(THOMPSON, CT) – Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park saved the best for last in 2016, crowning several champions on the final day of the Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing, presented by Xtra Mart including a champion in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
Defending series champion Doug Coby looked to earn his third consecutive title and fourth in the last five seasons after extending his points lead on Justin Bonsignore and Timmy Solomito with a victory at Stafford Motor Speedway on October 9th. Coby came into the race with a 20-point advantage over Bonsignore and a 48-point lead over Solomito and only needed to finish 16th or better to lock up the championship.
Coby started off the race on the right foot, qualifying for the outside pole next to Solomito who led the first portion of the event with Coby hot on his trail. Things changed around lap-73 however when a caution brought the cars to pit road where Justin Bonsignore made up ground and Coby lost ground setting up a battle between Solomito and Bonsignore for the second half of the event. While Coby kept his eye on the prize for a title, his closest rivals for the championship battled it out for one last win of the season. Bonsignore finally took the lead with twenty laps remaining and would hold on to win his fourth race of 2016 while Coby worked his way to a sixth place finish and a third consecutive title, a series record in the modern era which dates back to 1985.
“Every (championship) is different and every one is special for a different reason. There’s many ways to win them and many ways to lose them. We just found a lot of ways to win them. It goes back to preparation and having a car that’s just good everywhere we go. We obviously had a little better than a sixth place car today but I had to play it cool and just keep my eye out for who was around me and what the situation was if the caution came out,” Coby told reporters after securing the title. “I didn’t even want to be sixth. I would have rather been on the bottom if a restart had come later so I was trying to get fifth, but I was playing it cool.”
When asked how it feels to be considered among the greatest in his sport and the only driver to ever win three consecutive titles since 1985, Coby said he takes none of his titles for granted and knows how hard it is to win one title, let alone three.
“It’s neat, but it doesn’t matter what era you’re in. It’s difficult to win a championship and it’s still seventeen races and a war you have to win. We won a lot of the battles. Tonight
Justin Bonsignore won the battle and did what they had to do,” Coby said. “We just put ourselves in the position all year with a really clean season. I don’t think there’s any question that during the season we just chipped away every week and got our wins.
As for Bonsignore, he called his race victory bittersweet, enjoying the moment of capping off his season with a strong win but lamenting on his failed attempt to dethrone the champion in the closing months of the 2016 campaign.
“It’s probably the worst win we’ve ever had at Thompson under the circumstances, but there’s a lot worse things I could be doing with my life and I get to race cars with a bunch of guys I call my friends,” Bonsignore said during his visit to victory lane. “We kept them honest for sure this year, but it is a little depressing I’m not going to lie.”
Starting off the day’s racing action was the Xtra Mart Limited Sportsman series, which featured the tightest points race of the weekend as far as track championships where concerned at Thompson. Ryan Waterman entered the final event of the season with a slim 10-point lead over Scott Sundeen. The two drivers have been at the top of the class all year with Waterman recovering from a slow start in the Icebreaker to notch four second-place finishes and seven top-five finishes prior to the season finale, using pure consistency to maintain his points lead on Sundeen who also had seven top-five finishes including four third-place finishes and a single win in the August feature.
The race started with near catastrophe for both championship contenders as Corey Fanning spun in traffic, nearly collecting Waterman and causing damage to Sundeen’s car forcing Sundeen to make repairs under caution. Sundeen was able to continue, but from the back of the field while Waterman was able to maintain a position in the top ten for much of the 20-lap event. While it was not the strong showing fans have become accustomed to by Waterman, the young driver managed a sixth-place finish, one spot better than Sundeen, to score his first Thompson track championship and he did it without winning a single race in the Limited Sportsman series.
“It feels like it’s not happening,” Waterman said in victory lane. “I would have never guessed I would be able to do this. I knew (Sundeen) was in trouble, but I was also in trouble because in the same wreck Scott Sundeen was in I bent something on the front end and the car was really slow.”
While Waterman celebrated a championship, another driver celebrated success in the Limited Sportsman season finale as Phil Jacques came home with the race win after a hard fought battle with Brent Glea
son in the closing laps. An emotional Jacques was brought to tears in victory lane as he celebrated with his family by his side.
“I don’t even know what to say. Today is twenty years to the day from the first time I ever set foot here (at Thompson),” Jacques said. “We’ve lost a lot of good friends this year and it’s been a little rough. I couldn’t do it without all these guys who helped me. We struggled. We were quick in practice on Friday and yesterday the car was just junk. If you had asked me yesterday if I thought I’d be here today I would have told you ‘not a chance’.”
The Sunoco Modifieds also crowned a Thompson champion, but for many there was never a question who would hoist the trophy at the end of the day. Keith Rocco has enjoyed a historic season, dominating the series with no finish worse than 4th coming into the final event, four wins and a 23-point advantage over NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Ryan Preece. A finish of tenth or better would guarantee Rocco a title, but it would not come easy.
Despite starting in the back after skipping practice and qualifying days to run the NASCAR Xfinity Series race in Kansas, Ryan Preece made quick work of the field and cracked the top five in the opening laps of the 30-lap feature. Preece worked his way to second place in the first half of the event, engaging in an intense battle with Rowan Pennink while Rocco worked his way into a top five position as well. Preece made one final effort at relinquishing the lead in the closing laps, finally making the pass on Pennink on the final lap after seemingly running Pennink into the top groove to secure a win. However it was not enough to best Keith Rocco who took the title in the Sunoco Modified division at Thompson with yet another top-five finish, ironically his worst finish of the 2016 campaign.
