The Thompson Speedway opened this past weekend, on April 6 with
the Icebreaker which included the opening event of the NASCAR Whelen
Modified Tour Series. The Icebreaker, presented by Town Fair Tire, marked
the beginning of Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park’s 74th season of
operation. The 2014 running of the event marked the 40th time it has been
held. The traditional season-opening event featured nine divisions,
headlined by the first championship race for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
The Thompson Speedway Icebreaker also marked the beginning of an era of
live TV broadcasting of events by FansChoice.tv which is a ground-breaking
collaborative digital platform from AMA Pro Racing, IMSA and NASCAR that
will have live stream various races not covered by broadcast television,
giving fans new opportunities to follow their favorite series. It also
enhances fans’ viewing experience at the track with the ability to watch
multiple cameras on their tablet or mobile device, and access archived
broadcasts on demand. Thompson had one manned camera on the race control
roof following the action and included audio from Victory Lane Radio.
Twenty seven NASCAR Tour Modifieds were on hand at Thompson for the
season opener. The Modified Tour crews and their cars christened the all new
garage which has been built over the weekend. Woody Pitkat looked extremely
stout in the Buzz Chew Chevrolet entry during early practice. Among the
early casualties was Tommie Barrett who lost control of his Robert Our mount
and hit the wall hard between turns one and two. Other excitement included
the East Thompson Fire Truck getting stuck in the mud in the turn one area.
Woody Pitkat, from Stafford, Conn., posted a fast lap of 18.724 seconds
(120.167 mph) to take the Icebreaker pole in his first race with the Buzz
Chew Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet team. It was also the first pole position
for the Long Island based car owner. Justin Bonsignore posted a fast lap of
18.796 (119.706) to earn a front row starting position alongside Pitkat.
Both Pitkat’s and Bonsignore’s race cars are powered by the NASCAR-approved
The Icebreaker ended up being a slugfest between two Long Island based
cars. Justin Bonsignore took his fourth career victory and his second at
Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. Bonsignore took the lead from Woody
Pitkat for the second and final time at lap 142. Don Lia, a Long Islander
who drives a Connecticut based car, the Mystic Missile of Bob Garbarino was
also in the mix as he was leading until he found himself in the wall after
being run up the track by Pitkat on lap 123. Pitkat led the early laps of
the race, but lost the lead to Bonsignore on a lap 18 restart. On lap 21,
Pitkat challenged Bonsignore for the lead and went high in turn one only to
lose the lead to Rowan Pennink in turn four. Pennink, Pitkat and Bonsignore
settled in line nose-to-tail for several laps, but Pennink and Pitkat broke
away by a commanding ten-car length advantage.
After a long green flag run, the caution flew and tightened up the field.
A few cars opted to pit, but Pennink, Pitkat and Bonsignore were among the
majority that stayed out. Pennink wasted no time in jumping right back out
to the lead on the restart, but he would have to do it all over again after
a car spun on the front stretch at lap 63. Pennink jumped to the front
again, but Pitkat was on his bumper and applying the pressure. On lap 79,
Pitkat got a run on Pennink and was able to take over the lead. Pitkat put
two-car lengths breathing room over him and the duo pulled ahead to a
commanding two-second lead over Timmy Solomito, Bonsignore, and Ron Yuhas.
On lap 96, Pennink’s day took a turn for the worse when he hard in turn
three and his No. 93 suffered heavy damage.
A majority of the field pitted after the conclusion of the red flag.
Donny Lia inherited the lead followed by Matt Hirschman and Keith Rocco.
Green flag racing resumed at lap 105 with Lia leading the way. Coming up
quick, however, was Pitkat and Bonsignore now fifth and sixth respectively.
Bonsignore muscled his way by Pitkat en route to the third position and
challenged for second by lap 114. Bonsignore was still on the move and about
to make a run on Lia for the lead when the caution came out and relegated
him back to third. Lia drove to the lead on the lap 118 restart as Pitkat
got by Bonsignore for third. Pitkat and Bonsignore both got by Hirschman to
take over second and third. Coming around on lap 123, Pitkat drove to the
inside lane in a challenge on Lia for the lead, riding Lia high into the
turn two wall.
In the end Bonsignore pulled out to a ten-car length advantage over
Pitkat and soared to the checkered flag unchallenged. Doug Coby finished
third with Timmy Solomito and Eric Goodale, both Long Islanders, rounding
out the top five. Ron Yuhas had an extremely strong run as he came home in
sixth. Ron Silk, Ted Christopher, Ryan Preece and Jim Zacharias rounded out
the top ten.
