Not much has changed in the Xtra Mart Limited Sportsman division at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and for anyone who follows the division closely, that’s a good thing. Last season, two of the all-time best in class Scott Sundeen and Larry Barnett battled for the championship right down to the final event. Sundeen came out the victor earning his 3rd title in 4 seasons.
When you listen to the drivers tell it, each will say that the competition in the Xtra Mart Limited Sportsman division is at an all-time high. Any mistake throughout the 10 race season puts any team quickly behind, but that’s why they all keep coming back. For these drivers the fierce competition motivates them to success.
Many point to Corey Hutchings as the one to beat who has been dominant the last two years winning 8 times, which is half of the 16 races contested. For Hutchings, the key for him is getting out of the upcoming Icebreaker weekend unscathed. In the last two Icebreakers, a wreck and a flat tire ruined what could have been solid finishes in the season opener, forcing the team to play catch-up all season.
“The Icebreaker has been my Achilles heel,” reflected Hutchens. “This year with having an expanded 10-race schedule you can maybe overcome a bad finish, but with a 7 race schedule it is difficult to overcome.”
The Archillies heel for four-time champion Larry Barnett has been keeping his equipment under him all season. Unfortunately for him, bad luck has already struck last year’s championship runner-up. During the open test held Easter weekend, Barnett’s engine expired forcing him to send it back to the engine builder just 11 days before the season begins.
Barnett openly says that he wasn’t prepared going into 2015. He waited to the last minute to get his car ready and said, “I just didn’t work hard enough to beat these guys last season.” That has changed in 2016.
“I had the most fun last year that I’ve had in a long time racing,” said Barnett who came up a mere 8 points or 4 on track positions from winning the title. “We’ve worked a lot harder this offseason because not winning a race and coming close to the championship proved to light a fire under me.”
For Sundeen, he expected to retire his championship winning car from a year ago and run it on the Northeast Street Stock Tour. However, his new Thompson ride isn’t finished yet making the 36 team a mystery heading into the season. Nobody, including Sundeen himself, knows what to expect or which car in his stable he will be driving.
Enter some of the other players who could make an impact on the division. Frank L’Etoile Jr. returns for his second season after registering two third place efforts in 2015.
“I feel more comfortable in the car, more conformable around each driver as I’ve learn their tendencies,” said L’Etoile defending Stafford Speedway Dare Stock Champion. “It makes it a little easier this year because I have more confidence.”
Another driver beaming with confidence is Josh Wood. He just needs a good dose of consistency. Last season, Wood earned a season best runner-up finish at the Sunoco World Series totaling 4 top-5s and 1 top-10 on the year. His other finishes were all 15th or worse.
“Last year was a learning experience and I am very comfortable in the car,” said Wood. “I think I need to be aggressive, but not too aggressive. Drive smart and not get myself into dumb situations and I know can pretty competitive.”
Jesse Gleason won in July last season and is in the process of starting a new business. 2016 will be his last for the foreseeable future as he transitions into a new phase of his career. Gleason has two goals with the first being a track championship and the other seeing his brother Brent Gleason get to victory lane for the first time. Brent is still seeking his first Thompson victory with a runner-up finish being his best effort to date.
The Icebreaker kicks off the season on the weekend of April 9-10. An additional practice day is scheduled for Friday, April 8. For more information on Thompson Speedway news and events, visit www.thompsonspeedway.com.