By Kyle Souza, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park / Tom Morris/Myracnews photos
THOMPSON, Conn. — The Limited Sportsman division has three drivers, with three different backgrounds, all searching the season championship at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Kyle Gero, in just his second full-time year in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series division, leads the standings by 10 points over two-time and defending champion Shawn Monahan. Behind them, Meghan Fuller is just 16 back. The three drivers will battle it out for the final time as part of the Sunday portion of the 57th annual Sunoco World Series, October 11-13.
Gero is a rather newcomer to the division, who says he still feels like a rookie contender. Monahan is a polished veteran, who knows how to get the job done in the championship battle, having won the last two. Fuller, who has extensive racing background in her family, is searching her first title, but has been successful across Connecticut this season at two tracks, and nationally in the NASCAR standings.
“Obviously we want to win the race, but the goal was just to say consistent and be where we are at right now, having a chance at the championship,” Gero said. “I’m more than happy with how the season has turned out, and very thankful to be where we are at.”
Gero’s year has been filled with consistent runs, as the Uncasville, Connecticut, driver has earned top five finishes in the last seven feature races — proving he knows how to be there at the end. He’s driving a car that Monahan sold him a few years back. It has the speed it needs.
“I wouldn’t consider myself surprised, because we have put in a lot of work in the shop and I think the finishes prove that we are bringing a good piece to the track every week,” Gero said. “If you aren’t checking every bolt on the car, it gives a chance for parts to break and bad things to happen. We’ve had a lot of hard work.”
With the Sunoco World Series the only race left on the schedule, and only a 10-point lead as his cushion, Gero thinks he might need to turn things up just a bit.
“I haven’t been as aggressive as I need to be during the heat races, I always considered them as a good opportunity to prove what you have for the day, but I think I need to be more aggressive, knowing that if something does happen, we are going for it,” Gero said. “We’re going out with a must-win mentality.”
Thompson competitors earn 50 points for winning a feature race, while each position down through the field earns two less, meaning second earns 48, third receives 46, etc. In heat races, the winner earns five points, with a one-point drop throughout the top five, with fifth earning just one.
For Monahan, the season has been filled with checkered flags, bent up sheet metal, and broken equipment. In his first year driving the ‘Swaggin Wagon’, he’s been to Victory Lane in four of the nine races, but also has two finishes outside the top 10. Last year, he rolled to the championship. This year, he’s going to have to come from behind heading into the finale. And he’s perfectly OK with that.
“With the one broken transmission, and when I took the ride through the infield a few races ago I damaged the brake line, and I had to run the rest of that race a half of a lap down because I simply wasn’t able to stop,” Monahan said. “To go through those types of situations and still have a shot at the championship, I would love to get the third one. But I’ve already decided that I’m also OK with not getting it – because respect that we have among the top running cars, the cards just have to fall where they will.”
Monahan’s no stranger to this position. Winning the last two titles in one of Thompson’s most competitive divisions, he seems to know what it might take in the final 20-lap race of the season. But, as Gero mentioned, Monahan also agrees the heat race will matter in the final tally.
“I’m going to perform my best, and I’m going to gain as much as I can,” Monahan said. “I would say as a spectator at the racetrack, you should enjoy the qualifying round just as much as the main event. I can’t afford to lose anything going into this race. If I can’t get there, I simply can’t get there. But if there is an opportunity, I know the value of holding the checkered flag in the qualifier just as much as the feature at the World Series.”
The misfortune for Monahan during the season might have him coming from behind, but he seems more than ready to do it.
“People are going to look into the record books 10 years from now and remember who the champion was, not so much who finished second,” Monahan said. “To win two-in-a-row has been an honor. If you took a vote, I probably would have been counted out mid-season. But a few things have gone our way. I never could have imagined this was going to take place. It could go either way.”
For Fuller, this season has been filled with positives, both at Thompson and over at Stafford Motor Speedway. Between the two tracks, she has 24 top 10 finishes, and will be in contention to win both titles heading for the finales. On a NASCAR national level, Fuller is also inside the top 10 in both the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division V championship standings, and the UNOH Youth Achievement Award battle.
“We’ve improved a lot since last year, we’ve had some good finishes, and my dad and uncle Jimmy have found a few things with the car that have really helped,” Fuller said. “The car is at the point where I feel comfortable enough to succeed with it.”
At Thompson, Fuller has finished inside the top 10 in all but one race, which was early in the season. In the last two, she’s been inside the top five. She’s also earned heat race points in all but one race, allowing her to keep a tally that is helping her down the stretch.
“I didn’t think I would be in contention for the championship, but it’s definitely a great experience to have,” Fuller said. “Everyone will know who they are racing against, with the points being close with all three of us. I don’t really think I need to change anything and be more aggressive – I think I just need to race the whole year and hopefully get it done.”
The 57th annual Sunoco World Series will take the green flag on Friday, October 11, and roll through Sunday, October 13. The event begins on Friday, with practice sessions running throughout the afternoon, and qualifying heat racing set to begin at approximately 4:30 p.m. Feature racing on Friday includes the Granite State Pro Stock Series, Late Models, Open Vintage Modifieds and Senior Tour Auto Racers.
Saturday, action begins early with practice at 9 a.m., while qualifying racing begins at 2:30 p.m. There are 10 different feature races planned for Saturday night. Sunday, action begins at 1 p.m., with the season-finale for Thompson’s Sunoco Modified division. The NEMA Lites, ISMA Supermodifieds and TSMP Limited Sportsman will also join the headliner of Sunday — the Sunoco World Series 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
Admission to the paddock area for the entire three days is $75, with grandstand general admission set at $55. Any seniors (65+), veterans and active military will have general admission tickets priced at $50, while kids 12 and under are free in general admission.
Thompson’s annual breakfast and dinner buffets will also take place during Sunoco World Series weekend. The breakfast buffet runs from 7-11 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday and is $14 per person. The dinner buffet runs from 5-11 p.m. on Saturday night only and is $24 per person. For any children 12 and under, the dinner buffet is $14.
For more information on Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, fans should visit the track on the web, www.thompsonspeedway.com, and follow the track on social media via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.