Some of the potential front runners had their problems which kept them
out of a top spot. Bobby Santos finished a distant 18th after losing laps
while repairs were made to a leaking oil line. Keith Rocco dropped out after
135 laps when his steering malfunctioned. He finished 20th. Lia was credited
with 21st and Pennink, 22nd, after their wrecks. Tommy Barrett finished 23rd
after being forced out after 100 laps with a defective ignition. Also a DNF
was Mike Stefanik who finished 24th after losing oil pressure.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is back in action next on Sunday, April
27 for the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway.
In other Sunday action at Thompson, Keith Rocco scored two NASCAR Whelen
All American Series wins in one day in both the Sunoco Modified and Late
Model divisions. Shawn Monahan of earned his second in as many days in the
Xtra Mart Limited Sportsman division while Steve Dickey, Jr. checkered the
Monster Mini Stocks. Mike O’Sullivan won the Granite State Pro Stock Series
50-lap affair and Vintage Outlaw checkers flew for Joe Baxter.
When Keith Rocco scored his two wins at Thompson plus one at Waterford it
made for three victories for the weekend. Coupled with Ed Puleo's win at
Waterford and Shawn Monahan's two wins at Thompson. sponsor Mr. Rooter had
six wins to his credit.
Among the missing at Thompson last weekend was 2013 Whelen Modified Tour
Series Rookie of the Year Cole Powell. Powell announced on his team's
website that the decision to skip the event was made so that he could be
with his family while his Aunt Kathy battles Glioblastoma, the most
aggressive and hardest to fight brain cancer that one can get. Ed Flemke Jr
has indicated that his driving career could be over and at 58 years of age
he is making a smart decision. He will continue to be seen at the tracks in
a support and advisory position to customers of his Race Works Chassis
Numerous changes and moves have taken place for the 2014 NASCAR Whelen
Modified Tour Series. Leading the changes are three past champions that are
now with different teams than when we last saw them in last year’s Thompson
World Series. The headlining transaction saw 2012 champ Doug Coby move to
the No. 2 of Mike Smeriglio III Racing while 2008 series champion Ted
Christopher has combined his own resources with those of Berkley Racing to
return the No. 13 to the tour. Seven-time champ Mike Stefanik has reunited
with car owner Ed Marceau and will pilot a Chevrolet numbered 1 on a
In other moves, Matt Hirschman has returned to the tour for the first
time since 2011 to replace Coby in the Darling Racing No. 52, and rookie
Tommy Barrett Jr. replaced Stefanik in the Our Racing No. 22. Bryon Chew
also stepped out of his family’s No. 88 and tabbed Woody Pitkat to fill the
seat for the coming season. Consequently, the Hillbilly Racing No. 79 that
Pitkat left will have rookie Spencer Davis behind the wheel for a part-time
northern slate while competing full-time with the Whelen Southern Modified
At least two new teams are set to join the tour, one for the first time
in 2014. Keith Rocco, the 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, plans to run all
eight Connecticut races for car owner John Rufano in the No. 48 while
Melissa Fifield will contend for top rookie honors this year in her family’s
The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour visited the South Boston, VA
Speedway last Saturday with 17 cars. Andy Seuss, who started second on the
grid, took the lead from pole sitter Danny Bohn, who won his second career
Coors Light Pole Award earlier in the day, in the opening laps and made it
look easy from there. Seuss had to survive five restarts, but was able to
handle challenges from Bohn, JR Bertuccio and Kyle Ebersole in short order.
Four-time and defending Southern Modified Tour champion George
Brunnhoelzl III charged to the front and finished second after starting from
the rear of the field. He qualified seventh, but had to drop to the rear
prior to the initial green flag due to an unapproved adjustment to the car
following qualifying. Bohn crossed the line in third for his first top-five
finish of the season followed by Luke Fleming in fourth and JR Bertuccio in
fifth. Brothers Burt and Jason Myers, Gary Putnam, rookie Joe Ryan Osborne
and Ebersole completed the top 10.
After suffering a rain-out on their scheduled opener on the last weekend
in March the Waterford Speedbowl season began this past Saturday, April 5th
when the track hosted its opening Saturday night NASCAR Whelen All-American
Series event. The new Blastoff date will be this coming Saturday, April 12th
and Sunday, April 13th. Blastoff Weekend was supposed to open the track’s
64th consecutive season of racing with the Valenti Modified Racing Series,
Northeastern Midget Association and the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American
Series racing divisions along with many more. Those divisions will return.
