(THOMPSON, CT) – Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park was back in action with the Pepsi Back to School Bash on Wednesday, August 26th, the penultimate event for the speedway with only the World Series weekend in October left on the schedule for the facility’s legendary oval track. The event provided some of the best racing the Big T has seen all season, with lead changes, cautions and three and four-wide racing a common sight throughout the evening.
The night’s highlight events were a pair of Sunoco Modified Series races in a double feature that made for a massive points night and a total purse of over $11,000 across the two 25-lap races.
The first of the two races saw complete domination by one of the best in the business, Keith Rocco. Rocco started in the top ten and worked his way up quickly to the lead, taking advantage of an early caution when Adam Norton, who had concerns during practice about the engine in his car, made hard contact with the turn three wall. Rocco raced his way to second with 23 laps to go and engaged in a neck-and-neck battle with Nick Ladyga for several laps before another caution slowed the field with 19 laps remaining.
Rocco would benefit from a great restart and never look back to claim the first of the two Sunoco Modified races of the night, and his first of the season in the series, holding off heavy hitters Woody Pitkat, Ryan Preece, Nick Ladyga and his own teammate Eric Berndt who rounded out the top five.
Following the win Rocco commented on his dominating performance in Victory Lane. “We finally got the car turning really good. It was turning a little too good. I was pretty free through the middle there. I was holding on for dear life trying to get a good run off the corner,” said Rocco. “It’s pretty awesome to win this.”
Rocco’s return to victory lane would not be short lived as he continued to run up front in the second Sunoco Modified event as well. Rocco worked his way to the top three with fifteen of the twenty-five laps remaining and engaged in a neck-and-neck battle for the lead with Ryan Preece, who claimed a victory in Bristol the week before. A daring dive-bomb with ten to go gave Rocco the lead and it was full steam ahead as he held off Preece to sweep the Sunoco Modified double header.
“I’ve been waiting all year to get that Keith Rocco and Ryan Preece battle and I got it tonight,” said Rocco after the win. “It was a lot of fun – We’ve had a fast car every week it’s just the cards never fell in our favor and tonight they did.”
The Vintage Outlaw series started the night off with a six-car field that put on quite the show right out of the gate. Three different drivers led through the first lap including Scott Quinn, a driver with five wins to his credit in the season. Quinn’s bid for a sixth win would be sidelined however as his daring move for the lead resulted in contact with Ron St. Germain causing Quinn to blow a tire and allowing Paul LaPlante to run away with the front spot.
The intensity of the Vintage Outlaw race set the tone for what would be a wild night in Thompson. The Monster Mini Stocks provided their own drama, but the end would be no surprise as points leader Dave Trudeau took home the trophy, expanding his points lead going into the World Series in October. Trudeau started the event deep in the top ten but was up to fifth by lap 13 following a pair of cautions in the early laps of the race.
It wouldn’t take long for Trudeau to bring his car to the lead, officially taking the top spot with 8 laps to go, and claim a 1.5 second lead before crossing the line as the checkered flag waved.
Trudeau, who has raced in the series since the late 1990s, spoke about the prospect of claiming his first championship in October as the season finale in a car that he called his baby. “We’ve got one more race to go,” he said. “(Winning the championship) has been a goal ever since I started. Everybody wants a championship. Things happen for a reason. If it happens this time then great. If not we’ve got next year.”
The Xtramart Limited Sportsman Series provided some of the most action packed racing of the night, with the top three in points separated by only ten points and the top two only separated by a single point coming into the event. The top three in the standings, Scott Sundeen, Larry Barnett and Corey Hutchings respectively, each saw their own issues early in the race with Sundeen and Hutchings both involved in an incident in turns 3 and 4 only two laps into the event and Barnett spinning on his own later on in the race.
All three competitors would make their way back to the front of the field before the end of the event with Sundeen and Hutchings making their way back to the top five by the time another caution slowed the field with only seven laps to go. Sundeen took the lead on the restart and engaged in an intense side-by-side battle with Hutchings until Hutchings found his championships hopes fade after being collected in his second wreck of the night, a hard hit into the turn two wall after contact with a hard charging Ryan Waterman.
The crash resulted in a green-white-checkered finish with Sundeen on point and his closest points rival, Barnett, in second. Sundeen would go on to win the race but with Barnett taking a second place finish he would fail to gain much in the points going into the season finale in October.
“Corey (Hutchings) was using me up so I figured that I had a faster car and I wasn’t going to settle for second place,” said Sundeen after the win. “I thought I ran him cleaner than he drives anyone. I know I can drive (Barnett) lap after lap side by side and I never have to worry about him and he doesn’t have to worry about me, but there are certain people I can’t stand being around. Larry (Barnett) is not one of them. I’ll race him any day of the week. I’ve never won the championships two years in a row and I’m not banking on it. I want to win races.”
The Late Model Series took the track next with Keith Rocco’s brother Jeff Rocco on a hot streak winning three consecutive races in the series at Thompson and four of the past five Late Model races at the track. His streak would continue as Rocco handily won a hotly contested event in the 25-lap sprint, which included three and four-wide racing at times.
Rocco managed to survive an early incident on the backstretch where a four-wide battle for third resulted in a multi-car accident including early front-runner Glenn Boss. Rocco took the lead on the restart and dominated the rest of the way to a victory, but not without fending off a hard charging William Wall who held on for a second place finish.