Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park concluded its annual season-opening Icebreaker weekend on Sunday, April 8 with a packed crowd on hand who braved the cold New England weather to experience the season debuts of Thompson’s track divisions as well as an appearance by the Pro All Star Series and the highlight event of the weekend, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Icebreaker 150.
After opening their season at Myrtle Beach, the stars of the Whelen Modified Tour took center stage at Thompson hoping to grab momentum early in the 2018 campaign. Several big names found themselves in precarious positions over the course of the event including defending champion Doug Coby had to endure damage to his car during an incident on lap 115. Other big names like Timmy Solomito and Woody Pitkat were also involved incidents throughout the day, but the biggest crash of the race occurred less than 20 laps from the finish when a multicar incident resulted in Jimmy Blewett ending up on his roof bringing out the second red flag of the evening.
Leader mistakes made for a competitive and unpredictable 150-lap feature. Early leader Doug Coby’s situation was the result of an early race pit that put him near the back of the field and in the path of the accident that spoiled his day. Chase Dowling also led in the mid portion in the event, but was penalized for jumping a restart while Jon McKennedy, who was leading with two laps to go, ran out of fuel and sacrificed the lead after a strong race. The one driver who had good luck in the race was Justin Bonsignore who came back from an incident on the first lap of the race to battle for the lead and benefited from the mistakes of his competition to claim his sixth win at Thompson and his 13th win overall in the series after going winless in 2017.
“I said it in Victory Lane, 2017 humbled me a lot. It was a real tough season. We won half the races in the 2016 season and almost had a shot at the championship, but last year was just really tough,” Bonsignore said after his win. “To come back and have a really good car at Myrtle Beach and get a good finish and not have the best car here but have luck go our way and get a win it’s a pretty good feeling,”. Craig Lutz scored his first runner-up finish in the series and Rowan Pennink, who was involved in the lap one incident with Bonsignore, rounded out the podium in his return to the tour after recovering from back surgery earlier this year.
Another highlight event was the first north race of the season for the Pro All Star Series, or PASS, drivers who took part in a 100-lap feature. The winner was a driver who has been making waves in the southern division of the series as New Englander Derek Griffith followed up his win in the first south event of the season at Dillon Motor Speedway with a win in the first north event of 2018 at Thompson. Griffith took the lead on lap 29 and never looked back, surviving a restart with five laps to go to capture his first win at Thompson, a track that helped establish his love of racing.
“We’ve always been fast, and I think we were fast here last year. We just never had the win,” Griffith said of his Thompson history. “I had to bide my time and made sure we didn’t burn it up in case we had a restart and we went from there. The guys really got me hooked up – Getting a win here is huge. It’s probably one of the first race tracks I watched a big race at. To finally get that win here is huge and we had a Teddy (Christopher) sticker on the side of the car so it makes it that much more special having watched him so many races here.”
In the Thompson track divisions the champions shined as recent series winners all took checkered flags and are now one step closer to more titles at the Big-T. After sweeping the track championships at Waterford, Stafford and Thompson in a modified in 2017 Keith Rocco picked up right where he left off in the first Sucono Modified Series race at Thompson of 2018 with a hard-fought victory in a head-to-head battle against pole sitter Todd Owen who had won the last two events at the Big-T. Rocco wrestled the lead away from Owen about halfway through the 30-lap feature and was able to hold on for the win despite a late race restart and kicked off his championship defense in style.
“It’s always good to get a jump on the season and start with a victory. It was absolutely fun,” Rocco said after the race. “Todd (Owen) is fun to race with. He’s an old school guy who builds his own equipment. He’ll race you hard and he’ll race you clean and that’s what I want.”
Next up was the Limited Sportsman division 20-lap event which saw another reigning champion pull off a win, but this Icebreaker win was extra special for defending champions Shawn Monahan as it was actually his first win at Thompson in the division since May of 2014. Monahan had to stave off a charge from Jesse Gleason in the final laps to take the checkered flag and make his return to victory lane after claiming the title without a single victory in 2017.
“This is amazing. You take victory lane for granted when you visit it often. I ran the whole season last year and no matter what I tried I always fell short. To come out here today and get the win is a good feeling. I didn’t think it was going to happen. I wasn’t on top of the speed charts coming into today. I was struggling a little bit, but where there’s a will there’s a way,” Monahan said.
In the Late Model division it wasn’t a reigning champion that won, but a former champ all the same as William Wall returned to victory lane at Thompson to get his season off to a good start. Wall didn’t lead the most laps, but he led when it counted taking advantage of bad luck suffered by early leaders Rick Gentes and defending champion Ray Parent and late race restarts to charge to the win in the 25-lap feature.
