Tuesday April 12, 2011

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The Thompson Speedway opened past weekend on April 9 and 10. This yearís Icebreaker featured eight racing divisions topped by the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Thompsonís own ďSuper 6Ē NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions along with the visiting Sunoco Lite Modifieds were on tap for the two-day event at southern New Englandís largest and fastest oval race track.

Bobby Santos III is full of confidence while a determined Ted Christopher is among the walking wounded. Both are prime contenders for the 2011 Whelen Modified Tour Series title. When its all set and done it will be a battle of wits between the crew chiefs, Bob Mueller who will guide the destiny of the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile and Brad LaFountain who will guide the destiny of the Ed Whelen No. 36. Both are at the top of their game as they know tire, chassis and race strategy. The only variables are mechanical breakages and wrecks. It should make for and interesting and highly competitive season.

Thirty five Whelen Modifieds were on hand for qualifying last Saturday. Santos broke his own track record in qualifying when he turned a lap of 18.237 seconds (123.376 mph) around the .625-mile oval for his fifth career Coors Light Pole Award. the top four qualifiers eclipsed Santosí previous record lap set last year at 18.418 (122.418). Ted Christopher qualified second at 18.374 (122.456), followed by Justin Bonsignore at 18.386 (122.376) and Ryan Preece at 18.399 (122.289). Todd Szegedy rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Ron Silk, Rowan Pennink, Eric Beers, Doug Coby and Eric Berndt. All tolled thirty three cars qualified.

It was over shortly after it got started as far as Bobby Santos was concerned. Santos began the Ice Breaker 150 on the pole position and took the lead on the start with Ted Christopher in tow. The defending series champion led the first four laps before giving way to Christopher on the backstretch. Christopher led laps five, six and seven before Santos took it back, leading laps eight, nine and ten. Christopher re-took the lead as Santos began a backward slide. By lap 16 Santos' Mystic Missile began smoking on the right side and that was all she wrote as car owner Bob Garbarino instructed him to pit and shut the engine off. Santos' official finishing position was dead last in 33rd spot. Christopher went on to take the win but it was a rocky road in which he drove. He came from two laps down at one point and a hand injury from an early-race spin to maintain his dominance of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway. The 52-year-old Plainville, Conn., driver led the last 39 laps en route to victory.

At the 1/3 (50lap) mark he spun on the backstretch after taking the lead from Ron Silk. Christopher, who already had fingers on his right hand taped up from a ligament injury, banged up his left hand in the spin. He lost two laps during the incident, one from the spin and then a second from a penalty for pulling up to pit. Christopher was the recipient of the Lucky Dog award on two occasions which put him back in contention on the lead lap. By lap 102 he had put himself into the top ten. His march to the front continued until he took the lead from Ryan Preece on lap 115, never looking back after that!

Rowan Pennink finished second, followed by Mike Stefanik. Ryan Preece and Justin Bonsignore. Eric Beers finished sixth, followed by Doug Coby, Ron Yuhas, Matt Hirschman and rookie Patrick Emerling. Fifteen of the original 33 starters finished on the lead lap. Among those who had problems and failed to finish were Rookie Candidate Rick Gentes and Rob Fuller who lost engines and Richie Pallai, Jr., Erick Rudolph, Gary McDonald, Ron Silk, Eric Goodale, Woody Pitkat, Kevin Goodale, Tom Rogers, Jr., Eric Berndt, Bryon Chew, Jamie Tomaino and Tony Ferrante, Jr who were sidelined after being involed in wrecks.
Despite the doom and gloom of the economy the speedway enjoyed a good attendance by race fans. The Whelen Modified Tour Series takes a Spring Break before its next event which will be the annual Spring Sizzler at Stafford on Sunday, May 1.

In other weekend action at Thompson, Todd Ceravolo beat out Keith Rocco and Ryan Preece to win Saturday nights Sunoco Modified 25 lap feature. Joey Cipriano was the Sunoco Lite winner, also on Saturday. On Sunday, Ted Christopher took home top honors in the Sunoco Modified event. Mike OíSullivan was victorious in the Super Late Model main event. John Materas returned to his winning ways in the Late Models. R.J. Marcotte recovered from an early race spin to score the TIS Modified victory. Danny Fields scored top honors in the Mini Stock division and Joe Coates wired the field in Limited Sportsman division.

