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Rain Forces Rescheduling, Postponement Of Thompson Icebreaker Features

Weather has affected the last three Icebreaker weekends, and while Thompson Speedway dodged this week’s late snow storm, rain still played a factor in Saturday’s program.

Despite Thompson Speedway's best efforts, lingering rain and a chilly race surface forced promoters to reschedule four of the six features on the first day of the track's Icebreaker opening weekend. (STS/Jeff Brown)

For a fleeting moment earlier this week, it appeared that Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and its season-opening Icebreaker might dodge the weather woes that have plagued the last three seasons.

But on Saturday, the skies spat forth a response to the contrary.

Persistent showers and frigid temperatures prompted organizers to call off the majority of Saturday’s Icebreaker program just as the waning sun set, rolling some of the postponed racing action into Sunday’s program featuring the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

The Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series will have to wait until October to make its feature race debut on Thompson Speedway’s high banks. (STS/Jeff Brown)

The Constantine Paving & Sealing 75, the hotly-anticipated Thompson debut of the Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series, has been moved to October’s World Series weekend, anchoring the three-day schedule’s Friday-night card. A date for the Evolve Bank & Mortgage Pro Truck Series will be announced later on.

Features for Thompson’s 604 Modifieds and Mini Stocks, meanwhile, will be staged on Sunday.

In a region where weather’s unpredictability is the oldest of running jokes, perhaps naming a racing event after climate extremes is the epitome of tempting fate. But in a region where the racing season is already markedly short, some track has to open first.

For several years, that track has been Thompson. The Icebreaker is a storied tradition in its 50th season, the first big opening weekend for racers and fans to look forward to. After a year off in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, promoters Cris Michaud and Tom Mayberry collaborated to bring the tradition back for 2021. This is the fourth year of the Michaud-Mayberry partnership. With nine major events planned for 2024, it represents the most ambitious oval schedule at the track in years.

Ambition, though, is often tempered by outside forces.

And weather has proven a tough nut to crack, playing a factor in every Icebreaker under the Michaud-Mayberry partnership. In 2021, a threatening forecast resulted in a single-day format, running both the Saturday and Sunday programs on Saturday instead. In 2022, the Sunday schedule was proactively postponed to the following Saturday, where it was completed despite the persistent threat of rain. Last year’s Icebreaker was scheduled for the last weekend of March, but a clear washout for the weekend forced it to be moved to a Friday-Saturday program the next week.

It’s a frustrating pattern for Michaud and Mayberry, who have borne the financial risk of keeping one of New England’s most iconic race weekends alive.

Derek Griffith took the checkered flag in the PASS Icebreaker 75, the first of six planned features for the day. (STS/Jeff Brown)

This year, New England enjoyed a mild winter capped by back-to-back spring snowstorms, dumping upwards of a foot each in parts of the six-state region. The second of those storms arrived Wednesday into Thursday. Parts of Maine received another foot or two of heavy snow, knocking out power for days. Many racers in the pits this weekend had scrambled just to get to Thompson; Rusty Poland solicited help on Facebook to get his car out of his powerless shop on Thursday, and Austin Teras said he still had no power at his shop in Maine.

Fortunately for Thompson, the storm produced ice and rain south of the New Hampshire border, merely dampening the Connecticut oval ahead of the weekend.

The worst possible fate, having to let the snow melt before Friday’s practice day, had been dodged. But the refreshed forecast that had been promising a week before now hinted at showers throughout the day on Saturday.

Sure enough, Saturday’s weather arrived as scheduled. Moments before the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models rolled onto the track for their heats, cold drizzle dampened the track. Rains would roll out as quickly as they would roll in, with schedulers juggling the qualifying order to keep heat in the track, trying to take advantage of every window possible.

But every window would close as soon as it opened. PASS teams staged on the backstretch were pelted with hail and ice in a squall immediately before their feature race, staying true to the event name. Rain interrupted the 75-lap feature at least three times, with teams often deploying car covers on pit road only to whisk them off once again.

PASS teams walk their car covers out to pit road during a brief rain delay, only to bring them back in as the rain stopped. (STS/Jeff Brown)

Derek Griffith clinched the PASS feature, and Al Stone III turned in a dominant performance in the Street Stock feature, escaping significant weather for their 25-lap event.

As the Monaco Modifieds rolled out for pace laps, the ground-pounders ducked onto pit road, the track soaked once again and too wet to race. This time, the rainfall was more sustained, requiring an hour’s work to dry the speedway. The Modifieds returned to the track in hopes of starting the feature, but were quickly called back in. As soon as the field parked for further track-drying efforts, the skies opened up again, undoing all the past hour’s progress.

New London-Waterford Speedbowl veteran Al Stone III dominated the Street Stock feature before the rains came for good. (STS/Jeff Brown)

With temperatures in the low forties and the lingering sun fading fast, there was little likelihood of getting the track dry enough to race.

The long wait in calling the event was likely because of the logistical nightmare of moving the Monaco Modified feature. Local ordinances prevent Thompson from allowing the firing of engines before noon on Sunday. With four feature races already booked, including a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event on a strict TV schedule, the Monaco Modifieds would have stretched Sunday’s on-track action well into the evening hours on a chilly Sunday. The teams would also have had to clear the garage area for the evening to accommodate the incoming NASCAR Tour, creating another logistical dilemma.

Given the alternatives, moving the race to October is likely the best option available for both the track and the series.

Thompson’s travails the last few seasons highlight the challenges of racing in New England in April. Thompson is hardly alone; weather forced a rescheduling of the Northeast Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2022, and last year’s Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway was moved to May after a rainout. Some tracks, like Lee USA Speedway, have done away with April efforts altogether, starting their season later in the spring.

But big weekends like the Icebreaker are harder to book, sans conflict, once weekly tracks have opened for the season. The end of the year is already heavily booked, too: August’s Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway kickstarts a series of major event weekends that stretches into late October.

That said, the mild winters and late snowfalls of recent years beg the question of whether November racing could be an avenue for tracks to take. Of course, an early snowfall would be a sure season-ender, potentially impacting championship battles if finales were to be canceled altogether.

But New England’s racers are nothing if not persistent and resilient.

And as long as there is promise in the forecast, there will be racers at the track.

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Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. A native of New Hampshire and a long-time fan of New England racing, Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional Late Model touring series.

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