Friday may go down as one of the saddest and most fateful days in recent memory in the New England short track scene.
As RaceDayCT reported earlier Friday, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park CEO Jonathan Hoenig sent out a letter to competitors announcing that the 2020 season would comprise of a six-race schedule and a reduced purse structure. The new structure cuts winnings down to just $425 for the winner of the track’s Sunoco Modified division, $300 for Late Models, $250 for SK Lights, $175 for Limited Sportsman, and $125 for Mini Stocks. Furthermore, only the top-10 will receive any money in each division.
Should competitors not agree to these changes by January 15 of next year, “we will be forced to eliminate the NASCAR sanction and the NWS program entirely here at Thompson,” Hoenig wrote.
To proceed to not only cut the number of scheduled events but also the purses of those races, which will almost certainly result in a massive cut in car count, is a suicidal move from the perspective of the oval track.
It’s no secret that improvements at Thompson in recent years have been focused heavily on building the new 1.7-mile road course, which cost the track an estimated $5.5 million. It appears that no such work is on the horizon for the oval. The oval is in need of being resurfaced in the near future, but according to Hoenig, “As of right now, revenues from NWS events simply do not justify this major expense. The track condition will eventually not allow for safe racing conditions which will lead to the inevitable abandonment of portions of the track.”
It’s almost like the Thompson Speedway management is daring drivers not to compete in 2020. They’ve cut the purses. They’ve cut the schedule. Now, they’re telling teams that they won’t be fixing the oval and plan on abandoning it in the near future. To be blunt, what’s the deal?
Eight-time Thompson Sunoco Modified champion Keith Rocco certainly feels that way.
“After reading the email that they sent out and seeing what the actual payout is, the way I read between the lines is they’re in a roundabout way trying to push the [oval] track guys away,” Rocco told RaceDayCT. “To me it seems like it’s going to be ‘Okay, you don’t want to race so we probably won’t race.’ That’s the way I read between the lines. But it’s not going to stop us.”
You have every right to be incensed at this move by track management.
Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park is an institution among ovals not only in New England but across the country too. Cars have been turning laps at the 5/8-mile oval since 1940. It is the oldest asphalt-paved oval racetrack in America.
It is nothing short of a slap in the face to both the competitors and fans to slim down both the number of races and the payouts to laughably low levels.
Names including Stevens, DeSarro, Evans, Hirschman, Christopher, and Stefanik have all raced at Thompson. All of that is now in jeopardy.
It is clear that from the way the oval has been treated since 2012 when the track announced that weekly racing would no longer be in the plans going forward, that the plan has always been to make the road course the focal point of the facility. That’s a shame for the short track racing community.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Too many tracks have closed or faded away in recent years. Should Thompson pull its NASCAR sanction, there will be only two tracks in southern New England sanctioned by NASCAR: Stafford Motor Speedway and Seekonk Speedway. Only Stafford races SK Modifieds on a regular basis.
If the Hoenig family doesn’t feel like running the oval, why not outsource oval operations, separate from the road course, to someone else. Based on the 2019 season, there is certainly enough interest to make something viable out of this situation.
The truth is that Thompson Speedway is too important to the racing world to just fade away.
It can’t end this way.