(Stafford Springs, CT)—After running a half schedule during the 2015 season in Stafford Speedway’s Legend Cars division, Springfield, MA native Mike Hopkins made the transition to DARE Stock competition for the 2016 season. Through the first three races, Hopkins and the #78 Tudor House Liquors team have made the transition from a small and light Legend Car to a heavy and full sized DARE Stock car look pretty easy with top-8 finishes in each race. Hopkins is the leading R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year candidate and he is fifth in the points standings, only 18 points or 9 positions on the track out of the lead.
“Honestly it’s been pretty good so far,” said Hopkins. “We had an 8th at the Sizzler® and then we’ve been top-5 the last 2 weeks. The car has been fast and that’s all down to the hard work we did over the winter and my crew chief, Jason Lafayette, is a really smart guy. He puts the setup in the car each week and I owe everything to him. He had some old notes from when he ran his truck to work off of and the Lavoie’s and Casagrande’s have helped us out with some parts and we put everything together to kind of form our own monster so to speak.”
As good as things have gone for Hopkins and the #78 team through the first several races of the 2016 season, he says there is even more potential to be tapped from both the car and himself as the driver.
“Things have been good, but we’re still searching a little,” said Hopkins. “The car gets tight on the long runs so we’re going to make some changes and hopefully get that worked out and we can get the car even faster. Obviously it’s been nice to have a hot start and maybe surprise some people. We weren’t really surprised, we knew the car was going to be fast, it was just going to take me some time to get up to speed. I might be maybe 50% of the way there and I still have a lot to learn. Racing is one thing, passing is one thing, and putting the two together is another thing. Leading a race is a big thing with learning how to lead a race without burning the car up and I haven’t really been in that situation yet. Restarts are a huge deal and the DARE Stock is a difficult division. Being a rookie, we have to start in the back and we’ve been pretty lucky so far to avoid some wrecks. We’ve been finishing in the top-5, but it hasn’t been easy by any stretch. There’s always room to improve and I think there’s more speed to come from the car and myself, so we’re searching.”
Hopkins feels like he is close to getting his first win at Stafford but he also doesn’t want the pressure of winning to interrupt the fun that he and the #78 team are having at the track.
“I don’t want the pressure of trying to get a win on us, but that’s our main goal,” said Hopkins. “We’ve got a couple of top-5 finishes now and we just have to make some tweaks and changes to the car to get on the podium. If something major happens to us, we’re probably not going to be able to get the car back for the next week so we’re going to try to get as much done early in the season as we can. Our main focus is to try to stay consistent and run as hard as we can while still having fun. My family is a big help to me and getting together with the family at the racetrack is a nice thing for us.”
In addition to checking off a team goal, Hopkins has more reasons to get his car on the podium and into NAPA Victory Lane. He has worked out a deal with Autism Speaks where he will donate half of his race winnings to a local chapter of Autism Speaks.
“We just finalized a deal with Autism Speaks where we’re going to donate half of our race winnings for the rest of the year to a local chapter of Autism Speaks,” said Hopkins. “I also need to really thank New England Racing Fuel for their contingency award. We’ve been fortunate enough to receive a couple of gas certificates as the highest finishing rookie driver and that’s a really big deal to help us out. I’ve already written Mike Joy and John Holland two personal letters to express our appreciation of their support. We’re hoping that we can get a finish a couple of positions higher and we can get a contingency bonus from either Paradiso Insurance or Jeff Ramsey Carpentry and I can send them a letter as well.”
This Friday is the TSI Harley-Davidson 125 program at Stafford with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour joining Stafford’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions. Tickets for the TSI Harley-Davidson 125 are priced at $33.00 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 $35.00 for all ages. All ticket prices include 10% CT Admission Tax. Stafford Speedway offers free parking with overnight parking available.
For more information, contact the Stafford Motor Speedway track office at 860-684-2783 or visit us on the web at www.staffordspeedway.com.