THOMPSON, Conn. -- The battle at the top of the Late Model division is going right down to the wire at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Woody Pitkat leads the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track championship standings by just five points over William Wall, with Derek Gluchacki third, 20 points out. Behind them, Mark Jenison and Matthew Lowinski-Loh are fourth and fifth, respectively, but would need the top three to have a major stumble in order to be in contention.
Pitkat and Wall are former champions of the division – with Pitkat earning his crown back in 2002, while Wall is recent title holder – picking up his crown in 2016. Gluchacki, who is a newcomer to the Thompson division, is in the middle of his first championship chase, and hoping to steal the show.
These three drivers are set to battle it out at the 57th annual Sunoco World Series, October 11-13, where the Late Models will take center stage on Friday night, opening the weekend with their championship 25-lap feature.
Thompson competitors earn 50 points for winning a feature race, while each position down through the field earns two less, meaning second earns 48, third receives 46, etc. In heat races, the winner earns five points, with a one-point drop throughout the top five, with fifth earning just one.
For Pitkat, the season has been filled with success since July. He’s finished fourth or better in the last five races and has three wins across the stretch. “The start of the year, this is the goal (to be in position to win the title). I do feel like we had more speed than we ever had when the year started, but we definitely struggled, and one night that the Whelen Modified Tour was there, we struggled really bad,” Pitkat said. “Everyone took more of a look over everything and had a little bit of a different mindset throughout the rest of the year.”
That change in mindset seems to be working for the Stafford, Connecticut, native and his Hartwell Motorsports team. They enter the World Series in position to get the job done. For Pitkat, he is hoping it will be the first time since 2002 that he hoists a TSMP Late Model title. He was able to win the Sunoco Modified crown in 2006 and 2016 -- so he is looking for his fourth overall Thompson title.
Until TSMP media spoke with him, he wasn’t even exactly sure of how many points he was ahead, showing he is relaxed heading into the finale.
“I’m not going to change anything I have done the whole year,” Pitkat said. “I’m going to the World Series to do the same thing. I knew we were leading the points, but I didn’t know exactly how it was until you just told me. Whatever happens in the heats, I want to know what position we are in going into the race, then see how the race goes. We’ve seemed to be close every race.”
Wall enters the final 25-lap feature of the season looking to gain on some lost momentum. He opened the season with three finishes inside the top two, including a victory on June 5. But, since then, he’s finished outside the top five twice, including a 10th place effort last time on the track, which allowed Pitkat to sneak by into the lead.
“I’m feeling confident about it, I’m going to go into this race like I do every other race, just go out there and try to finish well,” Wall said. “Racing is a lot of luck, as well as being prepared. We will be as prepared as we can be, and just let the cards fall where they do.”
Last time out, his 10th place effort in the feature, coupled with his 11th place heat race finish, cost him some points he will need to make up.
“The heat race was a big deal for me the last race, just have to try and keep my nose clean, I don’t want to be overly aggressive,” Wall said. “Back when Woody won his title, they had different motors, and it’s a big deal to go to these motors. I think we are close to even. I’m excited to see what the outcome is going to be.”
Wall, as a former winner at Little T Speedway, and former Thompson Late Model champion, is just hoping he can hold the trophy again.
“The first title definitely opened a couple of doors for me,” Wall said. “I got a couple of rides in a Pro Stock off it. I’m hoping that if I win this, it opens a few doors for me in the future. I would love to win this one. I'm just going to go out there and put my best foot forward and see what happens.”
Gluchacki, who has a racing background in the Legends Cars, has busted onto the scene this year, finishing inside the top 10 in all the races, and inside the top five on five different occasions. He’s 20 points back but hopes to still have a shot.
“No, not at all,” Gluchacki said when asked if he thought he would be in this position. “We struggled at the Icebreaker, and we didn’t know what to expect. We figured it out somewhat in the middle of the year. But we didn’t realize there was heat race points until about three races in. At the World Series, the heat race is going to be important for me to make up as much as I can before going into the feature.”
Much like his two other competitors, Gluchacki is approaching the weekend with business as usual.
“Just have to go into it as another weekend. The goal is to be up there and contend for a win,” Gluchacki said. “We know that it’s going to be a wild race. Anything can happen, and we just have to do our best to stay out of trouble and be up front.”
For Pitkat, winning the Late Model crown would mean a lot to him, but also his team. They have lost a few close friends and loved ones over the last few years.
“It’d be more gratifying because of where I started,” Pitkat said. “When I started, I was racing against Jeff Hartwell, who is now my car owner. It just goes to show how long we have been around this sport. Being able to start my career racing against Jeff, and now the two of us being able to get together, it’s cool. I want to win it more for him.”
Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park officials are preparing for the 57th annual Sunoco World Series, scheduled for October 11-13. The event begins on Friday, with practice sessions running throughout the afternoon, and qualifying heat racing set to begin at approximately 4:30 p.m. Feature racing on Friday includes the Granite State Pro Stock Series, Late Models, Open Vintage Modifieds, and Senior Tour Auto Racers.
Saturday, action begins early with practice at 9 a.m., while qualifying racing begins at 2:30 p.m. There are 10 different feature races planned for Saturday. On Sunday, action begins at 1 p.m., with the season-finale for Thompson’s Sunoco Modified division. The NEMA Lites, ISMA Supermodifieds and TSMP Limited Sportsman will also join the headliner of Sunday, the Sunoco World Series 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
Admission to the paddock area for the entire three days is $75, with grandstand general admission set at $55. Any seniors (65+), veterans and active military will have general admission tickets priced at $50, while kids 12 and under are free in general admission.
Fans should keep an eye out for information regarding the annual breakfast buffet and dinner buffet over the next few days.
For more information on Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, fans should visit the track on the web, www.thompsonspeedway.com and follow the track on social media via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
-Kyle Souza / Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Press Release
-Photo Credit: Clarus Studios