Chilly weather greeted fans in attendance for the opener on Saturday
night but the action on the track was hot as a first-time winner in the SK
Modified® ranks delighted the fans. Ed Puleo held off all challengers
including a late rally by defending division champion Keith Rocco. Puleo
made it two wins on the night by also picking up the Street Stock victory.
Rocco would not be outdone in the Valenti Auto Mall Late Models, scoring the
win. Another first-timer found the winner’s circle in the Mini Stocks as
Doug Curry took the victory. Jon Porter and Zach Thomas won the night’s
Super X-Car and X-Car divisions respectively, and defending Legend Cars
champion Dylan Izzo checkered that division’s opening race of the year.
Puleo put together a strong performance in taking the 35-lap NASCAR
Whelen All-American Series SK Modified® feature. Earlier in the night he won
his heat race and began the event in the pole starting position. He lost the
lead to Craig Lutz early on, however reclaimed the spot following a lap-7
caution flag. Puleo had to withstand multiple challenges from Lutz over the
next 25 laps as well as a late race charge by Rocco over the final two
circuits. Rocco’s inside bid coming to the white flag was not enough and
Puleo powered ahead over the last lap to claim the win, his first in the
division. Rocco came back from a spin on lap-2 to claim second with Lutz
finishing third. Ryan Preece ran a strong race to end up fourth after
starting deep in the field while hometown driver Rob Janovic Jr. finished
Rocco picked up where he left off in the Valenti Auto Mall Late Model
division one year ago. The defending division champion checkered the 30-lap
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series feature after starting the race in the
11th position, using the race’s only caution flag on lap-21 to catch leader
Work continues on the restoration of the grandstands. Speedway owner
Terry Eames stated " We opened with about 40% of the total seating area
available. We will continue opening sections throughout April. We plan on
having everything open by May 3rd".
The upcoming opener of the Tri-Track Modified Series at the Lee USA
Speedway in New Hampshire continues to gather momentum for the May 11 event.
To date 40 race teams have verbally committed their participation in the
event which will pay $5,000 to win plus lap money and B-Main money.
The voting has begun for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015! Please
vote daily until May 20th, which happens to be Mike Stefanik's birthday!
On a sad note, Mrs. Lynda Petty, wife of Richard Petty, passed away on
March 14 after a long battle with cancer.
On the speedway stock market scene last week the International Speedway
Corporation ended the week on a positive note as they went up 0.02 to 33.04.
Speedway Motorsports dropped 0.40 to 18.16 and Dover Motorsports remained
stagnant at 2.40. NASCAR fuel supplier Sunoco (Energy Transfer) went up 0.44
to 54.45 while NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear dropped 0.39 to 25.55 and
NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint dropped 0.03 to 9.26. With the exception of Toyota
which dropped 1.60 to 111.23 the car builders had a fairly good week. Ford
went up 0.69 to 16.14 and General Motors went up 0.09 to 34.82. In the home
improvement sector, Lowes dropped 0.49 to 48.43 while Home Depot remained
stagnant at 78.72. With the exception of Coca-Cola which dropped 6.10 to
79.15 the big team sponsor stocks had a good week. Dupont went up 0.73 to
67.35, Target went up 1.15 to 61.13, Aarons Rentals went up 0.43 to 30.77
and FedEx went up 2.35 to 134.36.
On the tube this week:
Wednesday, April 9
2:30 AM, NASCAR Now, ESPN2
12:00 PM, NASCAR Race Hub, Fox Sports1
5:00 PM, NASCAR America, NBC SportsNetwork
Thursday, April 10
2:30 AM, NASCAR Now, ESPN2
12:00 PM, NASCAR Race Hub, FS1
Friday, April 11
2:00 AM, NASCAR Now, ESPN2
3:00 AM, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Texas race re-air, FS1
11:30 AM, NSCS Darlington practice, FS1
1:00 PM, NASCAR Live, FS1
2:00 PM, NSCS Darlington practice, FS1
6:00 PM, NSCS Darlington qualifying, FS1
7:30 PM, NASCAR Countdown, ESPN2
8:00 PM, NASCAR Nationwide Series Darlington race, ESPN2
Saturday, April 12
3:00 AM, NSCS Darlington practice re-air, FS1
3:30 AM, NNS Darlington race re-air, ESPN2
4:30 AM, NSCS Darlington qualifying re-air, FS1
6:00 PM, NSCS Darlington race, FOX
That’s about it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly, and
R.I.02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467. E-mail:
Phil Smith has been a
columnist for Speedway Scene and various
other publications for over 3 decades.
Smith / Champ Trail