Wednesday night at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) saw the track’s Sunoco Modified division taking center stage for the second running of the 20/20 Sprint event led by the usual cast of character: Woody Pitkat, Ryan Preece, and Keith Rocco, all of which have glowing marks so far on the season.
But this particular night featured an unexpected special guest star, 2003 Sunoco Modified champion Eric Berndt, a veteran of all three Connecticut short tracks.
“I haven’t been (at Thompson) with an SK in about 10 years,” said Berndt. This place is just a great place to run; you’ve got so much room. It’s a place you can come back to and not forget it.”
Berndt was brought in by team boss and former driver Todd Ceravalo, whose son in law Keith Rocco has been driving for him at the “Big T” this season, as a way of bolstering the field of Modifieds to assist Rocco in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national title hunt.
“It started out being a field filler to help Keith (Rocco) out with the Nationals, then we get up here and there isn’t that many cars,” said Berndt. So it didn’t matter, even if Keith won it wasn’t really going to give him a lot of points, so they gave me the green light and the rest was history.”
Berndt would drive his heart out the entire night, in the event divided into two 20-lap segments and one 10-lap sprint race, with the best average finish determining the winner. After finishing second to Ryan Preece in the first segment, Berndt would take advantage of Preece’s misfortune in the second segment when Preece’s No. 31 slowed on the track.
He then blistered through the field in the final 10-lap sprint to claim the overall victory.
“Ryan (Preece) might have had the best overall car but something broke on him in the second one, it just worked out our way.”
Needing only a third-place finish in the final 10-lap sprint, Berndt turned down a chance to start in the back for an additional $500 bonus if he could win.
“We don’t race for money obviously. We really don’t need it, not that we don’t like it. But if we were racing for money, we would all be broke right now,” car owner Todd Ceravalo said at the end of the night.
With that Berndt started from the pole for the final segment and held off both Keith Rocco and Woody Pitkat to take both the sprint race win and the larger $1,800 grand prize. His win was a popular one with the Thompson crowd, who like a lot in Connecticut, appreciate Berndt’s high class demeanor and way of driving.
“We’ve been friends with Eric forever. He’s a great kid, great guy, and a great family, that’s why we chose him to race here today.” Ceravalo remarked.
Wednesday’s triumph is also the first victory overall for Berndt since his last win at Stafford in the SK Modified division in August 2013. He believes the good fortune can carry over to Friday nights at Stafford.
“Hopefully this gives us the momentum we need, even going weekly at Stafford, so we’ll take it from here and hopefully it turns into a good thing on Friday,” Berndt told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
Whether or not Berndt will be back with the Ceravalo team for the next Thompson event on August 12 is unclear, with both men implying the only the way to know is to come out again and find out.
An on-demand Trackside Now replay of Wednesday’s Sunoco Modified event can be found by clicking here.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com