NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Divisions To Open 10-Race Championship Slate
By Kyle Souza, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park
THOMPSON, Conn. – After an offseason filled with anticipation, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park will open the NASCAR racing season this weekend.
The 45thannual Icebreaker, scheduled to roll from Friday right through Sunday evening, is one of the most prestigious events Thompson offers throughout the season – as it brings together local competitors from across multiple states to officially open the New England racing season.
Eleven different divisions will take to the Thompson high-banks, including the five NASCAR Whelen All-American Series classes – that will all begin their 10-race battle for their respective division championships.
In the Sunoco Modifieds, Keith Rocco looks to continue to rewrite the record books, as he returns driving for the Mark and Mike Pane seeking an eighth championship in Thompson’s premiere class. Even though he’s won the last three, there isn’t any shortage of competition for him as he looks to continue his dominance.
Todd Owen will look for his first title driving the No. 81, while rising star Marcello Rufrano looks to build on his recent NASCAR UNOH Youth Achievement Award by running consistently at the front in the Sunoco Modifieds. Rufrano picked up his first career win last year as part of the annual 20/20 sprint, and is going to be a major threat for victories throughout the new season.
Woody Pitkat, the 2015 division champion, has a new ride with veteran car owner Dan Avery after running for many years with Stan Mertz, while Troy Talman looks to use his experience to his advantage driving for Steve McCarthy. Although these may be some of the top challengers entering the new season, the field is expected to be star-studded for the Icebreaker and beyond.
If the record books are any indication, Thompson could crown a new Late Model champion this year. In the last four years, the division champion sealed their first crown at the Connecticut oval. But Nick Johnson is going to look to stop that trend and find himself with a repeat performance.
Although he didn’t win a race last year, Johnson drove the No. 6 Propane Plus machine into championship glory with consistency, with finishes inside the top-five in all of the races. He only won the title by a mere three points, but if he can put together the consistency he did last year, it will be tough to beat him.
The top contenders in the standings last year are expected back, as Tom Carey III look to build on his successful season and Mark Jenison looks to transfer his two victories into a little bit more consistency in hopes of grabbing the Late Model title. William Wall, the 2016 Thompson Late Model champion, is coming back looking to return to title form, while Woody Pitkat looks to break into the top of the division driving the No. 91 for Hartwell Motorsports. Others like Paul Charette, Glenn Boss and Matthew Lowinski-Loh are also expected to be contenders.
Thompson will also welcome a new division to the full-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series schedule this year, as the SK Light Modifieds® come to the track looking to showcase some of the youth talent that the Modified ranks offers. There won’t only be youth, though, as the SK Light Modified® division will also include veterans of Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Even though he is the recent Mini Stock champion, Eric Bourgeois has entered for the SK Light Modified® season, along with Wayne Burroughs Jr., who finished second in the Mini Stock point standings last year. These two veterans are polished in the Mini Stocks, but might have a bit of a learning curve in a new class.
Bryan Narducci, who was victorious in all four events Thompson held for the division last year, enters the year as seemingly the favorite. The defending NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division III National Champion will have an even greater chance of repeating this year, as he will earn points both at Thompson and Connecticut’s other NASCAR oval of Stafford Motor Speedway. He’s joined by names like Anthony Marvin, John O’Sullivan and Alexander Pearl as some of the other challengers.
Shawn Monahan’s stranglehold on the Limited Sportsman division could be in jeopardy, as he prepares to compete with a brand new car this year, one that is already creating quite the buzz on social media. He’s one the last two titles in one of Thompson’s most competitive classes, but he’s done it in two different ways – winning races one season and becoming a master of consistency the other. Even with a new car, his veteran experience will help him along the way.
He will have former champions like Larry Barnett and Scott Sundeen looking to take the crown back from him. And, the Gleason brothers, who have been staples in the division, are both looking to find their way to the top, while Meghan Fuller looks to build on her 2018 success and break into the winner’s circle. With three-wide action and thrilling finishes becoming the normal in the Thompson Limited Sportsman division, fans won’t want to miss their 10 events – including their Limited Sportsman Extra Distance event on May 19.
And in the Mini Stock division, a new champion will be crowned, but it might not be a driver who doesn’t already have a championship in their family history. Evan Bourgeois, the son of reigning champion Eric, is going to run the full schedule in his second season and will look to pick up where his father left off. Steve Michalski is no stranger to the division, and it could be the right time for him to take off running for multiple victories, while the Trudeau family isn’t going to go down without a battle. The Mini Stock division often gives drivers the chance to run a car that they can build in their own shop, and it showcases some true driving talent as drivers wheel around the .625-mile oval. Their 15-lap feature at the Icebreaker will come just minutes before the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race.
The Icebreaker also includes multiple touring series divisions from across New England, including the Whelen Modified Tour, as they get set for their third race of the season. Justin Bonsignore, the defending series champion, won all four races at Thompson last year, including the Sunoco World Series, where he officially celebrated his title. After some early season struggles in two races down south, Bonsignore will look to turn things around at the Icebreaker, but he has 29 other entered drivers looking to break into Victory Lane themselves and end his streak.
Doug Coby, a five-time Whelen Modified Tour champion who has five career Thompson wins to his credit, leads the championship standings with veteran Jimmy Blewett hot on his tail, just one point back. It will be hard to bet against Kevin Stuart Motorsports driver Ron Silk, who has four career Thompson wins and is coming off his first series victory in three years last week at South Boston Speedway.
The Pro All Star Series is in town for Sunday afternoon, as Derek Griffith looks to grab the checkered flag in the Icebreaker for the second straight year. After winning the 2018 feature, Griffith went on to capture the Pro All Star Series National Championship.
The weekend of action will also include the 375 Sportsman Challenge, slated for 35 laps, the Exit Realty Pro Truck Challenge for 20 laps and the NEMA Lites, who will open their season with a 20-lap feature. Modified feature racing on Saturday night includes the Valenti Modified Racing Series, a division that has become a staple at the Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing, but will now compete at the Icebreaker to showcase the tour-type modified talent New England offers.
The schedule begins on Friday, with a Test & Tune session scheduled to roll beginning at 1 p.m., with a minimum of three practice rounds scheduled. All divisions except the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Pro All Star Series can are allowed. Saturday, action gets underway with practice in the morning, with the general admission gates opening at 10:30 a.m. and qualifying taking the green flag at 12:15 p.m. Feature racing will begin following the first Whelen Modified Tour practice session at 3:35 p.m.
Sunday, feature racing begins at 12:35 p.m. with the 30-lap event for the Sunoco Modifieds, but before that, Thompson’s 2018 champions will raise their banner behind the grandstands at 10:30 a.m., and the Fan Appreciation Party will roll from 11 to 11:50 a.m. on the frontstretch, where fans will have the opportunity to get to see the stars and cars of Thompson up close and personal.
Tickets for the Icebreaker will be available throughout the weekend. Fans can enter the grandstands with a two-day pass for $55 for general admission, and any seniors (65+) or Military members will be admitted for $50. Fans are reminded there are no one day tickets. Pit passes for the two days of racing are $60, and teams are reminded that Friday’s pit pass is a separate cost of $20.
For the full schedule for Icebreaker weekend, fans are encouraged to visit www.thompsonspeedway.comunder the Icebreaker event tab. As always, fans should keep a close eye on social media throughout the weekend for a behind the scenes look at the Icebreaker.