Craig Gabriele



Construction Expected To Have Major Effects On Oval Racing At Thompson In 2014; Icebreaker Likely Off Schedule

THOMPSON – NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour tradition – and New England short track racing tradition for that matter – could be dramatically changed at Thompson International Speedway in 2014. Speedway general manager Jonathan Hoenig said Thursday that – as it stands now – there will not be an Icebreaker event at the track in 2014.

Hoenig said construction plans for a new road course at Thompson will force track officials to tailor their short track racing schedule around new building plans for 2014, if there even is short track racing schedule for the season.

“[In April] this place will be upside down,” Hoenig said. “Unless a miracle happens, we know the Icebreaker is not going to be on the schedule. We’re going to be under construction.”

The Icebreaker traditionally has taken place in the middle of April. The Whelen Modified Tour has started their season at the Icebreaker every year since 2002.

Plans are in place to build a new 1.7-mile road course at Thompson Speedway. The road course will incorporate the current .625-mile oval track. Hoenig said the plans are for the road course to be operational by June 2014.

“A lot of [demolition] that’s happening, doesn’t touch the track surface, but there’s 400 feet of wall that’s being opened up on the oval,” Hoenig said. “There’s 1,500 feet of new paving inside the oval that’s going to be for the road racing surface. The road course connects to the oval. The whole pit grandstand area is getting removed and replaced. So it directly affects all the safety and infrastructure of the oval.”

While he said short track racing will remain as part of the future of motorsports at the facility going forward, Hoenig was non-committal when it came to short track racing at the track in 2014.

Asked if he could you tell competitors at the track with confidence that there will be short track racing next year Hoenig said: “I can’t tell anyone with confidence who is racing here next year. I don’t have any schedule. I don’t know what we’re having for road races, I don’t know what we’re having for special events, I don’t know what we’re having for NASCAR races. I don’t have anything.”

“I understand [the concerns of current short track competitors], but we as a family here have a very large project to undertake and we don’t know when it’s going to get done. You’ve seen the winters we have right? It could be done by the first of June, when we’re planning on it, but if it doesn’t, how can we put out schedules for everyone if we don’t even know if we’re going to be open?”

Hoenig said building plans were delayed to allow for the 2013 short track racing season to take place.

“We’re building a 1.7-mile racetrack, have you seen much earth moved here?” Hoenig said. “It’s the end of July and we have a lot of races to run. We have all the financing and permitting in place to do this, we’ve chosen not to disrupt so we can have a full season of oval track racing. We had the financing all done this spring before the season even started and we could have not run this year, but we ran. So we’re working around the season.

“We’re trying to create a motorsports facility. Motorsports will continue here. We’re not like some places that are being threatened to be shut down or be sold. We’re investing probably more than any other family run short track in the country to rebuild this facility. … There’s going to be oval racing. If there wasn’t you would see on the plans that the oval wouldn’t be there. We just don’t have a schedule.”

In the driver’s meeting Thursday, Late Model driver Rick Gentes brought up the introduction of a track website last week that focuses heavily on the new road course being planned. Selected drivers brought up the fact that the current oval track competition at the track isn’t really represented on the new site. A link on the new site takes viewers to the traditional track website.

Hoenig said the website issues are temporary and that all information will be incorporated when a new website is introduced in September or October.

“We’re investing a ton into this property, we’re redeveloping this place and we’re essentially rebuilding the old racetrack and doing a $4 million capital improvement project,” Hoenig said. “That’s the big buzz in the motorsports world, not just in Northeastern Connecticut. And we have a lot more people than we know asking about it and they were going to the other website and there was nothing there. So now we’ve created a website that has everything about the history and what’s going on here and then you have all the oval track racing which hasn’t changed. It’s just how it’s set up.”

Hoenig said he hopes to have more definitive answers concerning scheduling for the track by October.

“We broke ground but we haven’t started the heavy construction,” Hoenig said of the new road course. “Until the construction company gets into the ground here in the next few weeks, if we hit a good stretch and don’t run into any problems, we could be done and paved by Christmas. Or we could run into big problems. It’s a construction project, you don’t know what is going to happen. Anything. We could have another big hurricane in the fall. …There’s so many unknowns now in New England, that’s why I don’t want to say what we’re going to have for a schedule. We’ll know by the World Series. We’re not going to wait until January 1. We’ll be under construction for months by then. We’ll know the direction, we’ll know real timelines, but I’ve never built a racetrack before so I don’t know how it’s going to go.”

Larry Barnett of Moosup, the track’s all-time winningest Limited Sportsman division driver, said it was disappointing that track management doesn’t do a better job communicating with current competitors about the state and future of the facility.

“I think they should at least tell us what’s going on, just out of a courtesy if nothing else,” Barnett said. “We spend a lot of money on these cars. Some guys probably, me included, spend more than we should. … At least tell us what the possibilities are.”














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Revised: July 19, 2013