As Justin Bonsignore drove his championship-winning Modified from the frontstretch of Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Sunday evening, the sun set not only on a day of racing, not only on a thrilling final round in the title battle, but on a full three-day weekend’s worth of auto racing.
For three days, the historic speedway in Connecticut’s so-called “Quiet Corner” was anything but, hosting nineteen divisions of racing and throngs of racers in the 58th running of the year-ending World Series of Speedway Racing.
And while a lot of familiar faces earned credit for managing one of New England’s biggest race weekends of the year, two new names had an awful lot to do with making sure the 58th World Series happened at all.
Indeed, without the risks and the leaps of faith undertaken by Cris Michaud and Tom Mayberry, Thompson Speedway may have sat idle into next year.
Michaud and Mayberry are not new to motorsports, or to motorsports promotion. Michaud, co-owner and managing partner of the American-Canadian Tour, has held key roles with ACT for years. Mayberry is in his twentieth year at the helm of the Pro All Stars Series, New England’s top touring destination for Super Late Models. Both are former drivers. Both own race tracks. Both are responsible for some of the biggest fendered race weekends in New England.
Nor are Michaud nor Mayberry new to Thompson. The PASS Super Late Models have been featured at the season-opening Icebreaker; the ACT Late Models, also one of the track’s regular divisions, have been part of the World Series weekend.
And cross-promoting events is hardly new to the tandem, either. Michaud’s ACT and Mayberry’s PASS have been close collaborators with multiple annual doubleheader weekends, a truce forged in 2015 when ACT was headed by the late Tom Curley.
But generally, those events have been within the circle of tracks operated under the umbrella of the two series, with either ACT or PASS at the top of the day’s billed events.
Instead, Michaud and Mayberry took a plunge into the unknown, promoting two big events at a track neither owns in conjunction with a sanctioning body they rarely partner with.
And they exceeded expectations.
The 2020 motorsports season has been an ongoing story of best efforts. Little has been ideal about the season, whether for racers, for fans, for promoters or track owners. Faced with the alternative of no racing at all, racers and fans and promoters and track owners have found creative ways to make the sport work in a new and unfamiliar world, seizing any opportunity to keep racing alive.
That creativity and opportunity that brought Cris Michaud and NASCAR together early in the year. White Mountain Motorsports Park, one of the two tracks Michaud co-owns, was given the green light in early June, with both PASS and the ACT Tour opening their seasons at the New Hampshire quarter-mile. New Hampshire’s low caseload prompted the state to allow limited fans by the time of the mid-June ACT season opener.
NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour needed race dates. Michaud had a track that was open for business. Michaud and NASCAR forged a deal, and WMMP hosted the second and third Whelen Modified Tour races of 2020.
Thompson Speedway’s oval-racing program, meanwhile, was on thin ice before a pandemic became front-page news. Connecticut’s travel restrictions and tight attendance limits, combined with the cancellation of the touring races that prop up its own schedule, forced the track to sit idle, even as nearby Stafford Motor Speedway opened with limited guests in late June. Promoter Terry Eames tried to gather the funds to support a few late-season races, but the cloud of COVID-inspired uncertainty hampered his efforts. It appeared that Thompson would be fortunate to open for oval racing at all in 2020.
Enter Michaud and Mayberry.
Only a few days after WMMP’s second Whelen Modified Tour visit in early August, the two series magnates announced that they would join forces to promote a pair of race weekends at Thompson. The first would be an early-September visit for the Modifieds, only days after the PASS-anchored Oxford 250 weekend in Maine. The second would be October’s annual World Series.
In an instant, two of New England’s top fendered promoters were deeply invested in the world of open-wheel, Tour-type Modified racing, and not just anywhere. Modified racing in Connecticut, after all, commands a nearly-religious fervor.
And for race fans in southern New England, as well as across the region, the World Series of Speedway Racing is the holiest weekend of the year. Nearly twenty different divisions of race cars pack the makeshift pits spread across the Thompson road course behind turns one and two, from weekly Street Stocks and Late Models and Mini Stocks to open-wheeled Midgets and Supermodifieds and Tour-type Modifieds to the featured regional touring divisions. Some races are the culmination of a championship season; others are one-off shows unto themselves.
In a part of the country where good weather is no guarantee as October presses on, Thompson’s World Series is the last big gathering, the last tailgate party, the last sure thing in regional racing.
Of all the events to promote, the World Series is one where simply calling a weekend the World Series would never be enough.
Michaud and Mayberry knocked it out of the park.
Not to say that good fortune wasn’t involved. Connecticut’s strict fan-attendance limitations were relaxed leading up to the World Series, allowing the stands to open to half-capacity. The additional ticket revenue was enough to justify inviting the ISMA Supermodifieds at the last minute, enough to support respectable purses for each feature. The weather, a wildcard not even the best promoter can control, was ideal all weekend.
Michaud and Mayberry also had a top-notch support team on hand, with familiar faces like Scott Tapley and Kyle Souza and so many others keeping the show moving from feature to feature, from day to day.
And not to suggest that promoting the World Series was an act of charity, either. Clearly, neither promoter would risk his tour or his track for the sake of the World Series, without expecting some gain from the venture.
But Cris Michaud and Tom Mayberry truly earned their kudos for taking the colossal risk on their shoulders to ensure there would be a World Series this year.
Neither had to do it. Neither Michaud nor Mayberry own a stake in Thompson. Neither owns a NASCAR-sanctioned track. Neither ACT nor PASS were on the Thompson schedule in 2020.
For the good of the sport, and with no results guaranteed, they took the risk on.
Thanks, Cris. Thanks, Tom.
Thanks for making the 58th World Series of Speedway Racing a reality.
For without a World Series this year, a World Series next year would be that much harder to count on.