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Stafford Motor Speedway ends affiliation with NASCAR

Stafford — Back in the 1970s, Stafford Motor Speedway used an advertising slogan, — "Nobody does it better than Stafford Speedway and NASCAR." 

As of Monday, that phrase is no longer valid.

After 60 years, the track announced it no longer would be affiliated with the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, America's largest sanctioning body of motor sports.

Not only was Stafford a long-time member of NASCAR, it was a charter member of the weekly racing series, which started in 1982. In 2021, however, the track will operate as an independent.

According to a statement released by the track, the break-up was the result of a dispute regarding streaming and broadcast rights of weekly events.

"Unfortunately we were unable to come to an agreement regarding the media rights of our weekly racing program," Stafford Speedway CEO Mark Arute said. "In the existing format NASCAR owns the rights to any NASCAR sanctioned race produced by Stafford Speedway Productions. With the success of Stafford Speedway TV we no longer see this as a partnership we want to continue."

Stafford Speedway TV was created this year when the coronavirus pandemic limited the track to 25 percent of spectator capacity. Stafford produced a pay-per-view package of live streaming of its weekly events to compensate and 25 percent of the revenue generated by the streaming was paid to the competitors. All personnel involved in the TV production were Stafford employees.

Stafford weekly races were viewed all over the country, thanks to the practice of live streaming.

"Stafford Speedway TV has become a great asset to Stafford Speedway and all the race teams that compete at Stafford weekly," Arute said. "We see opportunities to grow this platform and currently are handcuffed on what we are able to accomplish for our race teams. Through the weekly racing sanction, NASCAR continues to own all rights to our weekly production, which is something we are no longer comfortable with."

Fans may not notice any change. The track also announced it will, at a minimum, match the NASCAR Track and State point fund that was paid to 4 of Stafford's 5 weekly divisions, the SK Modifieds, the SK Lights, the Late Models and the Limited Late Models. The track will also add the Street Stock division to its point fund.

The three NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events that are on the 2021 schedule will not be affected by the affiliation change and remain on the schedule.

"NASCAR gave us a lot of good years in the past," said Dan Avery of Somers, a driver and car owner who has competed at NASCAR tracks for 40 years. "It's a shame that things couldn't be worked out with the speedway and NASCAR. At the same token, we've seen quite a change in NASCAR in recent years, and Stafford's always been loyal to NASCAR and has also been loyal to its competitors. When it came down to it, I think Stafford stayed loyal to the competitors. It was in their best interest on behalf of the competitors to bow out of the NASCAR sanctions. That's what it seems like to me."

"I spoke with Mark Arute and he said it was an agonizing decision for him to part ways with NASCAR after so many years. I think Stafford was a very loyal supporter of NASCAR."

Avery said that even though the NASCAR banner is missing, he doesn't see any changes in operation of the track,

"It's still going to be the best short-track racing in the country," Avery said. "I'm not sure if that NASCAR connection was as viable as it once was. It just seems like 10 to 15 years ago, it was more prestigious, more lucrative, there was more money up for grabs."

Stafford drivers were eligible to compete for NACAR national and state championships. During the 2020 season, only one Stafford driver received national recognition, Adam Gray, the Late Model champion.

"It's really too bad," Arute said. We hoped it would not come to this but we've really been given no option. The weekly racing at Stafford Speedway is some of the best racing we've ever seen. We are doing a disservice to the race teams by giving away ownership of the weekly program media rights. Our goal is always to grow short track racing and put our competitors in front of more eyes. In the current structure, operating as a NASCAR sanctioned weekly track limits the opportunities that we can go after."

The announcement means that none of the state's three stock car race tracks that will operate in 2021, Stafford, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and New London Waterford Speedbowl will have a NASCAR sanction. In 2015, all three were NASCAR tracks.

Stafford Speedway's 2021 season is scheduled to get under way in April with five weekly divisions and some of the most accomplished drivers in Southern New England. The only object missing will be the NASCAR banner.

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