Story By: THERESA CONDICT / THOMPSON SPEEDWAY MOTORSPORTS PARK – THOMPSON, CT – Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park kicked off its 2018 season in style on Saturday, April 7 with the annual Icebreaker weekend. The lineup was composed of five feature including the Valenti Modifieds and two challenge races that offered fans and drivers a chance to try their hand at prizes and extra winnings over the course of the evening. Despite chilly weather, fans turned out in droves to see the best and brightest stars of New England and beyond take to the track for the first time in the new year.
The main event of the evening was the first appearance of the Valenti Modified Series at Icebreaker weekend. The 50-lap feature included close quarters racing right to the very end as some of the region’s most talented modified specialists took to the track in the opening race of the series’ season. The 26-car field featured the likes of Keith Rocco, Woody Pitkat, Ron Silk and others all making their first starts of the season at Thompson, but it was another pair of big names who would duke it out for the victory.
Chase Dowling and Rowan Pennink battled it out for the top spot throughout the second half of the race and a pair of late race cautions made for an interesting shootout in the final five laps. Despite Dowling’s best efforts however, Pennink managed to pull away on the final restart and claim his first win of the year in his first start in a racecar since having back surgery in January. Despite the surgery and the restarts Pennink said he felt right as rain behind the wheel of his #25 car and was proud to give his team a win in his return to racing action.
“I feel really good. It’s nothing more than I’ve been dealing with. I felt good in the car. Today was my first day back and I guess it went really well. I was just hoping I’d be comfortable in the car and I was, so it was good to get back behind the wheel and start it off like this,” Pennink said.
Pennink will go for a sweep of the weekend’s biggest races when the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series caps off Icebreaker Weekend at Thompson On Sunday, April 8. Pennink is the defending winner and said he believes he can repeat. “I hated to miss the race in Myrtle Beach, but it makes up for it coming here in my first race back and getting a win,” Pennink said. “It’s momentum. When you win the first one it gets you excited to try and sweep the weekend so I’m excited to give that a shot.”
The best finish of the night however came in the EXIT Realty 375 Sportsman Challenge, a race that challenged fans in attendance to guess the outcome of the race for a chance to win a new Camaro or truck, dubbed the EXIT Realty Fan Challenge. However, no one could predict the intense finish that was to come. The 35-lap event included its share of drama with early leader Corey Hutchings being spun out 18-laps into the 35-lap race and a three-wide battle making up the final laps of the events after a late race caution. Going into the final lap Shawn Monahan, Ryan Waterman and Scott Seryndynski were side by side, three wide for the lead. Coming out of turn two Seryndynski, who had the low line, made contact with Monahan who pushed Waterman out of the groove in turn two, giving Seryndynski the lead that he would hold right to the checkered flag. Monahan survived the mayhem to finished second while Corey Fanning finished third and Waterman held on for a fourth-place finish.
Following the race Seryndynski said he knew going into the final lap that if there was an opening he was going to take it and it worked. “I knew we were all close in speed and (Monahan and Waterman) were racing hard. This division always races hard. I saw a small opportunity, I took it and the car really stuck. I’m very thankful that this day took place,” Seryndynski said.
The intense racing didn’t stop there however. The final feature of the night was just as competitive as the EXIT Realty Pro Truck Challenge offered a different kind of risk giving the pole winner a chance to double their winnings if they went to the back and still won the race. The challenge not achieved, but that didn’t take away from the great racing that made up the bulk of the 35-lap feature. Like its sister event earlier in the night, the Pro Truck Challenge featured numerous side by side battles, including close battles for the top position that led to a seven-lap shootout and a family affair on the podium. Corey Coates pulled away in the final restart to take the win while his father, Allen Coates, finished second. Despite leading into the final caution and competing for the lead throughout most of the event Jim Boyle suffered a bad restart that sunk his chances at victory forcing him to settle for a top five.
