By: Jack Arute, Sr.
In 1975 it became apparent to me the cost of fielding a Modified racecar for weekly events was getting out of hand. At the time Stafford was enjoying some of its greatest days. The stands were full almost every Saturday night and the car count was the best of any of the tracks that ran Modifieds. But in spite of all the good times I was very worried about the future of Modifieds. I just felt it couldn’t last.
During that period of time we had every super star in Modified racing running at Stafford every Friday night. The field of cars at Stafford was strong but there were no new cars or drivers coming into the Modified division. It simply cost too much to build a competitive car to run weekly. The owners that had cars only wanted top name drivers to drive for them. There was no entry level for Modified drivers at the time and most owners would rather park the car than take a chance with a rookie driver.
I tried to reduce the cost of running a Modified car by instituting a narrow tire rule earlier that year but I failed to get support for the idea from the competitors, the fans or the media. Several of my own people were against the idea as well. But that is another story. The theory behind the narrow tire was that if you could not harness the power you wouldn’t need to spend a lot of money trying to get more power.
One Sunday morning in 1975 I was talking to my son Jackie about my concern for the future of Modifieds at Stafford and he agreed with me. I suggested that we should look for an entry-level Modified car to run at Stafford. I knew there was a lot of older Modifieds that were just parked in garages because they were no longer competitive with the present cars. My thought was how could we make rules that would bring these cars out of the garages and onto the racetrack. If we could find a way, it would give a lot of new drivers and owners the opportunity to run or drive a Modified racecar. We decided that a good person to run this theory by would be Ed Flemke Sr. We called Ed up and he came over to the house to discuss it with us. So in a sense, the SK Modified® was born in our kitchen, one summer morning in 1975.
I told Ed what we had in mind. What we came up with was a good formula for an inexpensive Modified racecar. I knew the most important thing was to have a tire rule that we could control, not the tire companies or sanctioning bodies.
When we finished, we had what I believed to be a very affordable and highly competitive racecar formula, but we tabled the idea for the time being. I was not anxious to create another controversy on the heels of the narrow tire deal I just went through. The tire deal was costly and controversial enough for that year.
Starting about 1977 -78, as I had predicted, the field of Modified cars started to get smaller and smaller. Many long time Modified tracks were starting to drop the Modified division from a weekly basis altogether. Talk of a touring division for the present Modifieds seemed to be gaining support. I thought the tour idea was ok but I knew if there wasn’t weekly Modified racing the media and fans would lose interest in the division. Driver recognition would start to fade. In order to have a World Series; someone has to support the league.
It was in 1980 – 81 that car count became a real problem. That is when I decided in order to secure the future of Modified racing at Stafford the time had come to make the move.
I told Ed Yerrington what I wanted to do and he thought I was crazy. I told Dan Pardi, who was our tech man at the time, what Jackie, Flemke, and I had talked about that Sunday and told him to come up with a set of rules that would meet my goals for the new division. After we had the general idea of what we wanted, we had a couple of meetings with the competitors about the new division. The idea was met with mixed feelings but the die was cast. We were going forward with the concept.
I remember the night of the last meeting with the competitors. We had not come up with a name for the new division as yet. I felt very strong that the name be unique and distinctive. Several suggestions were made none of which I liked. I knew the name we chose would become a permanent part of racing jargon. We were all in Ed’s office, Ed Yerrington, Dan Pardi, John McMullen, my wife and me. The competitors were next door in the big hall waiting for us to tell them about this new division and we still did not have a name for it. Several suggestions were made, like small ‘block Modifieds’, ‘limited Modifieds’, ‘Stafford Mods’ and even ‘Sportsman Modifieds’. I told everyone I wanted the name to be two initials and that was that. One suggestion was ‘ST Modifieds’ for Stafford Modifieds, Another was ‘A Y ‘ for Arute and Yerrington and even ‘JA’ for Jack Arute Modifieds. We couldn’t agree on any of these names and it was getting late. My wife came up with, ‘SK Modifieds®’, which stood for absolutely nothing. No one but myself was in favor of that one either but I was getting tired and I had made up my mind that it was going to be two initials so that was it.
I felt so strongly about the division that I had the name ‘SK Modified®’, registered with the U.S. patent office. My reason for that was to make sure that no track could run a racecar and call it a SK Modified® unless it conformed 100% to our SK rules. It is against the law to use the name SK Modifieds® without our permission. The first SK race was held on April 30, 1982. It was won by John St Angelo.
Some of the Mod Tour drivers that won races in the SK division are Dan Avery, Tom Bolles, Randy LaJoie, Brad Hietala, Rick Fuller, Kerry Malone. Reggie Ruggiero, Ken Bouchard, Sonny O”Sullivan, Ed Flemke Jr., Jeff Barry, Steve Park, Mike Ewanitsko, Ken Barry, Ted Christopher and even the late Tim Richmond drove an SK and won.
We ran both Modifieds and SK Modifieds® for a few years. The SK ran with limited praise from the fans, but I could see more and more interest growing in the division.
The first few years were very tough. The media did not support the division nor did the old Modified die-hard fans support us. It was almost a boycott of the track. The situation was much like the IRL/IndyCar feud but I knew that this was the answer to the future of the Modifieds. In 1986 in order to further strengthen the SK division, we leased Waterford Speedbowl and entered into an agreement with Thompson Speedway for a Tri-Track Series for the SK Modifieds.
In 1988 I decided in order to show how committed we were to the division and how strong my belief in them was, to make them the feature division for the Spring Sizzler. It was a bold move but I felt the time had come. My critics were right. It was a costly move but to this day I do not regret it. It showed that the commitment to the SK’s at Stafford was serious and their future was bright.
Today the SK Modified® is an important part of the racing community. Almost all the tracks that at one time dropped the Modified division have gone back to running Modifieds. Every week they put on one of the most exciting and competitive races of any division that competes at Stafford. They run side by side lap after lap and almost any car in the field has a good chance of winning the race.
It’s been a long haul but I am glad I held my ground in spite of all the initial opposition to the division. If it were not for my belief in the SK concept and their inevitable success, I do not know if Stafford would be operating today. I believe that the SK Modified® has been one of the major factors for the interest and success of the Whelen Modified Tour. The SK has kept the interest in Modified racing alive on a weekly basis. It has been the reason for the return of Modified racing to many of the tracks that dropped them. It has also been a good training division for future Modified Series drivers and crew chiefs.
I have made the promise several times; there will always be Modifieds at Stafford as long as I am alive. There may be only two and I may be driving one of them but Modifieds will always have a home at Stafford Motor Speedway!