Story By: TIM BERTRAND / NEMA – THOMPSON, CT – The Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park World Series of Speedway Racing has become known as the “crown jewel” of Northeast auto racing. Thousands of fans and nearly 500 race cars were packed into nearly every square inch of the 77 year old facility.
The Northeastern Midget Association, in its 65th year, showed in full force with 36 cars present between both the full midgets and the Lites. In NEMA action, Todd Bertrand dominated the Shane Hammond Memorial feature event from his third starting position and in the Lites, Ryan Bigelow dominated the Jim O’Brien Memorial leaped out from the pole and led every lap of the feature event.
The two races were run in Memorial of the tragic death of Shane Hammond at TSMP and long time club executive Jim O’Brien.
In the NEMA division, Randy Cabral took down his sixth driving championship and Danny Cugini took down the Lites championship. Tim Bertrand took down the NEMA owners crown, also his sixth, and Glenn Cugini took down the Lites owners championship.
In the NEMA feature, Paul Scally and Alan Chambers brought the field down to the green flag. Scally bolted out into the lead, but was quickly haunted by Todd Bertrand in the K&N #48 machine. Bertrand ducked under Scally in turns one and two on the second lap, and then began to set sail, running some of the fastest laps of the race (17.836) in the early stages of the event.
Further back, all eyes were on Randy Cabral and Jim Chambers, who were battling for a championship. If Chambers finished in the top three, Cabral needed to finish between seventh and ninth, respectively. It was a rush to the starting line for the Cabral team, who discovered ten minutes before the feature event that the battery on his #74 K&N machine had started to catch fire. The crew quickly changed out the battery and checked over the car, as the field was rolling onto the track.
At the front, Bertrand had smooth sailing, as he methodically worked his way through lapped traffic. Chambers took second on lap eight, and further back, Cabral had come from tenth to the third spot. The feature, which would go green to checkered, would see Bertrand win by a margin of nearly six seconds, over Chambers, and 2017 champion Cabral. Kyle Hamilton came from ninth to finish fourth ahead of Bertrand Motorsports teammate Avery Stoehr, who finished fifth. Paul Scally, Alan Chambers, Chris Deritis, Bethany Stoehr and Ryan Bigelow rounded out the top ten.
“I’ve been trying to win this race for years, and have come up short so many times,” said Bertrand. “We had a tough start to the season with this new car, but finally figured it out, and its just unbelievable. I need to thank my whole family and crew for their help, and to Danny Drinan for coming out to help us this weekend,” he said. “Winning this race, is definitely the biggest win of my career.”
In the Lites race, Danny Cugini locked up the drivers championship by taking the green flag, but needed to finish two spots better than car owner Mike Chambers to take down the owner’s championship, so all eyes were on this duo. At the front of the field, Ryan Bigelow blasted out into the lead in his Chevy Ecotec/Bigelow Electric machine. His lead would not last long, however, as the red flag was thrown for a scary incident involving Ryan Locke who flipped down the front stretch. Locke would walk away from the incident unhurt.
When the green flag flew again, Bigelow would blast out into the lead, running a momentum line up a the top of the race track, each lap distancing himself from the field. Further back, tenth place starter Kyle Hamilton was working his way to the front in the Frank Manafort #76. Hamilton would get to second after passing Chad Labastie, who held the position for the first half of the event, but the race would go green to checkered after the first restart. Bigelow would go on to dominate the remainder of the feature, in heavy lapped traffic.
“I need to thank my Dad, without him, I would not be able to do this and its great to get this win for him. I also need to thank my brother, Paul, who put his racing aside to help focus on me this year. This car would not go around without him, and he had it on a rail today,” said Bigelow.
Following Bigelow across the line was Hamilton, Labastie, Randy Cabral, 2017 champion Danny Cugini, Todd Bertrand, Jim Chambers, Paul Scally, Meg Cugini and Anthony Payne.
NEMA concludes its year at the New London Waterford Speedbowl with a non points event this coming Sunday for the Lites.