After nearly three decades of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour making the occasional trip outside of its Northeast home base for events to southern racing hotbeds, for the first time the southerners will head to New England.
Venerable Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway will play host to a new special event on Sept. 10-11 that will bring up the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour to join its northern counterpart NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for a pair of individual 125-lap points-paying races and a 50-lap exhibition contest for head-to-head bragging rights: the UNOH Showdown.
The Whelen Modified Tour has toured the .625-mile high banks of Thompson on 114 occasions since its first season in 1985, and the NASCAR Modifieds ran there long before that, but this will be the first time the Whelen Southern Modified Tour has ventured north of the Mason-Dixon Line. And four a tour that visits such historic southern racing venues like North Carolina's Bowman Gray Stadium and Caraway Speedway frequently, Thompson is the perfect place to make the maiden voyage north.
"We're really looking forward to it," said 2010 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Champion Burt Myers. "I think Thompson and the Hoenig family have done a really good job of enticing people to come up. It's one of those deals where a lot of [southern] people don't realize the Modified history at Thompson Speedway. Being someone like myself and my family that appreciates the history side of racing - especially with Modified history and racing at Bowman Gray Stadium every week - it always puts a special buzz in the air when you go to a place like that with the history behind it."
Unlike the majority of his Whelen Southern Modified Tour competitors, Myers does have some Thompson experience. He participated in two Whelen Modified Tour events there in 2010, and finished 14th both times.
Myers, George Brunnhoelzl III, L.W. Miller and Andy Seuss may be the favorites in the Whelen Southern Modified Tour 125-lap race based on their prior experience at Thompson, but they'll have to contend with the regular stacked contingent of drivers from the Whelen Modified Tour in the 50-lap Showdown who know Thompson like the back of their hand. Chief among those is Ted Christopher.
Christopher temporarily parted ways with his No. 36 team and car owner Eddie Whelan in mid-July, but they'll rejoin forces at Thompson for the first of four races together to close out the season. This does not bode well teams from either tour as Christopher has won seven of the last nine Whelen Modified Tour races at Thompson.
"I told Eddie [Whelan] that I at least wanted to run Thompson because I've got a pretty good record there," Christopher said. "I really wanted to go there for that race if anything. Now we're going to run that and some others, but I'm really looking forward to Thompson."
Christopher, who has 13 total Whelen Modified Tour wins at Thompson, including both events this year, is excited about seeing the Whelen Southern Modified Tour teams come up to Thompson and really likes the format of the event, especially the 50-lap dash for cash.
"They get to come up in our territory. I'm looking forward to it," Christopher said. "I really appreciate Donald and D.R. [Hoenig] putting up that type of money for that short of a race. It should be an interesting race. That plays into my hands because I'm an all-out driver from Lap 1, so for me, I can go as hard as I can for 50 laps."
Following practice and qualifying for both tours on Saturday, Sept. 10, the Whelen Southern Modified Tour 125 will get things started on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 12:45 p.m. The Whelen Modified Tour 125 will follow at 2:30 p.m., and the UNOH Showdown is slated for 5:30 p.m. The top 12 cars from each 125-lap race will transfer to the Showdown and an additional 12 provisional positions will fill out the 36-car field.
Silk's title hopes get a boost: A win at Delaware (Ont.) Speedway this past Sunday, combined with the misfortune of Rowan Pennink, moved Ron Silk's lead in the standings up to a season-high 77 points. He looks well-positioned for the stretch run as well, as all five of his other career wins have come at tracks that are included in the remaining five races. His first three career triumphs came at Thompson during the 2007-08 seasons.
Szegedy continues run: Silk might be out in front, but Todd Szegedy is arguably the hottest driver on the circuit heading to Thompson. With a third-place effort at Delaware, Szegedy has podium finishes in six of the last eight races and is now up to second in the standings behind Silk. The 2003 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion has three career wins at Thompson, the last coming during this week in 2008.
Stefanik returns at Thompson: Seven-time champion Mike Stefanik had a streak of 90-consecutive starts broken when the No. 16 team did not go to Delaware, but they'll return to action at Thompson where he holds the Whelen Modified Tour record for wins at 14, one ahead of Ted Christopher. His last win at Thompson came in the 2006 Icebreaker.
A milestone for Flemke: Speaking of starts streaks, Ed Flemke Jr. will extend his record for consecutive appearances to 350 at Thompson. His regular No. 10 team did not go to Delaware, but Flemke kept the streak alive by competing in a second Hillbilly Racing car. Eric Beers has the second-longest consecutive starts streak at 102.
Let there be light: On Aug. 28 Hurrican Irene knocked out power for thousands across New England, including Thompson International Speedway. The track was still without power four days later and had to cancel its NASCAR Whelen All-American Series program on Sept. 1. Power was restored over the weekend.
Home Tracks: Rocco Vies For Third TIS Title
Looking to continue a trend, reigning NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Keith Rocco is in position for his third Thompson International Speedway track title.
The Sunoco Modified division champion in 2007 and 2009, Rocco has a 22-point lead on Ryan Preece in his bid to win in another odd-numbered year. He has five wins in the No. 57 at Thompson this year while Preece has three. Woody Pitkat also has three wins and is sixth in points.
Thompson's other current division leaders include: Derek Ramstrom (Super Late Model), Tommy O'Sullivan (Late Model), Keith McDermott (Thompson Modified), Christopher Douton (Limited Sportsman) and Danny Field (Mini Stock).
Like many tracks across the nation, Thompson has battled the weather so far this year. Of their 19 scheduled race dates to this point, five have been cancelled.
Last Time Out: Delaware
Ron Silk found Victory Lane in the maiden voyage for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to Canada for the Delaware 150 on Sunday, Sept. 4.
In the first event in Whelen Modified Tour history outside of American borders at Delaware (Ont.) Speedway, Silk got past pole winner Erick Rudolph on Lap 107 and held on through a rain delay and two green-white-checker attempts for his second win of the season and sixth of his career.
Doug Coby, Todd Szegedy, James Civali and Eric Beers rounded out the top five finishers.
The win pushed Silk's lead in the championship standings to a season-high 77 points. Szegedy's sixth podium finish of the year moved him past Rowan Pennink to second in the standings.
Up Next: Lime Rock
The second installment of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Lime Rock Park is up next with the Town Fair Tire 100 on Saturday, Sept. 17 in Lakeville, Conn.
The Whelen Modifieds made their inaugural appearance at the 1.5-mile, 12-turn course in 2010 after a 10-year hiatus from road racing. Road course specialist Dale Quarterley made a late-race rally to take the checkered flag. The pole winner and leader of all but four laps in that race, Todd Szegedy hopes to finish what he started a year ago in this edition of the Town Fair Tire 100.
The Whelen Modified Tour will practice and qualify at Lime Rock on Friday, Sept. 16. Saturday's 66-lap race is scheduled to see the green flag drop at 1:30 p.m.