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NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour

PASS and ACT principles to co-promote racing at Thompson Speedway

Thompson Speedway, 2019 World Series
Fans await the start of last October's NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour feature at Thompson Speedway's annual Sunoco World Series. After sitting idle this year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson will come back to life later this summer. (Jeff Brown photo)

After months spent shrouded in uncertainty following a controversial offseason, the oldest paved racing facility in the United States will race again this summer, thanks to a coalition of veteran Northeastern promoters.

Pro All Stars Series president and owner Tom Mayberry and American-Canadian Tour managing partner Cris Michaud announced today that their respective organizations will join forces once again to promote events at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.

The high-banked Connecticut oval will host two race weekends proctored by Mayberry and Michaud, with an eye to options for the 2021 season if all goes well.

In a year that has tested the mettle of Connecticut’s racing community, the news is a breath of fresh air.

Under the care of Mayberry and Michaud, Thompson will open its oval racing season at last with an open test session on August 19th. The first of Mayberry and Michaud’s two races will be a mid-week special on Wednesday, September 2nd, anchored by the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. The weeknight feature will be the Whelen Modified Tour’s first race of the year in the series’ de facto home state.

The second scheduled event is the 58th Annual World Series of Speedway Racing, Thompson’s year-ending multi-series spectacular. Last year’s World Series included season finales for the Whelen Modified Tour, the American-Canadian Tour Late Models and the International Supermodified Association, with other divisions either crowning champions of their own or setting the stage for their own finale weekends. This year’s World Series is scheduled from October 9 to October 11.

Schedules and participating series have not been confirmed beyond the Whelen Modified Tour appearance in September, but further details have been promised for next week.

It is a step in a positive direction for a track that has faced uncertainty since the dawn of the New Year.

Late in December, Thompson Speedway CEO Jonathan Hoenig advised the track’s regular competitors of changes to their oval track program in 2020, citing a decline in attendance and the costs of a pending repave. Teams were presented with a shortened schedule of six events in 2020, along with a reduced purse structure.

The emergence of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 presented additional challenges a few months later. With Connecticut in close proximity to the hard-hit states of New York and New Jersey, the state put extensive preventive measures in place, limiting travel and large group gatherings to curb the spread of the virus, and effectively putting auto racing in park.

Stafford Motor Speedway in nearby Stafford Springs reopened in late June, with fans allowed to return at a quarter of the speedway’s capacity. But while masked fans filed into the Stafford gates, Thompson sat idle.

Former Thompson general manager Terry Eames, who lost his role at the track through pandemic-motivated budget cuts, pulled together a promotional plan to stage events at Thompson later in the summer, but his plans did not come to fruition.

That opened the door for Mayberry and Michaud.

The two promoters and former racers have worked in close concert since Michaud and business partner Pat Malone purchased the American-Canadian Tour in 2017. Just a few years prior, Mayberry’s PASS and Tom Curley’s ACT were rival tours. But the two Toms made peace in 2015, staging several PASS-ACT double features in the coming years. The truce continued through Curley’s death in early 2017, and Michaud nurtured the connection when he and Malone acquired the series later that year. “I believe it has worked well,” Michaud said earlier this year of his relationship with Mayberry. “I think it’s a great benefit to our fans and some of our drivers.”

That collaboration paid off further through Michaud’s ownership of White Mountain Motorsports Park, a New Hampshire bullring that he and Malone purchased in late 2018. Stringent pandemic restrictions in PASS’ home state of Maine and ACT’s native Vermont kept the two series’ own home tracks, Oxford Plains Speedway and Thunder Road International Speedbowl, from welcoming racing back. But with New Hampshire taking a more lenient approach to reopening, Michaud had a venue that could jump-start the delayed racing season.

WMMP hosted the first PASS and ACT races of 2020, with PASS running three of its first four races of 2020 at the quarter-mile oval. In July, the speedway welcomed the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for the first of two appearances at WMMP this year, the first visit to WMMP by a NASCAR touring series since 1994.

With at least three co-sanctioned events remaining on the 2020 calendar, the partnership between Mayberry and Michaud is as strong as ever.

Both PASS and ACT have a history at Thompson, with the PASS Super Late Models featured at Thompson’s season-opening Icebreaker weekend and the ACT concluding its season as part of the World Series for the last five years. Interestingly, neither tour was scheduled to compete at Thompson in 2020, with only the Granite State Pro Stock Series on the track’s itinerary as part of the World Series.

Whether the two series will be part of the new Thompson program remains to be seen. The September event comes on the heels of the PASS-sanctioned Oxford 250 weekend, where the ACT will compete as well. PASS seems committed to staying the course on the 250’s date, but with strict fan limitations still in force, pundits have speculated that a move to later in the year would be advantageous, only if it would allow more fans in the stands for the region’s biggest and richest Super Late Model race.

The World Series weekend remains open on both schedules.

For now, the only certainty is that, for the first time this season, racing on the high banks at Thompson Speedway no longer seems like a lost cause.

And with the support of Tom Mayberry and Cris Michaud, one of New England’s most storied race weekends will live on, almost exactly as planned.

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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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