By Larry Ott
For the last two seasons T.J. Cochrane has emerged as the Street Stock division stock car racing season points champion at Elegant Builders Raceway Park and will be poised to try to accomplish the feat again when the Lancaster-based oval opens its 56th stock car season Saturday.
After entering racing as a driver for the first time in 2011, the 22-year-old Kenmore resident has claimed his titles the last two years and certainly is confident he will do so again.
“I think it is very likely that I can get the championship again because we again have a very competitive car,” said Cochrane of his trusty 1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS.
Cochrane credits the calculated race development plan implemented by both his dad and crew chief Terry Cochrane and co-crew chief/engine builder Tom Guzowski as being key to his early career success.
“When I first started racing, they made me start and run near the back of the field and get a feel for the track and to learn my fellow competitors and when to hold out and get on the brakes and lift and when to give it the gas,” said Cochrane of the plan of his two mentors. “They just didn’t turn me loose out there and let me go wild. I think the cautious approach actually made me better sooner and that’s how I was able to win a race in my first season.”
In addition to the early career conservative philosophical approach to race driving, the younger Cochrane even had to make a deal with his father just to get out on the race track in the first place.
“I have been around the garage all my life learning about the race cars and how they work,” recalled the younger Cochrane. “I wanted to race a lot sooner than I did, but my dad wanted me to graduate from high school first before I could start racing so that racing wouldn’t be a distraction. I made a deal with him to finish high school first.
“I graduated from Kenmore West in 2010 and in 2011 I jumped into the Street Stock for the first time and got my racing career started.”
Toward the end of the 2013 campaign, Cochrane and his team temporarily converted and upgraded their Street Stock machine to a Super Stock legal car and ran a New York Super Stock Series event at Spencer Speedway near Rochester. Cochrane placed a very respectable second.
After that, they reverted the car back to Street Stock status and entered the Fall Shootout at Wyoming County International Speedway, where Cochrane captured the winning checkered flag.
While Cochrane is busy seeking success again this season at EBRP, he will also be simultaneously developing the next phase of his driving career.
The team has purchased a Sportsman division car and is still completing the construction of the vehicle while seeking additional sponsorship funding. They hope to have the Sportsman car out later in the season and then campaign both cars at the same time, giving Cochrane a double shot at victory on race nights.
Sponsorship for the team is already provided by K.S. Racing Engines, Cousins Landscaping, Continental Transmission, Airport Collision and Buffalo Frame.
The crew comprises Alex Cochrane (T.J.’s brother), Jeff Cochrane (T.J’s cousin), Josh Prenatt, Mike Steck, Jay Mudra, Mike Scott and Lucy Perry.
For the first two weeks of this season, EBRP’s top class, the Sportsman, will run with the aid of rear-view mirrors in the cars and after those two weeks of racing have been completed the drivers in that division will vote on whether to keep the mirrors in their cars or discard them for the remainder of the season.
EBRP will hold a preseason practice at 11 a.m. Saturday preceding the night’s stock car opening program.
Saturday’s opening Sportsman race will be a 50-lapper with a scheduled competition yellow to be given on lap 40 unless a caution flag waves first from laps 35-39. During the caution period teams will be allowed to make minor adjustments to their cars before resuming the remainder of the race distance.
•The International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen will continue its 2014 “Center Conversation Series at 1 p.m. Saturday at the center with a talk on the history of Formula 5000 racing, featuring national racing standout Sam Posey.
The 1968 Le Grand Mk7 Formula 5000 entry that was raced by Posey in 1968 will also be on display. Formula 5000 expert James Stengel will also be part of the day’s events. The event is free to the public. The center is at 610 S. Decatur St. in Watkins Glen.
•Winners Sunday night during New Humberstone Speedway’s season opener were Brad Rouse, Sportsman; Dennis Lungar, RUSH Late Models; Jason Fontaine, Street Stocks; Tyler Lafantaisie, Mini Stocks; Sam Pennacchio, Pro-4 Trucks.
•Veteran local racer Ed Weber of Cheektowaga will add an international flair to his career this season when he competes in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour two-barrel Sportsman Challenge.
Weber will drive an entry owned by Chuck Marshall of Peterborough, Ont. Weber raced in the series last season for a different team as a teammate to fellow local local racer Russ Gian.
“I’ll run for Chuck in about six to eight ROC races this season and hop around to some other races, too,” said Weber. “If things go good this year, maybe we’ll move up to a full blown Modified next season.