Only a few months ago, it seemed likely that the high-banked oval at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park would remain as quiet as the surrounding hills and farmland of eastern Connecticut.
But after two successful events to jump-start the season, the legendary track has earned a reprieve for 2021.
American-Canadian Tour managing partner Cris Michaud and Pro All Stars Series owner Tom Mayberry announced Thursday that they will again team up next year to promote six major events at the speedway, securing a future for at least another year for oval racing at one of Connecticut’s three remaining paved ovals.
And while the new schedule for Thompson Speedway has a different look from that of years past, it calls upon the past to revive one of the Nutmeg State’s most storied crown jewels.
The cornerstone of the six-race schedule is the all-new Thompson Outlaw Open Modified Series, with each of the track’s six events anchored by an all-star showdown for the ground-pounding Tour-type Modifieds.
Thompson’s 2021 season will open with the 46th annual Icebreaker, with three days of on-track action from April 9 through April 11. A 150-lap, $10,000-to-win Open Modified Series feature will be the main event of the weekend.
The Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing will conclude the schedule, with the 59th edition of the event running from October 8 to October 10. Highlighting the World Series weekend will be the return of the Thompson 300, a 300-lap marathon for Tour-type Modifieds. The late Ted Christopher won the last Thompson 300 in 2005, run as a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event.
The 2021 Thompson 300 promises a winner’s payout of $20,000 plus lap-leader money, making it one of the richest events for Tour-type Modifieds.
Thompson’s other four events next year are Wednesday-night programs, with feature racing on June 16, July 7, August 11 and September 8. The weeknight programs were constructed not to conflict with weekend touring dates, while following a midweek model Thompson has employed for years with events like the Budweiser “King of Beers” 150 and this September’s Thompson 150.
Each of the midweek events will be anchored by a $5,000-to-win Outlaw Open Modified Series feature. Thompson’s traditional featured divisions will remain intact, with the Sunoco Modifieds atop a roster that includes ACT-rules Late Models, Limited Sportsmen, Mini Stocks and SK Light Modifieds. Plans for major events for each of the regular divisions remain in the works.
Michaud’s ACT Late Model Tour and Mayberry’s PASS North Super Late Models are likely to find a place on the Thompson schedule as well, with the Icebreaker and World Series weekends the most probable outcome. The ACT Tour concluded its 2019 season at the World Series, but was absent from Thompson in 2020. PASS North opened its season at the Icebreaker for several years, and was a late addition to the World Series this year.
Conspicuously missing from the schedule, though, is the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Next year will be the first in the Modified Tour’s history that the Tour has not stopped at Thompson, a track that hosted four Tour dates only a year ago.
But with the success of the Tri-Track Open Modified Series, another Tour-type Modified all-star circuit that has grown phenomenally with high-stakes races throughout New England, the new Thompson Outlaw Open Modified Series is a calculated gamble, if a gamble at all. An open-competition Tour-type Modified feature at this fall’s World Series was a resounding success, even within a weekend schedule that included features for the NASCAR Tour and Thompson’s own Sunoco Modifieds.
Thompson is a Modified Mecca, and with big money on the line, packed pits and grandstands filled to capacity are not hard to expect.
Of note, none of the three tracks owned by Michaud and Mayberry bear NASCAR’s sanction. NASCAR’s Home Tracks directory still lists Thompson among its member speedways, but it seems unlikely their sanctioning would be necessary for next year’s plans.
Michaud and Mayberry have become a major force in New England race promotion over the last several months. White Mountain Motorsports Park, co-owned by Michaud and ACT partner Pat Malone, was able to open the ACT and PASS touring seasons in June while both tours’ home tracks remained closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Michaud then worked with NASCAR to bring two Whelen Modified Tour dates to WMMP.
On the heels of the second Modified Tour trip to WMMP, Michaud and Mayberry announced they would co-promote two events at Thompson Speedway, a September midweek Modified Tour race and the season-ending World Series. Thompson had appeared unlikely to open at all in 2020, but September’s Modified feature rekindled the track’s spark, and a successful World Series a month later fanned the flames.
Plenty of pandemic-related uncertainty still faces racers, promoters and fans alike for next year. But within that uncertainty, promoters are laying the early groundwork for a 2021 season that looks more like the schedules of the past.
And with Michaud and Mayberry at the helm, Thompson’s outlook in an uncertain world is that much brighter.