July 9, 2012
 

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Arute believes best is yet to come at Stafford
 


Mark Arute congratulates car owner Bob Garbarino after his Mystic Missile won the Pole for this years Spring Sizzler.
Photo By Driscoll Motorsports Photography

 

By Brian Danko, Staff Writer
The New Britain Herald & Bristol Press

CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Mark Arute grew up in auto racing. His father, Jack Arute, Sr., was one of the pioneers of the sport being a car owner first, then buying and resurrecting the Stafford Motor Speedway, while his older brother, Jackie, was always dragging him off to a race track during his youth.

Just as Jack, Sr. helped turn around Stafford, someday people might refer to Mark as a savior of the half mile oval. Arute, whose family owned the Arute Brothers Construction Company out of New Britain, took over the speedway when his father retired.

Many wondered how young Mark would run the speedway after his father’s departure; but most now would agree Mark passed the test with flying colors.

“It’s been tough. It is a lot of work and has been very difficult at times but it was something I wanted to do and was inspired to do,” Mark said from his office.

While his father helped save the speedway in 1970 when it was purchased, it might be said Mark’s job was a little harder than his father’s.

“I remember the first race in which I was in charge we lost Tony Jankowiak, who was killed during the Spring Sizzler. It was very difficult to start off with that,” Arute said of the 1990 death of the New York driver.

The speedway, like many businesses today, are suffering with a stagnate economy but he has seen they continue to make improvements at the track yearly.

“We repaved the pit area last winter and there are a lot of things that need to be either fixed or repaired but we are doing them in the order of what is most important. We are trying to maintain the standard that the speedway has.”

And that is a very high standard.

While Stafford Speedway has had a better car count than most tracks, Arute still isn’t happy with it.

“The car count isn’t what it should be and we are constantly trying to talk with other teams about racing here. We are even trying to help get teams sponsors so that they can race.”

When asked if the crowds for the weekly events are good, he said the track is barely breaking even on some events and the crowds are relevant to the car counts.

“You have to remember that the more cars, the more people you are going to attract because they bring in their family and friends so they all go hand in hand,” said Arute, now the track Chief Operating Officer.

“We had a pretty decent Spring Sizzler (the track’s opening event in April) but you have to remember we have basically a very short season. We really don’t get going until the kids are out of school, and that’s mid-June, and we close down the end of September. Throw in a few rain outs and it’s very difficult.”

But while it is difficult, Arute and his team continue to run one of the most professionally-run NASCAR weekly tracks in the country, and the improvements and hard work have been noticed by fans and competitors alike.

In a way of bringing in new events to the track, the Speedway on Monday nights has go-karts races, which helps two fold. First it is getting more kids and their families exposed to racing, but now many of these same kids that first started five years ago in go-karts are now running other divisions at the track Friday nights now that they are teenagers.

Arute also brings in other events such as Monster trucks, motorcycle events and even bike races as a way of bringing in extra revenue into the speedway. The speedway also has a large banquet facility on the old fairgrounds that can be rented out and catered for non-racing events throughout the year.

When asked the biggest thing hurting auto racing right now, Arute said it is the cost of racing.

“That is it. We are always looking at ways of cutting costs for all of our competitors. It’s a problem from go-karts to Daytona and from Indy car racing to Formula One. If it continues to escalate it’s going to hurt everyone even more.”

With the summer season in full bloom, the track just ran its first Saturday night event since 1976 when it hosted the annual open wheel extravaganza which featured the supermodifieds, pro four modifieds and the midgets.

The track will also host two Valenti modified series events. The first event scheduled for June 22 was postponed until September 14 and will still have two more NASCAR Whelen modified tour events this year before closing the last weekend in September with the annual Fall Final weekend.

Stafford Speedway was turned around by Mark’s father, Jack, Sr., but Mark may have done the most remarkable job of running a speedway since his family has owned the track and Mark believes the best is still to come.

 

Brian Danko has been covering Auto Racing for over 30 years for various magazines & and racing papers including Area Auto Racing News. His weekly column can be seen "In The Print Editions" of  The New Britain Herald & The Bristol Press.

 

Copyright © 2012 Brian Danko