The Waterford Speedbowl completed a briskly paced six-division NASCAR Whelen All-American Series race program Saturday evening, marking the shoreline ovalís return to Saturday night racing for the 61st consecutive season. Keith Rocco of Wallingford picked up his second consecutive checkered flag in SK Modifiedģ action to start the year, beginning 2011 in the same manner as his national championship season one year ago. Grotonís Bruce Thomas Jr. was the winner in the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model race, while Ed Puleo of Branford and Phil Evans of Uncasville wound up the victors in the Street Stock and Mini Stock events, respectively. In INEX racing, sixteen year old Dana Dimatteo of Farmington won the Legends Cars feature event and fourteen year old Taylor Martin of New Hampshire took the Bandolero feature win.

In Modified action south of the Mason-Dixon Line at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina, Junior Miller took the green flag with 10 laps to go and never looked back, taking the 100-lap modified victory.After Jimmy Zacharias dominated the first half of the 100-lap event, veteran modified driver Junior Miller drove his car to victory lane. John Markovic, Jason Myers, Burt Myers and Rick Kluth rounded out the top five.

In TV land NASCAR Now on espn2 can be seen at 5:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and on Friday. NASCAR Race Hub will air on the Speed Channel at 7:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This weeks race viewing on the Speed Channel begins on Wednesday at noon with last Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Samsung Mobile 500 that was run at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, TX. Thursday's viewing also begins at noon on Speed with a replay of last week's NASCAR Nationwide Series OíReilly Auto Parts 300 that was run at the Texas Motor Speedway. At 3:00 Speed replays the 2008 AMP Energy 500 that was run at Talladega. NASCAR Race Hub will be on at 7:00pm. Speed goes live on Friday noon with Nationwide Series qualifying from Talledega. Sprint Cup practice follows at 2:00pm. NASCAR Live serves up a break before Sprint Cup final practice starts at 3:30pm. Another edition of NASCAR Live follows at 4:30pm. At 5:00pm Speed presents live flag to flag coverage of the ARCA Racing Series ARCA 250 at Talladega. Trackside at Talladega follows at 7:00pm followed by Speed Center at 8:00pm. At 8:30pm Speed presents a special NASCAR Hall of Fame Biography, that of Lee Petty. Saturday's action begins at 11:30am with Sprint Cup qualifying. At 2:00pm the action switches to espn2 for the pre-race show that will lead into the NASCAR Nationwide Series Aaronís 312 at Talladega at 3:00pm. Speed Center on Speed follows at 7:00pm. Sunday starts off with NASCAR Now on espn2 at 9:00am. Speed Center on Speed takes over at 9:30m followed by two hours of RaceDay at 10:00am. At noon FOX takes over for another hour of pre-race that will lead to the 1:00pm start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Aaronís 499 at the Talladega Superspeedway. At 6:00pm on Sunday the action switches to Versus for "Dirt Knights". At 7:00pm the Speed Channel presents Speed Center. At 8:00 itís the NASCAR Victory Lane. At 9:00pm the Speed Channel has Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain.

On the Speedway Stock Market scene last week two of the three speedway stocks ended the week on a positive note. The International Speedway Corporation went up 0.99 to 31.36 and Dover Entertainment went up 0.06 to 2.03 while Speedway Motorsports dropped 0.83 to 15.19. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint went up 0.17 to 4.73 while NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil dropped 0.55 to 44.56 and NASCAR Tire supplier Goodyear dropped 0.22 to 15.00. Two of the three car makers were down for the week. Ford went up 0.17 to 15.33 while General Motors dropped 0.89 to 31.52 and Toyota dropped 2.63 to 77.88. In the home improvement sector, Home Depot dropped 0.10 to 37.46 while Lowes went up 0.48 to 26.82. In the area of team sponsorship, Dupont went up 0.21 to 55.40 as Coca-Cola leaped 8.91 to 75.70. Coca-Cola has had a banner year since starting off at 55.58 on Jan 1. Target Department Stores dropped 0.83 to 49.53 while Aarons Rentals went up 0.66 to 26.26 and Fedex dropped 3.84 to 91.16.

Because of the recent earthquakes and resulting damage the Toyota Motor Corp. said that it's inevitable the company will be forced to shut down all of its North American factories because of parts shortages.

The temporary shutdowns are likely to take place later this month, affecting 25,000 workers, but no layoffs are expected. Just how long the shutdowns last or whether all 13 of Toyota's factories will be affected at the same is unknown and depends on when parts production can restart in Japan.

Thatís it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly RI 02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467. E-Mail is

Phil Smith has been a columnist for Speedway Scene and other publications for over 3 decades.

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