“We definitely hit something in August with the car. Even today we weren’t at our best, but we were good enough,” Ryan Preece said after the victory. “I was just kind of riding there behind Rowan (Pennink) between laps ten and twenty watching his car, seeing when it was going to start freeing up. Right when it did I think I beat on it a little too early and I freed myself up. I knew I wasn’t going to get him on the outside so I started working the bottom – I’m sure Rowan has (ran me up the track) before. Racing is racing if you look at it like that.”
The champion, Keith Rocco, reflected on an impressive 2016 Sunoco Modified campaign where only himself and Preece reached victory lane noting that he took a conservative approach in the final race of season to try and capture yet another Thompson track title.
“It was tough. There’s time when you’ve really got to think about the big picture. The way the racing has been up here it’s been getting pretty rough for the leader so we didn’t really want to put ourselves in a predicament,” Rocco said. “You race all year for that one trophy. You race every night for a trophy, but it’s pretty special to get this one because it’s not just one night. It’s a whole season.”
The International SuperModified Association also crowned a champion at Thompson at the Sunoco World Series. Providing some of the fastest racing of the weekend, the ISMA series drivers took to the track for a 50-lap feature where Mike Lichty hoped to put the finishing touches on a championship run. Looking to chase down the title himself, defending champion Dave Shullick, Jr. put on an impressive performance, staring from the front and doing everything he could to wrestle the points lead away from Lichty.
Shullick had a little help after Lichty experienced mechanical issues in the middle of the race, forcing him to retire and surrender the title to Shullick who not only repeated as series champion, but as winner of the Sunoco World Series ISMA race at Thompson Speedway with a dominant flag-to-flag run.
“This car has been amazing all weekend,” Shullick said after his win. “We just tried to be calm with it and not make a mistake. We figured it would be good at the end and it was – Hats off to Mike (Lichty) and the tough battle they gave us all year.”
Finally in the NEMA Lites, PJ Stergios came home with a victory in that series’ penultimate race of the season. Stergios, who grew up racing quarter midgets at Thompson’s Little-T, outraced his points rival Jim Chambers to the line. Chambers edged closer to a championship with a runner-up finish while Stergios put some distance between himself and Danny Cugini, who was unable to start the event due to engine issues, for the second spot in the standings with one more race on the schedule.
NASCAR WHELEN MODIFIED SERIES SUNOCO WORLD SERIES 150 FINISH TOP-10: 1. Justin Bonsignore (Holtsville, NY); 2. Ryan Preece (Berlin, CT); 3. Jimmy Blewett (Howell, NJ); 4. Donny Lia (Jericho, NY); 5. Timmy Solomito (Islip, NY); 6. Doug Coby (Milford, CT); 7. Woody Pitkat (Stafford, CT); 8. Eric Goodale (Riverhead, NY); 9. Matt Swanson (Acton, MA); 10. Dave Sapienza (Riverhead, NY)
XTRAMART LIMITED SPORTSMAN SERIES FINISH TOP-10: 1. Phil Jacques (Dudley, MA); 2. Brent Gleason (Griswold, CT); 3. Corey Hutchins (Salem, CT); 4. Chris Meyer (Norwich, CT); 5. Dwayne Dorr (Ledyard, CT) ; 6. Ryan Waterman (Daneislon, CT); 7. Scott Sundeen (Sutton, MA); 8. Jack Aquilina (Oakdale, CT); 9. Rob Janovic, Jr. (Waterford, CT); 10. Al Stone (Durham, CT)
SUNOCO MODIFIED SERIES FINISH TOP-10: 1. Ryan Preece (Berlin, CT); 2. Rowan Pennink (New Egypt, NJ); 3. Ronnie Williams (Tolland, CT); 4. Woody Pitkat (Stafford, CT); 5. Keith Rocco (Berlin, CT); 6. Matt Gallo (Berlin, CT); 7. John Studley (Framingham, MA); 8. Danny Cates (Chaplin, CT) ; 9. Nick Salva (Prospect, CT) ; 10. Mike Benevides (Westerly, RI)
NEMA LITES FINISH TOP-10: 1. PJ Sturgios (Newmarket, NH); 2. Jim Chambers (Atkinson, NH); 3. Joey Sipriano (Waterbury, CT); 4 Todd Bertrand (Danielson, CT); 5. Anthony Payne (Fair Lawn, NJ); 6. Ben Mikitarian (Northborough. MA); 7. Chad Labastie (Uxbridge, MA); 8. Meg Cugini (Marshfield, MA); 9. Nikki Carol (Andover, NJ); 10. Kevin Iannarrelli (Shirley, MA)
ISMA FINISH TOP-10: 1. Dave Shullick, Jr. (North Ridgeville, OH); 2. Mike Ordway, Jr. (Windham, ME); 3. Mark Sammut (London, ON); 4. Ben Sietz (Bourne, MA); 5. Mike McVetta (Wellington, OH); 6. Timmy Jedrejzek (Independence, OH); 7. Chris Perley (Rowley, MA); 8. Mike Netishen (Auburn, NH); 9. Allison Cumens (Glenmoore, PA); 10. Joey Payne (Madera, CA)