Tom Herzig's Trackside: Thompson Icebreaker ushers in 2014 season
THOMPSON SPEEDWAY, the nation’s oldest paved stock car racing oval (5/8 mile), kicks off the 2014 regional short track racing season this Sunday with the 40th annual Icebreaker presented by Town Fair Tire.
The NASCAR Whelen Tour Modifieds will turn 150 laps, green and yellow combined, in their first point race of the year. The Whelen Mods raced around a temporary short track configuration at Daytona in February during Speed Weeks. Doug Coby of Milford, Conn., won. Ryan Preece of Berlin, Conn., the youngest defending champion in the Tour’s 29-year history at age 23, finished fourth.
The late NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Richie Evans won the inaugural Icebreaker.
The Icebreaker undercard includes the Granite State Pro Stock Series 50 along with Thompson’s Sunoco Modifieds, Late Models, Limited Sportsmen, Mini Stocks, Vintage Outlaws and the New England Truck Series.
Granite State Pro Stock Series President Mike Parks expects a 30-car field Sunday. Twenty-four cars will start the feature. “I’m ecstatic about the car count for Thompson and beyond,” Parks said. “We had 23 cars pre-register.”
Among the New Hampshire drivers expected — in addition to Parks himself, who’s based in Walpole — are Hudson teenager Derek Griffith, Matt Frahm of Hampstead and Wayne Helliwell Jr. the 2013 American Canadian Tour Late Model champion from Dover.
Helliwell Jr., who will open defense of his ACT crown at the Governor’s Cup 150 at Lee USA Speedway Sunday, April 13, is hauling a brand new Ford-powered EKeys4Cars Pro Stock to Thompson. “I’ve raced a Pro Stock at Thompson a few times over the years,” Helliwell Jr. said. “We haven’t turned a lap with it yet. It will be interesting.”
Parks noted that 2013 GSPSS champion Mike O’Sullivan of Springfield, Mass., will compete Sunday, but with a young family, isn’t planning on running a full schedule this year. Greybeard Larry Gelinas of Buxton, Maine, the 2013 GSPSS runner-up, has entered the race.
Word out of Modified Racing Series headquarters in Canaan is that last weekend’s scheduled opener at Waterford Speedbowl, postponed due to wintry weather, is tentatively set for Sunday, April 13, provided Thompson gets the Icebreaker in. If not, Waterford will defer to Thompson’s plans for a rain date and come up with another MRS date of its own.
The Modified Racing Series is scheduled to headline Monadnock’s opener Sunday, April 19.
Lee USA General Manager Bill Callen has made some changes to Lee’s schedule strategy for 2014. “We’re not going to start weekly Friday night racing until after Memorial Day weekend,” Callen said. “After the ACT opener, we’re having the first race in the new three-race Tri-Track Modified Open Series on May 11. That will be big. It pays $5,000 to win and $1,000 to start.”
The series includes the annual SBM Modified Open at Star Speedway ($5,000 to win plus wads of lap money) June 14 and a mid-week $10,000-to-win race at Seekonk Speedway July 23.
Callen is starting up a four-cylinder pure stock division that will run with the current V-6 Ironman cars, but be scored and paid separately. “I’m concerned about growing a class of younger, less experienced racers and providing them with an affordable place to learn and have fun,” he said.
Callen grew up on Midwestern dirt track racing at the likes of Knoxville, West Liberty and Oskaloosa Speedway in Iowa — where Tony Stewart shattered his leg last year in a sprint car race. He and his son Brian, who flags at Lee, on the Granite State Pro Stock Series circuit and beyond, have been known to catch a 6 a.m. flight to the Quad City airport in Moline, Ill., to make a Saturday race.
“I haven’t been to Bear Ridge yet, but it’s on my bucket list,” Callen said.
Lee USA owners Red and Judy MacDonald didn’t make the Bristol trip to see son Eddie, aka “The Outlaw,” win the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol last month in the Grimm Motorsports/Multiple Sclerosis Society No. 71, but MacDonald will likely compete in the Governor’s Cup 150.
“It was Eddie’s first southern win,” Mama MacDonald said. “He said it felt fantastic.”
White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock is slated to open Saturday, May 17. The following week, the Pro All-Star Series is in town for the first of two 2014 appearances.
Tom Herzig’s column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.