When Jon McKennedy celebrated his emotional win in September’s Star Classic, fans of big-block Supermodifieds savored what they believed would be the final New England appearance of the year for the exotic winged short-track cars.
It turns out some things are subject to change.
And others remain the same.
McKennedy made a late-race pass on veteran Christopher Perley to win the International Supermodified Association’s season finale Sunday at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, completing a clean sweep of the truncated 2020 ISMA schedule.
For the Chelmsford, Mass. native, it was his second straight win in the fall ISMA feature at Thompson, part of the historic speedway’s annual Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing.
McKennedy started third and immediately climbed to second, but it was polesitter Chris Perley who set the pace for the majority of the race. Perley, one of the winningest ISMA drivers, looked to be on track for his 75th career win as he blistered the high-banked Connecticut oval.
But McKennedy was hot on Perley’s heels, making a few dives at the “Rowley Rocket” as they worked past slower traffic in the corners.
At last, McKennedy made it stick on lap 42, taking the lead and driving away for his third win of 2020 and his fourth straight ISMA-sanctioned win.
Perley held on for second, his best finish of the year and his third top-five run in Vic Miller’s familiar #11. Finishing third was Ronnie Williams, with the Tour-type Modified ace making his first start in a winged Supermodified for car owner Howie Lane. Mike Ordway, Jr. was fourth in the Clyde Booth #61, with Anthony Nocella fifth in Howie Lane’s second car.
Veteran racer Otto Sitterly, who famously tested one of the winged cars at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway over the offseason, started outside the front row but finished sixth, ahead of Ryan Locke, Dan Connors, Kyle Edwards and Dave Danzer. Sixteen cars took the green flag in a feature that was slowed by one caution and over in just under twenty minutes.
But Sunday’s race was even more remarkable in that, only a few weeks ago, it was not even supposed to happen.
Both the speedway and the sanctioning body were hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thompson Speedway was stifled under strict limitations for fan attendance by the state of Connecticut, and with this season’s oval track program already on thin ice, it seemed likely that the track simply would not open for 2020. ISMA’s home track, Oswego Speedway in central New York, was in a similar situation. With travel bans affecting racers in Canada and west of New England, and reduced fan attendance at tracks impacting their ability to pay for touring divisions, ISMA was forced to cancel most of its schedule.
New England promoters Cris Michaud of the American-Canadian Tour and Tom Mayberry of the Pro All Stars Series joined forces in August to promote two major events at Thompson, a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race in early September and the famed World Series. Based on finances at the time, and the myriad travel challenges facing teams, ISMA’s usual appearance at the World Series was scrapped, with a feature race for small-block 350 Supermodifieds scheduled in its place.
ISMA, meanwhile, went forward with a bare-bones schedule. The annual Hy-Miler Nationals in Sandusky, Ohio were run as a non-ISMA doubleheader, while two remaining races, August’s Ollie Silva Memorial at Lee (N.H.) USA Speedway and September’s Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial 125 at Star Speedway in nearby Epping, were run under ISMA’s sanctioning.
Then the state of Connecticut lightened its attendance restrictions in mid-September. Buoyed by increased ticket revenue and outside sponsorship for the annual racing weekend, Michaud, Mayberry and ISMA brokered a deal to bring the big-block Supermodifieds back to Thompson for the World Series. The ISMA appearance offset a minor controversy surrounding the 350 Supermodifieds, with promoter John Burke’s 350 SMAC organization announcing a major event at Riverside Speedway in northern New Hampshire for the small-block weekly cars. With big money on the line at Riverside, most of the region’s 350 Supermodified competitors headed north instead.
Bobby Timmons III, a Star Speedway 350 Supermodified regular, was the only driver to attempt both Supermodified features at Thompson. Timmons, making his first trip to Thompson as a driver, won Saturday night’s small-block feature before making his third career start in a big-block Supermodified. Mechanical trouble forced Timmons’ low-buck team to the pit area shortly after halfway; the Windham, Me. driver was credited with 13th.
McKennedy, on the other hand, capped off a successful year in a new ride. McKennedy’s win in last year’s ISMA feature at Thompson was a send-off for longtime car owners Lee and Pam Vinal, who retired after the 2019 season. After securing a deal to drive full-time for Tommy Baldwin in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for 2020, McKennedy teamed with new owners Tim and Sheryl Lepine to field the #79 Supermodified.
In their three races together, McKennedy and the Lepines visited victory lane each time.
No champion was awarded for ISMA in 2020, lending to the shortened schedule and limited field of participants.
But had there been a championship trophy on the line at Thompson, Jon McKennedy undoubtedly would have hoisted it in victory lane.
Unofficial Results, ISMA Sunoco World Series 50 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park:
1. (79) Jon McKennedy
2. (11) Chris Perley
3. (97) Ronnie Williams
4. (61) Mike Ordway, Jr.
5. (9) Anthony Nocella
6. (7) Otto Sitterly
7. (37) Ryan Locke
8. (01) Dan Connors
9. (11E) Kyle Edwards
10. (52) Dave Danzer
11. (25) Dan Bowes
12. (14) Joey Payne
13. (13) Bobby Timmons III
14. (51) Dave Duggan
15. (32) Ben Seitz
16. (88) AJ Lesiecki
DNS (27) Jamie Timmons