August 13, 2013 11:27PM
By Bryant Carpenter
WALLINGFORD — Keith Rocco goes by the nickname “Kid Roc,” according to his website.
But unlike the musician Kid Rock, the race car driver from Wallingford is arguably doing a better job of staying at the top of the charts.
By winning twice Saturday night at the Waterford Speedbowl, in both the regular 35-lap SK Modified feature and the 100-lap Valenti Series event, Rocco reached the 50-win plateau for his career at the cozy 3/8-mile asphalt bowl by the shore.
That’s just at Waterford, mind you. Consider that Rocco, who races all three of Connecticut’s tracks on a weekly basis, has also won three SK Modified season crowns at Thompson International Speedway and two at Stafford Motor Speedway, where he has 37 career wins.
Consider, too, that Rocco is still only 28 years old and that he’s only been at this since 2008, when he started regularly racing in Waterford.
Kid Rock, with only a slight nod to the censors, would probably agree: This Rocco is, and remains, an American Bad *ss.
Heading into this weekend’s racing, Rocco is No. 1 in three different point standings: Thompson Modifieds, Waterford Modifieds and Waterford Late Models. He ranks No. 3 in the National Whelen All-American Series, the nationwide short-track points race that Rocco won in 2010.
Running down a second national crown here in 2013 might be a reach. As Rocco notes, the Southern drivers, with their better weather, tend to get off to a better start (and, indeed, he trails two Southerners, Lee Pulliam and Deac McCaskill, in the standings).
But more Connecticut championships, including the state’s overall points total, are in his grasp. All he’s got to do is keep it up. At Waterford, he’s won six of the 16 Modified features and six of the 13 Late Model runs. At Thompson, which has been plagued by rainouts, he’s won four of the seven Modified races.
It’s only at Stafford, where he’s won just once in 12 Modified starts and sits at No. 12 in the standings, that Rocco has struggled.
“Things are going really well,” Rocco said, assessing the season as a whole. “Stafford, the car hasn’t been on this year. At this point, we just want to get it figured out for next year.
“Kind of sad Thompson rained out as much as it did,” he continued. “Very competitive over there. I’ve got a very good car. I’m having a lot of fun over there. That’s my own car and my own team. Winning races and having fun.”
As busy as the three nights of driving Rocco puts in each week -- Thursdays at Thompson, Fridays at Stafford and Saturdays at Waterford -- they’re really just the tip of his iceberg. A mechanic by trade, Rocco also maintains most of the cars he races: three SK Modifieds, the Waterford Late Model and the Valenti Modified.
“I’ve got good help. After work, everyone comes down and gives me a hand,” Rocco said.
“When you’re running good and winning races, it’s not that bad.
“The work part of it ain’t the bad part,” he added. “It’s paying for it.”
Indeed, as car owner at Thompson, Rocco pays his own entry fees there. The Modifieds he drives at Waterford and Stafford are owned by John and Maina Rufrano, proprietors of Wheelers Auto Services in Hamden. The Waterford Late Model is the property of Scott Fearn of Wilbraham, Mass.
Also in Rocco’s corner are sponsors D&G Paving & Excavating of Meriden, Del’s Aluminum & Vinyl Siding of Cheshire and RRJ Associates of Wallingford.
Throw in the crew, and it’s a fairly big team.
Ultimately, though, the guy with the wheel and wrench in his hand is Rocco. While being both driver and mechanic isn’t uncommon, the extent to which Rocco delves into both is. Some drivers do nothing but get behind the wheel on race night.
“Not in my boat,” Rocco said.
“I think that’s part of the reason I have the success I have. I know what the car needs. I know when I feel something, I know what I need, what adjustments to make. That’s something that separates me from a lot of drivers, being so hands-on.”
Rocco, along with his brother Jeff, who also drives and works on race cars, learned plenty from their dad Ronnie, a short-track racer in his day.
They also learned as part of Ted Christopher’s crew. They were aboard when the veteran racer from Plainville won a national championship in 2001.
What comes around goes around: Rocco, when he captured the Stafford Modified track championship in his magical national title season of 2010, won 10 races at Stafford to break Christopher’s previous track record of nine.
It’s at Waterford, though, where Rocco feels most at home.
It’s where he started, after all, and he likes the tight 3/8-mile layout -- “a bull ring,” as he puts it. It’s also got two grooves, which allows for passing on top or bottom. That’s ideal when you’re racing from the back of the pack.
Along with the regular weekly features at all three tracks, Rocco has two Valenti races on the horizon -- on Aug. 22 at Thompson and Aug. 30 at Stafford.
Also, Waterford runs a 150-lap SK Modified race in two weeks.
“I’m so used to the shorter races, I like the longer ones,” Rocco remarked. “It’s such a change. You’ve got to save the car.”
So, you see, unlike his namesake, Kid Roc isn’t entirely a Devil Without a Cause.