By MICHAEL LETENDRE
When you think of successful race car drivers from Plainville, a couple names should immediately come to mind.
The first name is Ted Christopher, who has numerous wins and top-5 finishes and carries quite an impressive resume that has been growing over the years.
But that second name should be Caterina LaBella, Plainville’s up-and-coming driver who´s just putting together her resume and already, has made quite a name for herself on the amateur circuit.
And her counterparts have already taken notice of the driver from Plainville. Last week, at the 2014 Waterford Speedbowl Awards Banquet, LaBella was awarded the 2014 Rookie of the Year award in the Saturday night Legend Class.
In just her first year of racing, the 15-year-old is a growing sensation. She picked up the first of what should a lengthy number of honors that will be coming LaBella´s way behind the wheel of the Legend car.
Actually, she’s not a real rookie to the sport. LaBella has been racing for ten years in the lower classes, soon to be eleven, but the Legends rookie of the year award isn’t anything to sneeze at. In fact, it’s a major accomplishment.
“It’s pretty exciting knowing that every one saw my improvement throughout the season, not only my team, but the rest of the track,” said LaBella.
She did quite well in competition at Stafford Motor Speedway in 2014, and that meant LaBella was quite successful over the full racing season.
Remember, she was taking on a number of veterans on a nightly basis who know the course at Stafford over years or racing wars.
Soon enough, with a little more experience, LaBella will be beating most of those more experienced drivers.
Last year, LaBella did quite well, and she hit the ground running at Stafford Motor Speedway. A sampling of last September’s races showed her promise.
On Wild ‘n Wacky Wednesday, September 10, LaBella earned fifth place in the INEX Legend Cars, 25-lap challenge. On September 20, she did quite well in the Legends event and nabbed a fifth place finish in the 25-lap race. Making those Top-5 finishes was one of her goals for the season.
“I think there were a lot of ups and downs,” LaBella said about the season. “It was a big change going from quarter midgets to the Legends. It was a big change for me getting used to the car, and it was a big change for my team learning how to set up the car. So I think it went pretty well kind of looking at what we started out with and what we ended with.”
Going to the Legends car was a step up in terms of both the actual vehicle and the competition. Now, LaBella was now battling more experienced drives and longtime racing veterans.
But for Labella, she simply took it all in stride, making improvements and getting better along the way as the year progressed.
“For me personally getting into a car, it’s not intimidating to me, but seeing the older people get into these cars and knowing that I’m going onto the track with them, it is a little but intimidating,” she said. “Because I was always the older one in the group, I guess, and I was the more experienced one but towards the end of the year, I felt like everything evened out and I got used to the car and was a little bit more competitive.”
Though she’s a year older and a year wiser in racing the Legend car, it might take a few weeks back on the track for her get into the flow but that learning curve from last year will be shorter this time around. And she’s expecting to be seeing fewer cars in front of her at Stafford than in 2014.
“I feel that it will take probably a few more races in the beginning of this season to get back into it because this will be my first season coming back,” LaBella said about the upcoming season. “But I think after a while, I’ll get more competitive in the front of the pack, and it’s really all about seat-time. So the more seat-time that I get, the better I will do.”
She also did a 50-lapper and made those two top-5 finishes over her rookie race season, a big accomplishment for any driver.
LaBella is a long ways away from the five year old that was racing quarter midgets. While she won a national title in 2013, the Legend car has been a big step up for her. But with a boatload of experience and the enthusiasm to match, the sky is the limit for LaBella.
The season at Stafford Motor Speedway begins at the end of April and you can be sure LaBella will be ready to speed past the checked flag with more than a little zest.
“My goal this year is to get a podium finish at least,” said LaBella. “I want to be more competitive. We’re going to go to a lot of different tracks out of state like the Granite Legends racing in New Hampshire… all those different tracks outside of Connecticut.”
The most important thing is LaBella is certainly enjoying being behind the wheel of that spiffy Legend car.
“It’s a lot of fun learning the new car and being around different people, being with my family,” said LaBella.
She certainly leans on her family, ‘Team LaBella’, when it comes to racing, and that includes Uncle Jerry, Mr. Cote, Tony, and a furry rascal by the name of Oscar – the team’s mascot.
NOTES…To follow LaBella on her racing journeys, you can go to www.labellaracing.com She’s also on Facebook as well at LaBella Racing.