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Opinion: Thompson oval changes a slap in the face to short track fans and racers

Jeff Brown | STS

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.”

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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.

RELATED: 2019 season coverage from Thompson Speedway

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.

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Paul Lambert is an aspiring collegiate journalist. A writer and broadcaster, Paul's excited to cover New England short track racing in 2019. Paul has also been published in Speedway Illustrated and on Autoweek.com.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ronald

    December 27, 2019 at 5:47 pm

    This is absolute nonsense it’s North Wilkesboro all over again you have guys playing golf over there now they want to turn it into a road course so guys with a Corvettes can go out on a Sunday after Golf and run the road course in that $80,000 Corvette now I’m sure that’s not just the only case I’m sure they’ll be me out is and all kinds of other stuff out there but what about the modifieds the late models all the other divisions that race at the oval it’s a great track it’s an American tradition to do this is crazy in the money they pay to the winner you can’t even buy a set of tires it’s ridiculous I don’t know what to say sounds like a bunch of Rich guys getting together to play golf and jump in their expensive cars and run a few laps which they’ll probably charge you a full hundred bucks for five or six laps I don’t know stupid move I don’t know what CEO stands for but it sure does not stands for brains the organization that we race with we go to Thompson it’s a vintage class and we don’t get paid any money the drivers don’t they do it just the show how it used to look like in the old days but the toy drive is and the regular Drive is there they need the money to keep operations going they’re not retired I don’t know what to say it stinks

  2. Norm

    December 28, 2019 at 6:08 am

    Enjoyed your piece. They will keep the big $ spring and fall events and the mid season Mod race and abandon the weekly racer. I think they would make it impossible for another promoter to make a profit.
    Shame on them.

  3. Anonymous

    December 28, 2019 at 10:51 am

    Just a matter of time and poof!!!!
    G o n e !!!

  4. curtis

    December 28, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    It’s very simple.. The Hoenig’s only care about themselves. Ever since the kids took over operations, it’s been about profit and nothing else. They dont give a damn about the racers, the fans, and especially the history. It’s a real shame because it really is a fantastic facility. To bad its run by spoild brats instead of people who care about racing.

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