PHOTO: The Valenti Modified Racing Series wasn’t the only action at Waterford Speedbowl on Sunday — We found ACT Late Model Tour competitor Brad Babb there, too. (Ricky St. Clair/VMM photo)

-by Justin St. Louis, T.J. Ingerson, and Ricky St. Clair

Seekonk Speedway Pro Stock graduate Todd Annarummo is starting to make a name for himself on the Valenti Modified Racing Series. Son of the famous “Vinnie Who?” Annarummo, Todd took VMRS Rookie of the Year honors last season and posted a pair of wins at his home track during his open-wheel freshman year.

While the Swansea, Mass., racer never was able to challenge leaders Chris Pasteryak or Doug Coby, he finished a solid third on Sunday at Waterford Speedbowl and was never outside the top-five.

“I’m happy, it’s a good way to start the year. This is a brand new car that’s never been on the track before this weekend,” Annarummo said. “We were good. We were a second- or third-place car. We didn’t have enough to beat Chris, he has a lot of laps here. I’m happy we’re rolling in the trailer with a third-place finish.”

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In order to win a Valenti Modified Racing Series event at Waterford these days, chances are pretty good you’ll have to beat Chris Pasteryak or Doug Coby, or both.

In the eleven events the series has held at the 3/8-mile track since 2006, only those two drivers have posted multiple wins. In fact, they’ve combined to win four of the last seven. On Sunday they finished 1-2, Pasteryak-Coby, and Coby passed Pasteryak in May 2009 to win (Pasteryak ended up third behind Mike Stefanik).

The VMRS returns to Waterford on August 13.

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While many teams on the American-Canadian Tour Late Model series will begin their season at the Lee USA Speedway in Lee, N.H., Brad Babb decided to start his season a little earlier. The Windham, Me., driver and his team decided to trek to the Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut for the Budweiser Blastoff weekend and take advantage of an early season race opportunity.

Babb started 13th in the 17-car field for the 50-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model feature, rallying up to sixth place by lap 15 before fading to a ninth-place finish. Babb was pleased with the weekend and putting the car in the trailer in one piece.

“We went alright in the first part of the race,” said Babb, “but the second half it got really tight. We came down to try something out, so I guess we found out it doesn’t work.”

The 2010 ACT Rookie of the Year is ready to build on last year’s success, which included a fifth-place finish in the season finale at Waterford. “I think we’re ready. We learned a lot last year. We only have one new track [Devils Bowl Speedway], but that track is new to everyone. We’ve been to all the other tracks, so that’s good experience. We know what we’re going to every week. Hopefully, we can have some good finishes and maybe a top-five in points.”

Babb, who finished sixth in the final ACT standings last year, has gone somewhat under the radar this off-season following his Rookie of the Year winning season. Fellow sophomore driver Austin Theriault of Fort Kent, Me., made headlines by joining Rick Paya and his RPM Motorsports racing team and bringing hype about Theriault’s potential in 2011, but Babb said he’ll let his racing do the talking for him. “I don’t really care,” he said. “Let them say what they want. As long as I show I know what I’m doing on the track, I don’t really care what people say.”

The American-Canadian Tour Late Model season will kick off on Sunday, April 17 at Lee USA Speedway in Lee, N.H, with the New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150.

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Rowan Pennink and Les Hinckley finished in the top-five at Waterford on Sunday, but their paths were very different. Hinckley started 25th of 26 drivers and survived a 12-car pileup on lap nine, then battled engine woes and an up-and-down day in traffic to nail down fifth-place. Pennink started ninth, spun on lap 16 to avoid an incident involving Steve Masse, Robbie Summers, and others, then marched from the rear of the field during two long green-flag runs to beat Hinckley for fourth place.

“We’ve been chasing a skip in the [engine] for two weeks now,” Hinckley said. “After that restart when we were up to fifth [on lap 16] it started skipping pretty bad and we got to the back. Then it wasn’t too bad and we started going back to the front. The last 25 laps it started skipping again but the race went green and we were able to stay single-file. The car was handling so good and it masked some of the skip. We’re scratching our heads about it, but we’ll be able to nail it down.”

Pennink, of Huntingdon Valley, Pa., showed over the second half of the race that his Gary Casella-owned car was very quick, but he was unable to reach leaders Pasteryak and Coby before time ran out.

“The thing was real good,” Pennink said. “We got caught up in the big wreck in front of us and I had to spin to the infield to miss it. I think we probably had the car to beat here, but just coming from the back with the cautions not playing out how we needed them to, coming from the back I’m happy with a top-five.”

Windsor Locks, Conn., driver Hinckley said that the field racing single-file during the race’s two long green-flag runs — from lap 16 to 63 and from there to the finish — helped him recover a little. “Once it got single-filed out, [the engine] wasn’t skipping as bad as the beginning part of the race, but once it was singled-filed out when you had some race attrition the pace slowed down a little bit and the skip didn’t separate us as much as it did early when everyone was on good tires. It’s kind of frustrating. It’s been a long weekend. The guys worked hard, it’s not for a lack of effort. We’ve got no choice but to get it figured out.”

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Multi-division racer Norm Wrenn enjoyed a productive weekend at Waterford. The Nashua, N.H., driver is a regular Super Late Model competitor at Thompson (Conn.) Int’l Speedway and is one of the top runners of the Pro-4 Modifieds of New England series, and is now in his sophomore season the Valenti Modified Racing Series.

Wrenn won the Pro-4 event at Waterford on Saturday afternoon, then ran up front all day on Sunday before picking up his best career VMRS finish in sixth place.

“We started in a good spot in fourth, and we didn’t know what to expect with the new tires. I’ve never ran them before, and this is a new car,” Wrenn said. “We had a good practice, so we went with our practice setup and we held on. The car was pushing real bad at the end so I had to adjust my driving to try to hold on to as many spots as possible. I’m really happy with a sixth-place finish, I never thought with as tight as the car was we were going to finish with it. At least we have a baseline we know where we can go. We’ve got the car in one piece and now we know what to do to make adjustments on it and hopefully next time it’ll be better. It’s an awesome start. We won last night with the Pro-4 last and we came in sixth today, I’m happy.”

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There were a few surprises and disappointments in the VMRS opener at Waterford, chiefly the results of Jon McKennedy and Tommy Barrett, Jr.

The biggest letdown was that of two-time defending champion McKennedy. The East Chelmsford, Mass., driver was collected in the big lap-16 pileup and was eliminated from the race in 20th place.

The biggest surprise, though, was the a seventh-place finish by 15 year-old Barrett, of Millis, Massachusetts. Barrett won ten features in the SK Light division at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway last year and was in his VMRS debut. He started 20th and was competitive throughout the 100-lap event.

Multi-time Waterford Late Model champion Tim Jordan of Plainfield, Conn., also made his VMRS debut; he was involved in the same crash as McKennedy and was scored 23rd.