(Stafford Springs, CT)—For SK Light driver Joe Graf, Jr., the 2016 season at Stafford Speedway was a totally new experience for the Mahwah, NJ native. Prior to the 2016 season, Graf raced Legend Cars and had never sat behind the wheel of an open wheeled modified. Despite being a newcomer to the world of open wheeled modified racing, Graf proved to be a quick study behind the wheel of the #2 RH2Way Radio Communications Chevrolet and he took home R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year honors.
“We had some challenges here and there during the year but Paul French always had the car perfect,” said Graf. “The whole Horsepower Hill team always brought a great car to the track and we had a shot at winning the championship going into the last race. Things had to go a little differently than they did for us to be able to win the championship but I’m still pretty happy with how things were this year for us. We got a win and a couple second place finishes so it was a great season. I really need to give a big thanks to the whole Horsepower Hill team, Alliance Shippers, RH2, Racecayct.com, Bakaj Construction, my parents, and Paul for putting me in his car.”
The 2016 season for Graf can be broken down into 2 distinct segments. In the first 6 races of the season, Graf’s average finish was 9.0. Graf won his first and only feature of the year in the seventh race and from that point until the end of the season, he never finished outside the top-10 and his average finish for the final 11 races was 4.8.
“At the start of the year my goal was to win a race and we were hoping to be able to run for the championship, but we weren’t really sure how the year was going to go,” said Graf. “Winning that race showed us that we could actually do it and it gave everyone some extra confidence. I really felt like that was the week where everything started to come together for me. We had been good before that but that night is when I really started to be able to pass guys and get around cars and the racing part of it really came to me.”
Making the move from a Legend Car to an SK Light can be a difficult transition with the difference in size, weight, and performance of the 2 cars. Graf says that was his biggest adjustment in making the move up in competition but once he got it figured out, it was clear sailing.
“We noticed pretty quickly that the car was fast, I just had to learn the car,” said Graf. “Being my first year, I was used to the Legend Car so I learned a lot about how to use the extra grip from the SK Light car compared to the Legend Car. The SK Lights are a momentum car and I think that was the biggest thing for me to learn. The Legend cars you get on the brakes hard and almost park the car in the center of the corner and then get back to the gas pretty quick where with the SK Light you almost have to coast into the corner with a little brake and then see how quickly you can get back in the gas. Another thing was passing cars. With the Legend you almost had to move guys where with the SK Light you can make crossover moves and they work. We would have liked to get some more wins but I was very happy with the team and the progress I made this season.”
“We’re really excited for next season,” said Graf. “I feel like with what I’ve learned this year we’ll be even better next year. I hope we can come out and win a couple more races and be a contender for the championship.”
For winning the 2016 R.A.D. Automachine SK Light Rookie of the Year Award, Graf will take home an $500 bonus from R.A.D. Automachine.
“R.A.D. helped us out a lot this year and Donny is a great guy and his motors are fantastic and a big thanks to him for that bonus, it’ll really help us out for next year,” said Graf.
Graf will officially be crowned as the 2016 R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year at the 47th Annual Stafford Motor Speedway Champions Awards Ceremony on Friday, November 18 at Maneeley’s in South Windsor.
Tickets to the 47th Annual Stafford Motor Speedway Champions Awards Ceremony are $48 per person and can be ordered by calling the Stafford Motor Speedway track office at (860) 684-2783, or by downloading an order form from www.staffordspeedway.com and returning the form to the track office.