With a son on the way last year, Scott Gafforini’s mind was more on family matters than those at the track.
He decided to simply enjoy himself at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Bullring and didn’t aggressively go hard for the championship he had won in back-to-back seasons.
But Gafforini still showed his old fire toward the end of the season, telling eventual champion Jay Beasley he would race him hard in the final three events. Gafforini won the first two before Beasley sped away to win the third race.
And now Gafforini, who finished second in 2013, is ready to get back into championship mode. He has additional sponsorship, a new chassis and a new engine setup, and the four-time champion again will be the one to beat when the season opens March 29.
Gafforini said he plans to begin the season with the old car and switch to the new one “as soon as we get it ready.”
“A fifth championship would be a pinnacle point in someone’s life, I think,” he said. “Nobody’s ever done it before.”
Gafforini, 47, doesn’t race with the hopes of moving on to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, but mostly for the fun of trying to chase down a competitor in the corner.
He has chased down more than his share. The one missing piece of his resume is the Bullring’s Super Late Model single-season record of 10 victories, which Kyle Busch set in 2001.
Gafforini, whose single-season best is eight, isn’t holding out hope of catching Busch. He knows the competition continually gets tougher, seeing up close last season when Beasley won seven times.
“It’s a lot tougher to get those wins now because you have the Beasleys and the Romains (Thievin) and all those guys coming into racing,” Gafforini said. “The quality of the cars is so much better now.”
He took last season to enjoy life, refusing to put pressure on himself to win while expecting a boy. Giovanni was born Aug. 11.
Gafforini bought only about 10 tires for the entire season, but made a point of starting every race.
“We were going out for just strictly fun,” he said. “We were just going out there racing cars and having a good time, like a weekend hobby.”
Only toward the end of the season did Gafforini make a charge.
He has great respect and admiration for Beasley, a 22-year-old now in his first season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Gafforini didn’t want to simply hand him the Bullring title last season.
So he told Beasley he would race him hard in those final three races.
Gafforini certainly did. Beasley took home the season trophy, but he had to earn it.
“The kid is very fast, and he’s very humble,” Gafforini said. “That’s what I appreciated when I was competing last year, was somebody not blowing it in my face all the time.
“He definitely earned the championship. He was the best car last year. Hopefully, those last three races of the year will stick with him and let him dig deeper inside himself to compete where he’s at now.”
■ NHRA FANFEST — The Summit Racing NHRA Nationals are next week, and some of the sport’s top drivers will be at New York-New York on Thursday to sign autographs. Drivers such as Jack Beckman, Antron Brown, Ron Capps, Erica Enders-Stevens, Allen Johnson, Jason Line, Shawn Langdon, Spencer Massey and Tony Schumacher will be on hand for the event, which begins at 5 p.m. Fans must be in line near the Brooklyn Bridge by 5:30 to guarantee an autograph.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter @markanderson65.