Sometimes, a quick change in plans results in success.
That has been the case for Sunoco Modified driver Todd Owen. Two years ago, Owen wasn’t even planning on taking any laps at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park during the season.
Fast-forward to now and he is one of the hottest drivers to hit the track, especially last year, where he won three of the final four races in the division. Two of those wins came as part of the 20/20 sprint in September, and he also capped the season by winning the Sunoco World Series – and finishing just 20 points short of his first title.
“Honestly, it was kind of a mistake,” Owen said. “We built a brand new car for New London-Waterford Speedbowl two years ago and they didn’t open, so two days before the Icebreaker, I decided I was going to change the rear-end and go to Thompson. I ran my Pro Stock at Thompson for five or six years, but I hadn’t been there a lot since then at all.”
After a few laps around the track, Owen was back at home behind the wheel – and it didn’t take long before he was carrying the checkered flag. That decision to change his rear-end, and his quick change in plans, has paid off in a big way. Owen has been one challenger that is consistently closest to Keith Rocco in chase of the championship.
Although Rocco has seven titles, and the last three, Owen feels like they are closing in on him even more.
“It took a couple of weeks to get reconfigured with the place, it definitely had changed since the last time I had been there. It’s just a place I have always done well in my career,” Owen said of Thompson’s .625-mile oval. “The car just goes really well, and last year we built a new car and finished second the first time out with it. We definitely were missing a little bit of something in the summer, but at the end of the year, winning three out of the last four, and finishing second to Keith in points in the last two years, we are right there.”
Building cars is something Owen does on a regular basis, in the shop just behind his house. But he can’t take all of the credit for the work to build Sunoco Modified and SK Light Modified® machines that are having so much success in New England. Owen also holds the Bryan Narducci car in his stable – a driver that will be a major championship threat for the SK Light Modified division at Thompson this year, and multiple others, including some competitors over at Stafford Motor Speedway.
“I’m going to take credit for being in charge of the cars, but as far as the brains of the car goes, Butch Shea is the one who has been my mentor since I was 16-years-old. When he got out of his shop, he came back around 2012 and started helping me again. We do this together,” Owen said. “We try to keep everything basic and symbol, we don’t get into the trick setups, we just keep it basic. If you keep all four wheels square and straight, that’s probably three-quarters of the battle. We’ve had great motor programs as well. Three years ago I had one race car, but now I have eight cars that we built and I have four of five of them here. I sit back, I look at it and I just say how is this even happening.”
For Owen, this season is going to be about winning more races, but also about chasing his first Thompson title. He’s had just about enough of finishing in the runner-up spot, but unfortunately for the 43-year-old, it seems like something he’s done constantly over his career.
In racing, is the second-place driver the first loser? They might be. But Owen has put together so much success over his career that second-place finishes in the standings should be celebrated. Racing is not an easy sport to tackle and he’s found a way to be successful for many years.
“It’s definitely something I want. If you look back at my racing career you can probably find that I finished second in points twelve times or more,” Owen joked. “Other than the championship I won at Riverside, I finished second a bunch of times. It was pretty cool to go down with Bryan (Narducci, Division III National Champion) to the NASCAR banquet and say that one day I’d like to be up on that stage.”
Owen takes pride in building his own equipment, and even though he works what he says is probably close to 50 hours during the work, he finds the time to work in the shop and prepare the cars for battle. In fact, when he pulls into the driveway, he usually just rolls right by the house and parks the car in front of the garage door. It’s a never-quit attitude, and it’s been that way for years.
“You have to be close from the shop, when you get to the race track you have to be ready. The guys that are fast are fast the first practice and the last practice,” he said. “You have to use every single race as its own test. You have to be learning for what you need to do for the next week.”
Now, Owen is turning his attention to the racing season, as the snow melts and the sunshine rises over Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park ahead of the 45thannual Icebreaker weekend, April 5-7. Owen finished second in the event last year, but is hoping to best that effort in Victory Lane.
“I love those weekends, they are my favorite weekends. We work our butt off all winter long, so when you get to the track, you’ve accomplished something. It’s like when you build a new house, you walk in the door and see what it looks like for the first time and it’s about the same feeling. We all get along great, it’s just like a married couple – there are some days you can’t deal with the other guy – but you learn how to shake it off. It’s funny; it’s part of it. When we’re done, we load up and go sit to watch the Whelen Modified Tour race together and just hang out. I’m 43-years-old. You have to be realistic and just be happy with what we have and try to do the best of what you can do.”
If you couldn’t tell, Owen is ready to get back behind the wheel and he hopes the opening Icebreaker weekend ends with victory glory. He also plans to run some in the Valenti Modified Racing Series throughout the season, and will continue with his efforts at Stafford, just across the state, during their Friday night slate.
“I’m super confident. We were really strong at the end of the year and we put all the parts possible in my house car and I put the car away. I didn’t strip it down or anything, we only raced it seven times. We are basically just going back with the same car,” Owen said. “I’m confident we are going to have a good piece. You have to finish. You have to start off the year and finish every race. Our goal is to go out there and get a top-five to start the year off right.”
Owen isn’t going to be the only driver looking to take down Rocco, who will return in hopes of gaining another title.
Upcoming modified talent Marcello Rufrano, who won NASCAR’s UNOH Achievement Award last season, will compete driving the No. 68 – a car he visited Victory Lane with at Thompson last September for his first career win.
Troy Talman, another upcoming Modified driver in New England, will also return this season. Talman has been known for consistency in Thompson’s Sunoco Modified class, and if he can put together top-five runs, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the thick of the battle come the end of the season.