DRIVERS UP IN ARMS ABOUT THOMPSON 300 by Mike Twist
Annual Race Has New Format, Few Supporters
Sometimes change is good.  Sometimes change is bad.  The verdict is still out in the NASCAR Modified Series pit area.

Major format changes were announced two weeks ago for the annual Sunoco 300 Mod Series event at the Thompson Speedway (CT).
The race, which will take place on September 12th, has been held for years at the track under the format of 300 laps with no intermissions.  This year, however, it has been changed to a format with three 100-lap races.

Plans call for a winner of each segment to be crowned, as well as an overall winner.  There will be 40 starters in the first segment, with the starting grid determined by heat races, and each of the other segments will also have 40 cars.  If one falls out during a segment, an alternate will be allowed into the next mini-race.
The 300 has been an endurance race for years - this year it could be a slightly different story.

“Some guys will get into the race because they draw a good starting position in their heat race,” said Lia.  “They’ll tear up a lot of equipment that way when the make it to the feature.  I don’t like the heat races, but maybe I’m just from the new school.  I’m used to qualifying, redrawing for
position and that’s our line-up.  This is a lot different from how I know it.”

With only a handful of races left in the 2004 season, the changes may have a big impact on the championship battle. Points will be awarded only to the drivers that are among the first 40 starters and no points will be given to any of the alternates.  Still, the chaos that is possible in the event could knock out a title contender early and have a lasting impact on the record book.

“This would be fine is it was for an open show,” said Lia.  “If this was something special and not for points.  If this was like the All Star race in Nextel Cup, I’d be for it.  But points on the line, this is very risky.”

A lot is unknown, but there are a few things that are for certain - the 300 weekend will produce plenty of fireworks.  Speed 51 will be on hand throughout the weekend for complete coverage of the event.



Many of the complaints had to do with the history of the
event.

“I don’t know why they would go and change around a great
race like the 300,” said Donny Lia.  “I hate that they are
doing what they are doing.  They have taken a lot away.
They took the attrition out and the strategy away.  It‘s
going to be very different.”

If tire wear during this past Modified Series race at Thompson is any indication, teams will be sliding around the track towards the end laps of their 100-lap segments.  Last Sunday, Teams pitted for fresh rubber with less than 70 laps to go and found that their tires were shot by the end of the event.
Ted Christopher told Speed 51 that his tires left a lot to be desired in last weekend‘s Modified Series race at Thompson.

“The tires sucked,” said Christopher.  “You could see on the restart with two to go, they had no grip.  Typical Hoosier shit, they were just junk.”

TC’s opinion was a common one.
Ted Christopher knows a thing or two about smkoing tires and he's not happy about the rubber for Thompson.  (51 Photo)
This year a lot of cars might end up on the hook - like Rick Fuller's did in 2002. (Howie Hodge Photo)


What should be done to make the drivers and teams happy? The
changes have already been announced and are likely here to
stay, but drivers think that better communication would help
the situation.

“We need to sit down and all talk about it,” said Flemke.  “We all agree that we need to think about this for a minute.  I’m not saying that we aren’t going to do it, but we don’t know what we are doing.  We don’t know the rules.  We don’t even know what we are dissatisfied about - if we are.  Maybe we are going to love it.  We don’t know.”

Confusion is common among the teams.

“Ken (Barry) and I just talked about the driver’s meeting where we both heard the same thing,” said Flemke.  “We both have a different idea of what we are doing based on the way that we heard it.  It’s like looking at a color.  You can look at something and one person might see aqua and the other person might see turquoise.”
The changes were announced to the public through PA announcements and a pressrelease.  Drivers were told that an additional meeting to go over details would occur the next week at the Stafford Motor
Speedway, but it did not happen as planned.

“They told us last week when they announced it that we would have a meeting at Stafford to discuss this at 11 o’clock,” said Flemke.  “That’s fine.  We all got there and saw the officials walking around the pit area, but we were locked out.  They told us they weren’t going to have it because there were not enough people there.  They know what they are doing, but they don’t want to tell us yet so we can’t get together and collectively say ‘we don’t like these points’ or ‘we do like these points.’  They’ve done this for 52 years or however long NASCAR has been around, but we’re just a little too smart to do this anymore.
"This is typical NASCAR.  They keep us in the dark so we
can’t get together and form a plan of attack.  But we don’t
want to attack them.  We want to go to them and say maybe this isn’t good because of a certain point.  We have no idea what we are doing.”

Not as controversial as the changes to the race format, but
still quite a hot topic, is the idea of heat races being
used to set the starting field. 

The heats will be run on Saturday, September 11th with a consi scheduled for Noon on Sunday.  This procedure is a change from the accepted format of time trials and a redraw for the top positions of each race in the NASCAR Modified Series.
Eddie Flemke isn't a fan of the changes.   (Howie Hodge Photo)
Man drivers were shocked at the initial announcement, made during the driver's meeting at Thompson on August 19, and are still wound up about the upcoming event.

“That 300 is a whole different deal,” said points leader Tony Hirschman.  “It’s going to be tough.  I don’t like the format, but we’ll have to do the best that we can about it."
“If this is a preview of the three 100-lap races, then it is
going to be the worst three 100-lap races that you’ve seen
in your life,” said Eddie Flemke.  “Tires and procedures are
going to make it terrible.”

Flemke finished second on Sunday and the winner of the race
had a similar outlook.

“Pretty much, you’ll see the racing we saw here today,” said
Hirschman.  “If it’s hot out with the tires that we have
have now, that is the racing that you are going to see (when the cars are sliding around after their tires give out).  But that’s what we are stuck with.”

Some teams might be helped by the changes.

“We know that we can go 100 laps on tires here,” said Lia.  “We have a good shot at this new format as a team, but it’s a lot more risky than I would like it to be.”
Flemke stands out front in the driver's meeting at Thompson two weeks ago.  This has been the only official discussion of the new rules  for the 300.  (51 Photo)