THOMPSON, CT – The Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing presented by Xtramart at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park is the biggest short track event in the northeast. As a result, winning the event is prestigious to say the least. In each of the 4 weekly divisions it is likely a win this weekend will equate to a track championship.
Xtramart Limited Sportsman
The closest battle is in the Xtramart Limited Sportsman division where two of the best in speedway history are separated by only 2 points or 1 position on the race track. Scott Sundeen is a 3-time track champion and he holds the upper hand over 57-time feature event winner Larry Barnett. If Sundeen wins the title, the two will be tied for the most championships in the division with 4 apiece.
The championship chase could come down to what happens during qualifying on Saturday with such a slim margin between the two. Points are awarded to the top-5 finishers of the heat races. 5 points go to the winner, 4 points to second, and so on through the top-5 meaning the point lead could change hands on Saturday before the green flies for the feature on Sunday afternoon.
Barnett has been absent from victory lane all season, which is a rarity in his career. Sundeen won the 2nd of 2 features on Icebreaker weekend and tallied a win in the most recent event contested. In that race, he was involved in an early incident on track that forced him to come from the back before driving to victory lane.
“I’m sure it will be fun,” said Sundeen. “It’s always a rough race and if it’s anything like last year it is going to be a war out there. I’m not worried about Larry; Whatever happens, happens.”
For Barnett it hasn’t been an easy season mechanically. For one reason or another, mostly voluntary, the engine has been out of his car 6 times and there have been 7 events to date. His season started with a borrowed engine, before he could put his power plant under the hood. Then it was problems with the valves and the camshaft that resulted in starting the process all over again. This weekend Barnett comes in with an entirely new drivetrain that has been untested.
When asked about racing Sundeen for the title, Barnett said “He’s rougher than what some people think and way cleaner than what other people think. He’s not going to give you an inch. We can race pretty cleanly near each other and not give up any extra space.”
Woody Pitkat, Keith Rocco, and Ryan Preece are household names not only in modified country, but nationwide for their success at the Connecticut short tracks. It’s no surprise that the Sunoco Modified championship comes down to three of them.
Pitkat has a 14-point advantage over Rocco and 18 tallies over defending champ Preece. Preece has a division high 4 wins this season yet Rocco has momentum on his side coming off two straight victories in the previous two events. Pitkat is still winless so far.
At the end of the 2014 season, Pitkat was left without a ride when his car owner decided not to field an entry at the track. In January, Stan Mertz announced he would turn the reigns of his fledgling Sunoco Modified team over to Pitkat. The move marked a significant step for the racing operation after spending several years in the Pro-4 Modified ranks before dabbling in the more powerful Sunoco Modifieds with Mertz and Max Zachem behind the wheel. Although the two have yet to visit victory lane at the Big T, the pair have collected 4 runner-up finishes and have had luck on their side.
Mertz’s team is a small team that doesn’t garner the attention as other teams do. They don’t use the same engine builder as most teams, instead they really on power from Norm Perry. Perry works tirelessly on the cars and is a key component to the team’s success.
As for Mertz, he’s been a fan of Pitkat for years. “When I brought Woody on board I knew we would be right in the hunt,” said Mertz. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined my team would be in position to win the championship heading into the World Series.”
Moving up to the Sunoco Modified division has been an eye opener for Mertz, but the little team that could might just be the Cinderella story of 2015.
Pitkat will be chasing 3 modified titles this weekend all in prestigious divisions. Headlined by his quest to become a first time Whelen Modified Tour Champion, he also holds the point lead in the Valenti Modified Racing Series standings.
Each of the title contenders is in the midst of more than one title bout this weekend. Preece is tied for the lead in the Whelen Modified title chase as Rocco is in the running to capture the Late Model title.
Rocco trails Brian Tagg by only 7 points with one race remaining. Tagg is no stranger to Thompson after running five seasons in the Thompson Modified division, but this is his rookie season in a late model. Although Rocco has 4 Sunoco Modified crowns at Thompson, this will be his first Late Model championship should he come out on top.
“Rocco has the advantage for being there before, but circumstances dictate everything,” said Tagg. “My attitude is the same. Just get out there and keep going. Keep your head down and focus on us.”
Tagg’s first and only Late Model win came in the second segment of the Dunkin’ Donuts Late Model 20/20 Sprint. Rocco has not gone to victory lane in 2015, but his twin brother Jeff has won 4 of the last 5 events.
“I’ve been there before and I know where I need to be,” said Rocco. “I don’t have to worry about cracking under pressure. In both divisions we are in the same position so I need to go out win the heat race and win the feature and hope the other guys have trouble.”
With full late model fields each week, Jeff Rocco and Rick Gentes both still have an outside chance at the title sitting 29 markers out of the lead. William Wall is 5th trailing by 36 points.
The mini stock title hunt has come down to a two horse race with Dave Trudeau up 30 points over Scott Michalski. Trudeau is peaking at the right time by capturing victories in the last two events. Michalski on the other hand won 3 of the first 4 races this season including a sweep of two feature events on Icebreaker weekend.
Trudeau brought a brand new car to the track at the start last season, but he elected to park it this year to run “old faithful,” his older but more trusted ride in 2015. That decision along with a move to put Engines by Andy motors under the hood has created the perfect combination.
“I’m trying not to think about it,” said Trudeau. “Everyone has been telling me to keep focused and concentrate. I’m not very patient; I’m aggressive, but if it’s meant to be it’s meant to be.”
Should Trudeau win the championship, it will be the first of his career.
Three days of racing action begins for the Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing presented by Xtramart on Friday, Oct. 16th and concludes on Sunday, Oct 18th. For more information including the event schedule visitwww.thompsonspeedway.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@thompsonspdwy) and Youtube for the latest news and updates.
-Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Press Release. Photo credit: Rick Ibsen/Speed51.com