Earlier in the night the NEMA Lites started off all the action with a 20-lap feature and it was a familiar face who took home the checkered flag. Todd Bertrand picked up right where he left off this time last year, winning his second Icebreaker feature in a row after taking a significant lead in the opening laps of competition. Bertrand had to endure a red flag and a caution with three two laps to go involving frontrunners Avery Stoehr, Dan Cugini and Anthony Novella who had been running second, third and fourth at the time. Bertrand also had to compete with a late race charge from Randy Cabral but powered his way to the win all the same earning the first win of Thompson’s 2018 season.
“The car was perfect all race long. I didn’t have to change anything inside of the car. I’m happy that I got up front – We’ve got a bunch of competitive cars in this class so you’ve just got to get out into clean air as much as possible and luckily we were able to have a good starting spot and I kept my nose clean,” Bertrand said in victory lane. Despite the strong start Bertrand said he would not run a full NEMA Lite season, instead planning to chase a title in the NEMA Midgets.
Another driver who picked up where he left off last season was Brian Narducci who followed up his season-ending win in the Sunoco World Series in October, his first start at Thompson, with a dominating victory in the Icebreaker 20-lap feature to open 2018. Narducci, a relatively new name to the modified circuit, has gotten off to a strong start to his career and how owns victories in Thompson’s two biggest racing weekends, the World Series and the Icebreaker.
Icebreaker weekend continues on Sunday, April 8 with the big event, the Icebreaker 150 Whelen Modified Tour Race which will close out Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park’s first showcase of oval racing in 2018. Along with the 150-lap event the Sunoco Modifieds, Limited Sportsman, Late Models and Mini Stocks will all host their first events of the season as Thompson’s track divisions move one step closer to crowning new champions for a new year.
VALENTI MODIFIEDS TOP-10: 1. Rowan Pennink (New Egypt, NJ); 2. Chase Dowling (Roxbury, CT); 3. Anthony Nocella (Woburn, MA); 4. Woody Pitkat (Sturbridge, MA); 5. Samuel Rameau (Westminster, MA); 6. Tommy Catalano (Ontario, NY); 7. Jeff Gallup (Feeding Hill, MA); 8. Kyle Trainor (Marlborough, MA); 9. Derek Robbie (Bellingham, MA); 10. Mike Willis, Jr. (Grantham, NH)
EXIT REALTY 375 SPORTSMAN CHALLENGE: 1. Scott Seryndynski; 2. Shawn Monahan; 3. Corey Fanning; 4. Ryan Waterman; 5. Rick Charette; 6. Corey Hutchings; 7. Stephan Potter; 8. Joe Arena; 9. Joe Kohler; 10. Jack Aquilina
EXIT REALTY PRO TRUCK CHALLENGE: 1. Corey Coates; 2. Allen Coates; 3. Gerard Giodano, Jr; 4. Jim Boyle; 5. Josh Stringer; 6. Tyler Chapman; 7. Andy Lindamin; 8. Jim Thompson; 9. Tony Nagleri; 10. Rick Ashlaw
NEMA LITES TOP-10: 1. Todd Bertrand (Danielson, CT); 2. Randy Cabral (Kingston, MA); 3. Jim Chambers (Atkinson, NH); 4. Meg Cugini (Marshfield, MA); 5. Avery Stoehr (Lakeville, MA); 6. Matt Janisch (Nazareth, PA); 7. Jim Cataldo (Sterling, MA); 8. Dan Cugini (Marshfield, MA); 9. Anthony Nocella (Woburn, MA); 10. Ryan Locke (Raymond, NH)
LITE MODIFIEDS TOP-10: 1. Bryan Narducci (Colchester, CT); 2. Wesley Prucker (Stafford, CT); 3. Teddy Hodgdon (Danbury, CT); 4. Noah Korner (Bloomfield, CT); 5. Glenn Griswold (Vernon, CT); 6. John O’Sullivan (Salem, CT); 7. Andrew Les (New York, NY); 8. John Puleo (Branford, CT); 9. Chris Gambos (Naugatuck, CT); 10. Chris Viens (Putnam, CT)