October 23, 2013

ARCHIVES                                         

By Brian Danko                           

THOMPSON, CT.  The Thompson Speedway, as I have known it for almost 40 years is undergoing a massive and major change. New buildings have been built, garages are under construction, and paving for the new road course has been done.

The multimillion dollar 1.7 mile road course is set to debut next season. With a tight economy and not a lot of free money floating around, it will be interesting to see how many people have the cash to spend the $25,000 yearly fee to bring your sportscar out and play. Your membership does include membership to the 18 hole championship golf course as well as other perks.

But the speedway and its management team is showing what their priorities are. And it is not to the oval racing.

What many on the modified tour have wondered, and rightfully so, what other major changes would be on the way and if so, would the tour be a part of it for the 2014 season.

Well, the good news is, the Whelen modified tour will be back at the Big T three times during the 2014 season. The season will kick off with the traditional Icebreaker the weekend of April 5th and 6th. It will also include 8 other divisions. The second event will be the week night special on Wednesday, August 13th and the season ending, the World Series of Speedway racing will take place on October 17th -19th.

The modified racing series will also have a couple of dates Thursday, May 29th and then apart of the World Series in October. The question is whether or not the weekly racing series teams are going to support the track as they will only have seven regular shows which also includes the SK modifieds, late models, mini stocks and the limited sportsman.

Will these teams build cars to run just seven events? Only time will tell.

WORLD SERIES NOTES

Ryan Preece of Berlin, CT won his first ever NASCAR Whelen modified tour and in turn became the youngest champion in the history of NASCAR oldest division. Preece has grown up in racing his entire life as his grandfather, Bob Judkins, is the legendary car owner and crew chief for such notable drivers of his famed 2x including Eddie Flemke, Sr., Ron Bouchard and Jerry Marquis.

Ryan raced his way to the title finishing third behind winner Rowan Pennick and Donny Lia.

Ryanís father, Jeff, was also a standout driver at the Riverside Park Speedway before turning his attention to his sonís career.

This past weekend, Ryan competed in not only the modified tour race but the SK race and the modified series race. It was his way of not thinking about the championship duo between him and last yearís champion, Doug Coby.

Ryan entered with a 26 point lead and just needed to finish 22nd or better.

 Mike Stefanik, the nine time NASCAR champion and seven time modified tour champion and a sure NASCAR Hall of Famer when his stellar career is done qualified second. Stefanik said after winning at Bristol (TN) that was the win he wanted before he retired and that has been the talk of the modified tour.

Was Sunday the last race for the soft spoken Stefanik? Having know Mike for more than 30 years, hereís hoping he comes back and announces it before his last season starts, this way his many fans and the tracks he has raced at can honor him in a champions manner, the way he conducted his entire career.

A lot more fuel was poured on the fire when Mikeís two daughters, Nicole and Christine were on hand for the World Series but they said that their father has Ďno ideaí of what will happen or when he will decide. Nicole has recently got married and Christine works for NASCAR in their Charlotte, NC offices.

Talked with five time modified tour champion, Tony Hirschman and his wife, Brenda, who were on hand to watch son Matt compete. Matt has won 18 times this year including many of the big, open shows. Matt has won more than 50% of his races this season. Tony was also seen talking with Mike Stefanik. When asked what they were talking about, Tony said about the modified tour and where itís at. Certainly not the same modified tour that these giants raced in just 10 to 15 years ago.

While the track is spending big bucks on the road course, the scoreboard for the oval track is in sore shape of repair. Many of the lights have been burned out and not replaced.

Wade Cole, one of the longtime veterans on the Whelen modified tour was the winner of the 13th annual Sonny ĎThe Kingí Richards Memorial Award which goes to someone who has done a lot to promote modified racing and Wade certainly has done that in his long career. While not a big winner on the tour, with just a couple of top tens in his career, he is one of the few drivers who have faithfully supported NASCAR and the modified tour by racing each and every week and at times bringing two cars.

Wade continues to be what modified racing represents; hard work on a working manís salary but it is the men like Wade that continue to fuel their passion for racing and for the modifieds in general. Wade is certainly a worthy recipient of the award.

Sonny was a longtime family friend of my brother and myself as well as our parents as we often traveled to many tour races together. Sonny would always be sure to shake each and every drivers hand and wish them well before the start of the each modified race. Itís hard to believe that Sonny has been gone 13 years this past July. He certainly was the Goodwill Ambassador of the modified tour.

If everything stays the same for David Hill and his 79 Hillbilly modified tour racing team, this could be the last race for them as they recently sold the family business and Sandy, who took over ownership of the business when her husband and former racer, Roger, passed away.

Sandy said she couldnít continue to sponsor the car and now, one of the classiest teams on the modified tour may be gone.

When I talked with David Hill, who oversees the racing operation, I asked him the latest on his search for sponsorship and he said he has a few things on the line, but nothing set in stone. If anyone is interested in helping keep one of the best looking teams on the modified tour, and donít forget folks, they travel from North Carolina for each northern tour race as well as supporting the southern modified tour. You can email David at racerhill79@yahoo.com

What surprised David is that no one from NASCAR came over to him this weekend to find out anything or to even wish him well in his search for sponsorship to keep the team alive. While David and his mother have too much class to say it, I will, this is typical of NASCAR and they wonder why cars are fleeing the modified tour at alarming rates. Great job, NASCAR.

Also in the pit area was long time car owner and past champion car owner, Curt Chase along with his wife, Joan. As Curt and I talked he mentioned he still has all of his cars and engines and just needs $$$ and a driver and he would be ready to go. But as Curt said, every time they (NASCAR) say they are making a rule change to save everyone money, it ends up costing competitors more.

The Thompson Speedway, one of the oldest paved tracks in the country opened in 1940, after the Hurricane of 1938. It has been the home of the NASCAR modified tour since 1985 and over 122 tour events have been held at the ultra fast, banked oval located in the northeastern part of the state.

The track also held Sprint Cup series races in 1951, 1969 and 1970 and also has been an inaugural member track of the NASCAR Whelen All American series which just completed its 32nd season.

The fall foliage was out in spectacular view for the overflow crowd that came out to Thompson for the World Series.

There have been 32 different race winners at Thompson on the tour led by Mike Stefanik with 15. There have also been 41 different pole winners with former five time tour champion, Tony Hirschman with 13.

Eddie Flemke, Jr of Southington continued his consecutive starts streak to 382 and will mark the 21st season the veteran drivers has started every race. Jamie Tomaino has run the most races ever on the tour and by starting keeps his streak of starting every tour race ever run at Thompson Speedway (123).

The SK Sunoco modified feature was the first feature event on tap for Sunday and it was a disaster as it took over one hour and fifteen minutes to run the 30 lap event. Needless to say, that pushed back the entire Sunday program.

The race also marked the 100th start for Rowan Pennick and the 125th start for Ron Silk.

Kudos to Max Zachem who finished sixth in his first ever modified tour race. Max stayed out of trouble and did himself and his team proud, running a second team car to Todd Szegedy. Also Matt Hirschman had another good run ending up seventh. Matt and Mike Stefanik got together and both spun but continued.