DRIVERS REFLECT ON THOMPSON 300 CHANGES by Mike Twist
Many Claim New Format Leads to a Wreckfest
When the Sunoco 300 NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series race at the Thompson Speedway (CT) was finished, there were three different winners. As far fetched as that seems, there could have actually been one more. It was possible that there could have been anywhere between one and four different racers holding a checkered flag at any point in the day with three 100 lap mini-features and an overall winner. The finishes of each segment were averaged out with any ties being broken by NASCAR owner points.
Eddie Flemke ended up winning the second segment and the overall title. The other winners were Tom Bolles and Tony Hirschman. But not everyone was happy.
“It’s one win, but it’s not the Thompson 300 and it will never be with this format,” said Hirschman in his victory lane interview after the final segment of racing.
The three races were run with a 20-minute intermission between each one (15 advertised minutes and then the five minute clock to restart would begin) when teams could do anything possible to their cars that could be done in that timeframe. Except change tires. That was not allowed during the break or in any of the ten laps leading to a break. There were no exceptions. Teams were even told in the driver’s meeting that any team with a flat during the
Tony Hirschman won last year's Thompson 300 under the old rules of the race. He's not a fan of the new format. (51 Photo)
This led to some interesting strategy. During the second and third segments, most of the leaders pitted during their first available caution - leaving numerous slower cars in the lead pack on restarts. To say that this arrangement caused a few problems would have been an understatement.
“That was a joke,” said Hirschman. “Everyone came out of the pits after the first caution and the redraw with new tires. It was a total joke. They didn’t let you take on tires during the break, but there was a caution three laps in anyways. It was a joke and there’s not much else that I can say about it.”
Pitting for tires was a necessity if you wanted to go fast, but it also left drivers vulnerable to wrecks deep in the pack.
“The problem is that you go down pit road late and get behind all of these guys,” said Rick Fuller, who scored strong finishes in the first and second segments, but got wrecked in the third one. “You’re not going to make up anytime on this pit road, so you are back there with all of the junk. Waiting for something to detonate and it did.”
Tire change rules were unique for this event, as seen by the #28 team remounting their tire between segments., (Howie Hodge Photo)
Charlie Pasteryak was smiling before the race, but not afterwards. (51 Photo)
There were plenty of bent nerf bars and wrecked cars after the race was over.
“If this is going to be the format every year for the 300, let’s go to Riverhead seven times and have some fun while we’re at it,” said Doug Coby, who compared the event to races at the shortest track that the Modified Series visits.
The ability to adjust their cars between segments had its supporters and critics.
“It’s hard to go in that kind of situation,” said Marquis. “Everyone had fresh tires and everyone could do some serious tweaking during the breaks. I think that we really came here prepared and that showed in the first and second segment. The third segment, we were a little bit off. Would it have been the same if it was 300 laps straight? I don’t know. We can’t tell.”
“I liked it because you can adjust and work on the cars,” said Dave Etheridge, who had a strong run in the final segment before getting involved in a wreck with a car that had fresher tires.
Overall, there was plenty to learn in the race.
“It was a learning experience here,” said Marquis. “Everyone is learning the new format together and I really don’t care for it. I think that a lot of guys wrecked racecars for no reason at all. It was because of the restarts that we had. It was horrifying actually. We destroyed two front bumpers because of it. Otherwise, I don’t think that we would have had that problem.”
The 300 laps seemed even more grueling to some because of the nearly four hours between the first green flag and the final checkered one.
“It definitely should be called a marathon event and not a friggin’ race,” said Ted Christopher, who finished third overall. “It’s too long. I don’t think it was that great.”
In the end, it was a still just a race and if you could go home without much damage, you were fortunate.
“We came home with a whole racecar and we’ll just go on to the next race,” said Marquis. “We have three days to get ready for New Hampshire and we’re already looking ahead to that.”
Wrecking was common wit fast cars pitting and slower cars staying out on older tires. (Howie Hodge Photo)
intermission would not be excused. Teams would face either a two-lap penalty or could fill that tire with enough air to start the next segment and pit after the green flag waved.
Teams could move tires from one corner of the car to another or dismount and remount a tire on the rim facing a different way.
But all four tires were on after a segment had to be somewhere on the car for the next segment.
Other drivers agreed.
“It’s a problem when they put all of the junk up in the front,” said Donny Lia, who also got together with a car that did not pit in the third segment. “You can’t be stacked up double wide at Thompson. It might be huge for us, but it’s still not that big of a racetrack.”
Another problem mentioned was that drivers who were lapped early were put back on the lead lap during each fresh segment.
“We got taken out by a car that we lapped in the first two
segments five times,” said Charlie Pasteryak, who saw a probable top five finish end with a third segment crash. “This new race is terrible. You’re racing with somebody that you already put five laps down. Now he’s back on the lead lap just because we stopped? That’s not fair. We already put him five laps down. That wrecks a lot of cars for no reason. If you want to do it in an all-star race, go ahead, but not in a points race.”
Even the second place finisher overall had trouble.
“I hate that we had a situation where we had to race lapped cars in the final segment,” said Jerry Marquis. “It was good for them. But to me it really sucked for the guys who had been out front out race long. But it was something that they were going to try and I hope they don’t come back to it.”