Top 10: Counting down New England's best
July 10, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
Yes, once again it's time to venture to the northernmost outpost of NASCAR's national division, and a New Hampshire Motor Speedway that's been drawing strong crowds to the Granite State ever since it first opened its doors to the sport's premier series over two decades ago. There's a good reason why -- get past the accents and the crustaceans, and you discover a racing culture in New England that's as strong as that in any other region of the country.
It's reflected in the schedule this weekend at New Hampshire, which features not just the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series, but also a K&N Pro Series East race, the Whelen Modified Tour and a Whelen Modified All-Star Shootout -- a 25-lapper bringing together drivers from both the Whelen Modified and Southern Modified tours. The 1.058-mile New Hampshire track has emerged as a mecca for racing not just in the state but in the region, and twice a year gearheads from Bangor to Bridgeport descend upon it in droves.
So naturally, drivers come with the territory. And New England -- for the more geographically-challenged, that encompasses Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut -- has produced a bunch of them throughout all of NASCAR's divisions. They'll be there again this weekend in force, some competing for race wins and championships. Drivers from New England have been as much a constant in NASCAR as tires and fuel, and as we once again head back to their home region, here are the top 10.
10. Reggie Ruggiero
He may never have won a series championship, but "The Reg" was always among the men to beat on NASCAR's Modified Tour. A native of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, Ruggiero won 44 events, good enough to rank him second all-time in the victory column. Ruggiero won a number of track championships, and finished in the top 10 in the final standings 13 times in 16 seasons between 1986 and 2001. Ruggiero started four races in what is now the Nationwide Series and recorded a best finish of 10th at Martinsville Speedway in 1987, but he made his name on shorts tracks in New Hampshire and Connecticut before becoming a legend in the Modified ranks.
9. Jerry Nadeau
One of the more star-crossed drivers in recent NASCAR history, Nadeau fought his way up from touring cars to break through with Melling Racing in 1998. Two years later, he was driving for powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports. Although that union lasted less than three seasons, it produced the crowning moment of Nadeau's career -- a victory in the 2000 finale at Atlanta. While it would prove his lone career victory, the native of Danbury, Connecticut, compiled 19 top-10s and was on pace to win a race at Sonoma before a gear failure intervened. He was 10 races into the 2003 season with MB2 Motorsports when he crashed in practice at Richmond, suffering the head injury that would end his career.
8. Ted Christopher
Want somebody who's done it all? That would be Christopher, a hotshoe who's competed in almost every NASCAR series there is, and won in many of them along the way. The native of Plainville, Connecticut, claimed NASCAR's Whelen All-American championship for weekly track racers in 2001, by winning 15 of the 18 events he started at Thompson (Connecticut) Speedway. In 2008, he added the Modified crown, by winning the title and the final race in one fell swoop. His 42 victories on that circuit rank third all-time. Christopher has also competed in all three of NASCAR's national series, earning top-10 finishes in both the Camping World Truck and Nationwide ranks.
7. Bugs Stevens
OK, so it's not his real name. When Carl Bergman of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, wanted to pursue a racing career while still serving in the military, he knew his superiors might object -- and with that, the legend goes, Bugs Stevens was born. At the track, though, it didn't matter -- all opponents knew was, this Stevens guy was fast. He won four track titles at Stafford (Connecticut) Speedway, one on dirt and three on asphalt. When he moved into the Modified ranks, Stevens won three straight series championships from 1967-69. He also made three starts in what is now the Sprint Cup Series, and finished sixth at Charlotte in 1970.
6. Rob Moroso
He never had the chance to realize the promise so many saw in him, perishing in a traffic accident near Charlotte in 1990, when he was just 22. But it was clear that Moroso was bound for big things, particularly after a Nationwide Series career where he won six times -- including three times at Charlotte -- and claimed the 1989 championship for a team owned by his father, Dick. The native of Madison, Connecticut, moved into the Sprint Cup ranks when he was 21, in cars owned by his father and overseen by legendary crew chief Jake Elder. Moroso's best finish was ninth at Daytona in July of 1990, and he was driving home from a 21st-place result at North Wilkesboro when he lost his life.
5. Pete Hamilton
One of the best big-track specialists of his or any age, Hamilton made his name on the sport's largest speedways. The native of Dedham, Massachusetts, won the title in NASCAR's former Sportsman division in 1967, and then moved south to race in the big time. Hamilton's big break came in 1970 when he hooked up with juggernaut Petty Enterprises -- and driving that iconic winged Plymouth, there was no looking back. Hamilton that season won the Daytona 500 and swept both Talladega events, and added a Daytona qualifier (then a points event) for Cotton Owens the next year. Hamilton retired early due to a neck injury, but as New England's only Daytona 500 champion, his legacy was secure.
4. Andy Santerre
In more recent years Santerre has been known as a crew chief who won seven races in the K&N Pro Series ranks. But make no mistake -- the dude could wheel it. The native of Cherryfield, Maine, is generally regarded as the greatest driver in the history of the K&N Pro Series East, winning four straight championships on the circuit from 2002-05. Santerre won Rookie of the Year his first season in 1993, finished in the top four in points the next three seasons, and then left to compete in the Nationwide tour, where he won at Pike's Peak in 1999. He later returned to collect his four Pro Series crowns, solidifying a legacy on the circuit that includes 23 race wins, good enough for third all-time.
3. Ricky Craven
The pride of Newburgh, Maine, made an impact on NASCAR from the beginning, winning Rookie of the Year in what's now K&N Pro Series East in 1990. The next year he started winning big and didn't stop, claiming 10 victories -- including four in a row -- en route to the title. That same season he added two victories in the Nationwide Series, and the next year was at the national level full-time. Although his career would be interrupted by the aftereffects of a concussion, Craven still won in all three of NASCAR's national series. He claimed a Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville in 2005, and won twice at the Sprint Cup level -- most famously in that photo finish with Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003.
2. Joey Logano
It may have taken a little longer than some expected, but the can't-miss kid has made it, and in a big way. As a 16-year-old Logano dominated his one K&N Pro Series East season, winning his debut from the pole and adding four more victories. He was an immediate contender in the Nationwide Series, scoring eight wins before he was old enough to drink. Now with Team Penske, the native of Middletown, Connecticut, has broken through as a premier level championship contender, making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the first time last season, and owning two victories already this year. Logano has five career Sprint Cup wins, and at just 24, he's only getting started.
1. Mike Stefanik
It's enough of a feat to win a single NASCAR championship. Stefanik has won two in one season -- and done it twice. He's the only driver ever to do that, claiming dual titles in both Whelen Modified and K&N Pro Series East in 1997 and 1998. It's part of an unparalleled resume that includes nine total NASCAR crowns, seven of them coming on a Modified tour where the native of Wilbraham, Massachusetts, still competes. His 74 wins are the most all-time in that series. The 56-year-old Stefanik remains one tough customer, as his famous sound byte from the Battle at the Beach a few years ago will attest. Ranked the second-best Modified driver of all time behind immortal Richie Evans, and the sixth-best ever in the Pro Series, his legacy is ironclad. But he'll be there in his No. 1 car at New Hampshire, ready to build on it all the same.