Woody Pitkat is certainly a veteran of Sunoco Modified racing at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Just four years ago, the Stafford, Conn., driver won the championship in Thompson’s premiere division for the second time, following up a 2006 title with another one just about a decade later. After finishing sixth in the Sunoco Modified points chase last year, Pitkat and Mertz decided they wouldn’t be running for the Thompson crown in 2019.
But, after a little bit of discussion over the off-season, Pitkat found a seat for the 45th annual Icebreaker driving for veteran car owner Dan Avery. As of now, it looks like the combination might be going to try to put Pitkat back in championship glory at Thompson.
“I talked to Dan over the winter, I ran the car at Stafford last year for him once and finished second, and Dan knows he wants to be a car owner in the next few years,” Pitkat said. “I told him about Thompson, and we decided we would go to the Icebreaker and see how things went. His plans right now are to try to do the whole deal at Thompson. There might be one race that is a little bit shaky, but, the plan is go for the whole deal.”
If the Icebreaker is any indication, the success Pitkat is having with Avery might last a while. After finishing third in his heat race, Pitkat worked up through the top five in the early portion of the 30-lap Sunoco Modified feature to open the season, and was able to bring home the No. 10 Horsepower Hill Farm machine with a solid third-place finish. Avery’s other entry, driven by Glen Reen, finished fifth.
“After practice I said that of the three divisions I was running during the weekend, we unloaded good right out of the box. We didn’t even really change a whole lot, we learned a little bit in the heat about what we needed the car to do for the feature,” Pitkat said.
“They came over the radio halfway through the race and I told them it drove like a Cadillac, and I wasn’t lying. It handled perfect the whole day. We need to do a little bit of homework to get a little bit better, but Dan should be very proud of his team to go to Thompson having not run before and come out with two top-fives.”
Pitkat also was busy over the course of Icebreaker weekend driving in another NASCAR Whelen All-American Series division, and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
Behind the wheel of the No. 91 Late Model for Hartwell Motorsports, Pitkat had similar success, finishing fifth in his heat and driving from his 10th place starting position up to another third-place effort.
The Late Model feature was run following the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race, meaning it concluded a day of 205 laps of racing action behind the wheel for Pitkat. Even though he does have a previous Late Model championship at Thompson back in 2002, the cars have changed drastically under the hood and they do drive differently on the track, but he’s adapting well and still having success.
“I was actually racing against my car owner back then, and we had too much motor with not enough chassis, but now we have superior chassis with not enough motors, totally opposite out there,” Pitkat said. “For me, a race car is a race car. I’ve run a few ACT Tour races and maybe that has helped my adjustability to these new style cars, but I’ve noticed all of the cars are pretty much equal.”
After teaming with Hartwell, Pitkat was in contention for the championship last year going into the final few races, but the team took that success and invested in the team even more over the winter.
They seem committed to running at the front of the field consistently in one of Thompson’s most competitive classes.
“Last year we had a lot of just bad luck, we were in the hunt with a few races to go but then we had a bad heat race, and then something happened in the feature and in the World Series I got wrecked in the heat race and didn’t even run the feature,” Pitkat said. “The guys worked really hard over the winter, technology wise and more, to upgrade the equipment. When we unloaded this year, we were two or three tenths faster than we have ever been. It’s nice to see the hard work over the winter pay off.”
And with a month off before the second NASCAR Whelen All-American Series race of the season, Pitkat feels like the Late Model team has time to make a few additional adjustments that will help him get closer to Victory Lane.
Is he ready to return to winning form in the class?
“I believe so,” Pitkat said. “We’ve been chasing the steering since day one, it’s just a weird steering where I almost feel like you have to have arms like animals. I might have noticed it more now jumping from the Sunoco Modified to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to the Late Model at the Icebreaker, but something happened towards the end of the race where I was having trouble with it. They are changing all of it so it will be more towards what I accustomed to in the Sunoco Modified, so I think that will help a lot. With all of the stuff they have found and all of the work done over the winter, I think we are definitely going to be in contention to win.”
In the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Icebreaker 150, Pitkat finished eighth, marking his first top 10 in the three races run this season on the Whelen Modified Tour. He will return to Thompson with the No. 82 Horton Avenue Materials Chevrolet again on Wednesday, June 5 for the Thompson 125.
But for now, Pitkat will be back on track for the second race of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season on Sunday, May 19, when Thompson’s Limited Sportsman division goes extra distance with a 30-lap special event.