As Ronnie Williams plummeted through the field late in Saturday’s Icebreaker 125 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, it seemed the veteran Modified racer had gambled poorly on pit strategy.
As Williams went a lap down under green-flag racing, it was certain.
But in the final sprint to the checkered flag, it was Williams making the winning pass, claiming a $10,000 jackpot to close out the 49th edition of New England’s opening weekend for oval-track racing.
With a few timely breaks late in the going, the financial advisor from Ellington, Conn. played the long game to perfection. But he admitted that the strategy call that nearly cost him the race was his choice from behind the wheel.
“I think that I got fired with about 19 to go,” Williams said. “We had got lapped. Yeah, that was my call there to stay out. It didn’t look too good for a while.”
For a third year, the Icebreaker weekend was co-promoted by Maine’s Pro All Stars Series and Vermont’s American-Canadian Tour. And for a third year, the regional lidlifter was impacted by inclement weather, with rain postponing this year’s Icebreaker by a week. A busy Friday-night racing card was followed by Saturday afternoon’s program, anchored by the PASS North Super Late Models and the traditional Modified feature.
Keith Rocco and Matt Swanson brought the afternoon’s final feature to the green flag, swapping the lead early before Williams found his way to the point. Woody Pitkat and Chris Pasteryak followed Williams to the front, with Rocco sliding to fourth as the Stafford Motor Speedway veterans set the pace.
With 55 laps in the books, Carl Medeiros, Jr. brushed the turn-two wall and came to a stop ahead of the leaders, with Pasteryak spinning to avoid the stalled car as the caution flew. Swanson and Todd Owen were among the few who pitted under the yellow.
Williams beat Pitkat to the line on the restart, but a spinning Andrew Charron brought out a quick caution and gave Rocco a shot at the lead. Rocco was wheel-to-wheel with Williams for a couple laps, but Williams shook “Kid Roc” free to take control.
Williams showed the way until Anthony Bello’s lap-72 spin slowed the race once again. This time, most of the frontrunners ducked into the pits, leaving Williams and reigning NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champ Jon McKennedy on track. Rocco emerged from the pits to line up on Williams’ bumper on fresh rubber.
RJ Marcotte jumped into the lead on the restart, and as those on fresh tires jockeyed for position, Williams sank through the field, quickly losing touch with the lead pack. Anthony Nocella wasted little time getting around Marcotte, with Pitkat climbing back to second. Trapped on worn tires, Williams eased his way around the oval, falling a lap down to Nocella with fewer than twenty laps remaining.
Then Teddy Hodgdon pulled into the frontstretch grass with mechanical issues, freezing the field with 18 laps remaining. Williams pitted for tires at last. Three laps later, Charron spun a second time, drawing another yellow. Williams dodged the spin and was awarded the free pass, joining the field at the tail end of the lead lap with fifteen circuits remaining.
While Nocella held off Pitkat and Mike Christopher, Jr. at the front of the field, Williams carved his way through traffic. Williams slipped by McKennedy for second with two laps to go, but Nocella had a healthy cushion over the rest of the field.
Deeper in the field, contact with Bello sent Pitkat hard into the wall, drawing one last caution flag to set up a two-lap shootout.
And with a clear view of the frontstretch for the restart, two laps were all that Williams needed.
Twice a winner in Modified Racing Series competition at Thompson, Williams powered to the victory to close out Icebreaker weekend and kick off the venerable track’s oval schedule for 2023.
McKennedy edged out Nocella for second, while the late-race leader settled for third. Mike Christopher, Jr. finished fourth for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Owen rounded out the top five.
Saturday’s Icebreaker was the third run under the sanction of the Outlaw Open Modified Series, created to fill the void left by NASCAR’s absence in the first year of the PASS-ACT lease arrangement. NASCAR has since returned to Thompson with late-season dates, but the Icebreaker remains an open-competition event, welcoming entrants from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series, Modified Racing Series and even the Nutmeg State’s healthy SK Modified ranks.
Largely out of necessity, the Icebreaker has been reimagined in the mold of the big-purse open-competition shows that have become so popular in recent years. Stafford’s Spring Sizzler and Fall Final, also staple NASCAR Tour dates for many years, have taken the same approach with great success. Schedule conflicts and the weather have perhaps kept the Icebreaker from enjoying the same popularity.
Williams has raced the big open-competition shows and series with car owner Gary Casella for several years, picking up multiple Modified Racing Series wins and a Tri-Track championship in 2019. But Williams and Casella parted ways over the offseason. Williams’ new partner for the biggest shows in the region is Adam Skowyra, who has fielded fast equipment for the young racer in SK Modified competition at Stafford and even on the NASCAR Tour.
A win in the region’s first big race could be a sign of things to come.
Outlaw Open Modified Series Icebreaker 125
Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park
1. (50W) Ronnie Williams
2. (79) Jon McKennedy
3. (92MA) Anthony Nocella
4. (7NY) Mike Christopher, Jr.
5. (81) Todd Owen
6. (5CT) Chris Pasteryak
7. (25) Matt Swanson
8. (179) Anthony Bello
9. (5MA) RJ Marcotte
10. (01NY) Artie Pedersen III
11. (1) George Bessette, Jr.
12. (57) Keith Rocco
13. (31C) Andrew Charron
14. (88) Woody Pitkat
15. (55CT) Teddy Hodgdon
16. (28) Buddy Charette
17. (4NH) Tommy Barrett
18. (50M) Carl Medeiros, Jr.
19. (33) Paul Buzel
20. (43) Devin O’Connell
21. (17) Kevin Folan
DNS (08) Nick Halkowicz