“That was a real tough race and I’m glad we ended up getting a good restart in the end there and I was able to take it home,” Wall said after the race adding that despite the strong start he knows he has to fight for every position in the races to come to reclaim the title. “We’ve definitely got some good momentum going into the next race now, but I’m not going to count my chickens before they hatch. We have a long way to go and a lot of good drivers out there. We’ll take it one race at a time.”
Finally, in the Mini Stocks tempers flared early in the 15-lap feature event as contenders Jordan Hadley, Dave Trudeau and Wayne Burroughs were involved in an incident in the opening laps. After Burroughs and Hadley made contact battling for the lead, Trudeau went airborne over the top of Hadley’s car causing damage to all three frontrunners in the process. All drivers were uninjured from the incident, but only Burroughs was able to continue the race and finished third. The rest of the feature went smoothly especially for former champion Eric Bourgeois, the driver fans know as “Bonehead”, who held on to the lead to claim his first Icebreaker victory at Thompson and his first Mini Stock win since June of 2017. Bourgeois said he will be shooting for the title in 2018 with hopes of retiring to allow his son, Evan Bourgeois, to take over for him on the track.
Next up for Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park is a special military appreciation event on Sunday, May 20. The Big-T will host the Limited Sportsman Long Distance 30-lap feature where active military members will be admitted to the event for free. The day will also feature the second showings of the season for the Sunoco Modifieds, Late Models and Mini Stocks where drivers will look to maintain their momentum and take one more step towards a title in the Thompson track divisions.
WHELEN MODIFIED SERIES TOUR ICEBREAKER 150 TOP-10: 1. Justin
Bonsignore; 2. Craig Lutz; 3. Rowan Pennink; 4. Ryan Preece; 5. Matt Swanson;
6. Doug Coby; 7. Rob Summers; 8. Chase Dowling; 9. Bobby Santos, III; 10. Timmy
PASS FEATURE TOP-10: 1. Derek Griffith; 2. DJ Shaw; 3. Jared
Irvan; 4. Reid Lanpher; 5. Todd Stone; 6. Eddie MacDonald; 7. Ray Christian, III;
8. Wayne Helliswell; 9. Tracy Gordon; 10. Garrett Hall
SUNOCO MODIFIED FEATURE TOP-10: 1. Keith Rocco (Berlin, CT);
2. Todd Owen (Somers, CT); 3. Troy Talman (Oxford, MA); 4. Kyle James (Ashaway.
R.I.); 5. Joey Gada (Bozrah, CT); 6. Nick Salva (Cheshire, CT); 7. Ronnie Williams
(Tolland, CT); 8. John Studley (Framingham, MA); 9. Steve Masse (Bellingham,
MA); 10. Josh Wood (Palmer, MA)
LIMITED SPORTSMAN FEATURE TOP-10: 1. Shawn Monahan
(Waterford, CT); 2. Jesse Gleason (Lisbon, CT); 3. Scott Sundeen (Sutton, MA);
4. Zachery Robinson (Putnam, CT); 5. Brent Gleason (Griswold, CT); 6. Chris
Meyer (Norwich, CT); 7. Kevin Mason (West Warwick, RI); 8. Mike Palin; 9. Troy
Waterman (East Killingly, CT); 10. Tommy Shea (New London, CT)
LATE MODEL FEATURE TOP-10: 1. William Wall (Shrewsbury, MA);
2. Woody Pitkat (Sturbridge, MA); 3. Nick Johnson (Rehoboth, MA); 4. Paul
Charette (Woodstock, CT); 5. Mark Jenison (Warwick, RI); 6. Glenn Boss (Danielson,
CT); 7. Ryan Morgan (Gales Ferry, CT); 8. Tom Carey, Jr. (Orange, MA); 9. Ray
Parent (Tiverton, RI); 10. Chad Baxter Pascoag, RI)
MINI STOCK FEATURE TOP-10: 1. Eric Bourgeois (East Haddam,
CT); 2. Jared Roy (Sterling, CT); 3. Wayne Burroughs (Oakdale, CT); 4. Dave
Trudeau, Jr. (Mansfield, CT); 5. Doug Curry (Norwich, CT); 6. Keith Ballou
(Pascoag, RI); 7. Tommy Silva (Groton, CT); 8. Steve Michalski (Brooklyn, CT);
9. Chris Taylor; 10. Mike Anzalone