long way in helping you to win the race.
"I've always done better in the longer races," said Pitkat. "I think it comes down to my strategy is to cruise and be there at the end. I used to ask Jimmy Fuller what he would want me to do and he would tell me to cruise around and if I had anything at the end of the race to send it. I remember one night Ryan [Preece] and I started next to each other in 12th and 13th and we passed everyone on the outside and we were out front after about 15 laps. That wasn't our plan but when you get out front, you can kind of set your own pace and let a guy go if he is pushing you or you can step up your own pace. I think it's always a plus to qualify up front. That Fall Final when I finished second, I remember we qualified third or fourth and someone once told me it's a whole different race when you start up front and it was a totally different race. When I came in after the race I was disappointed finishing second but at the same time I was wondering where some guys finished because I didn't see them at all during the race whereas when you're running in 15th, you can see the whole field. I'd rather qualify in the top-5 or at worst the top-10 and be able to run my own race. You have to have a good pitstop and get back out in the same spot as when you went into the pits. A good qualifying lap is going to be a positive and something that you want to have for the race."
The 43rd Annual NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler gets underway Friday, April 25 with a practice session for Stafford's weekly divisions. The practice session will be open to the public at no charge. The run for the Coors Light Pole position gets underway on Saturday, April 26 with time trials for the Whelen Modified Tour cars, along with heat and consolation races for Stafford's weekly divisions. Saturday will conclude with feature events for the SK Light, Limited Late Model, and DARE Stock divisions as well as a feature event for the Northeast Mini Stocks. The Sizzler concludes on Sunday, April 27 with the NAPA Auto Parts Pit Party followed by Stafford's SK Modifieds® and Late Models joining the Whelen Modified Tour in feature action.
Tickets for the "Greatest Race in the History of Spring" are on sale now at the Speedway Box Office. Tickets are priced at $38.50 for adult general admission tickets, $5.00 for children ages 6-14, and children ages 5 and under are admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult. Reserved seating is priced at $42.00 for all ages. As always, Stafford Motor Speedway offers free parking with overnight parking available. All tickets are good for both Saturday and Sunday admission. All ticket prices include 10% CT Admission Tax.
For more information on the 43rd annual NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler, or to order tickets, contact the Stafford Motor Speedway track office at 860-684-2783 or visit us on the web at www.staffordspeedway.com.