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