THOMPSON, Conn. (WWLP) – “When you have a car that’s this good, the goal is to just not screw up!”
That was Doug Coby’s victory lane explanation after starting from the pole and leading nearly all 150 laps of The Icebreaker; the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener, at the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut. Coby told his team over the radio after the win, “We all did our job!”; almost an understatement considering how dominating the team’s performance was.
It was Coby’s 11th NWMT victory, his second at Thompson, and first Icebreaker win. In his victory lane interview, Coby talked about defending his NWMT title, “This is one race out of a long season. So it could go to you know where from here. I’m just hoping that this is a springboard for us into the rest of the season. My car owner, Smigs, Mike Smeriglio, he’s not here. Everybody knows he’s a CPA, so he’s knee-deep in tax season right now. We do this for him, this is his passion.”
Woody Pitkat rebounded from having to pit with a leak to finish second. Pitkat got a reaction from the fans in the stands when we referred to his wife Erica as his girlfriend before quickly correcting himself. Pitkat’s brother in law, Bobby Santos finished third, Ted Christopher was fourth, and Ryan Preece came in fifth after going a lap down from a power steering problem.
Connecticut rivals Coby and Preece have alternated 1-2 finishes in the last three years of the NWMT Championship standings. This season Coby returns in the #2 Chevrolet while Preece is now in the seat of the #6 Chevrolet owned by Ed Partridge. Partridge won the 2011 NWMT crown with driver Ron Silk. Coby & Preece drive for teams with powerful cars, committed ownership, and solid personnel. But what are the other factors and intangibles that come into play when winning a racing championship? How much of a role is good old fashioned luck? Coby told 22News,” I think luck is pretty important. I guess you kind of make your own luck. You put yourself in a position on the track in all these races whether it’s a big track like Loudon or a short track like Monadnock or Riverhead. I think for me it’s capitalizing on opportunities that are presented to me, and then letting some of the things take their course. I’m just trying to keep the car in one piece for every lap and not get into some stupid wreck.”
Preece told 22News it can come down to one night of racing. “One bad race. Last season it seemed like we couldn’t break the bad luck for a while. I’m sure every driver thinks that they can think back and say ‘Man, if I didn’t have this bad race I would have been there or I would have won the championship.’ There’s been two years where I can say that’s happened. That’s racing. I’d say him and I are pretty consistent. We usually don’t tear equipment up. Obviously we have cars that don’t fail on us either.”
Weekly tracks often present a Hard Luck Award at the end of the season to the driver who likely endured the most misfortune. There is no such award on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, but if there was, Rowan Pennink would certainly have the early lock on it. During Saturday morning practice, Pennink crashed hard between turns 3 and 4, and then made a quick exit stage left as the car caught fire. His team rolled out the backup car and he qualified 18th for the Icebreaker. Pennink said the car was bottoming out during time trials for qualifying but they were optimistic about making some adjustments before and during the race. Thinking about the crash, Pennink told 22News, “I was just running some laps in practice when the throttle hung up on me and destroyed a brand new car we were hoping to run the whole season with. It was a C-D car that Mike Paquette built for us. We came and tested last week and the thing was real good. I was real excited about this weekend but we’ll have to see what we can do with the backup car.” Pennink explained there was very little salvageable from his wrecked car. “There wasn’t too much after the hard hit and then the fire. We were able to save some stuff but not a whole lot.” Going back to that discussion on luck, Rowan finished 13th in the Icebreaker.
Missing from this year’s Icebreaker was Thompson’s winningest modified tour driver, Wilbraham native Mike Stefanik, who has 15 victories. New Jersey driver Jamie Tomaino has 100% attendance for every season of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, missing only a handful of races due to qualifying or engines. Tomaino spoke about a Stefanikless Icebreaker after 20 plus spring openers. With a smile on his face, he told 22News, “Most of us are going to say ‘Thank goodness he’s not in the race’ because he’s always the guy that you had to try to beat.” Tomaino said hats off to Stefanik for his accomplishments with hope that he would be elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Stefanik is on the ballot for the second time.
The Granite State Pro Stock Series opened their season on Icebreaker Sunday. Defending champ “Thrillin’” Dillon Moltz started 4th and led much of the 40 lap event for the win. Belchertown’s Barry Gray was 5th. After the checkered flag he thanked his crew over the team radio, “A top 5 here is like a victory!” Springfield’s Mike O’Sullivan finished 14th with Tommy O’Sullivan of Wilbraham coming in 17th.
Ryan Preece passed Keith Rocco with five laps to go to win the caution filled 75 lap Sunoco Modified feature. Marc Curtis was victorious in the 25 lap Late Model race. Scott Sundeen drove to victory lane in the 20 lap Limited Sportsman event. The 15 lap Mini Stock race was won by Eric Bourgeois but he was later disqualified. Second place finisher Scott Michalski was credited with the victory. Scott Quinn earned the trophy in the 15 lap Vintage Outlaw feature.
Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park is celebrating their 75th anniversary. The NWMT will visit Thompson 3 mores times this season. There will also be special oval track programs and additional events on the track’s road course. At one time during its history Thompson was called the Little Indianapolis of the East.