After Mother Nature sidelined the Limited Sportsman Long Distance & Military Night presented by Pepsi event in May oval racing action finally returned to the Big-T for the second time in 2019 on Thursday, June 7 with a large local crowd turning out for the rescheduled races. The annual showcase of local racing’s biggest stars honored veterans and members of the military while also putting track divisions front and center as the race for Thompson championships heated up.
The main event of the night was the marquee race of 2019 for Thompson’s Limited Sportsman division, the 30-lap long distance race. The feature provided a variety of circumstances as a new face shined, veterans experienced bad luck and a familiar name took the checkered flag. Division newcomer Thomas Hanley showed some muscle in the first ten laps holding the lead through several cautions and even fighting off veteran Ryan Waterman to hold the lead for the first third of the race. Unfortunately for Hanley his great run would be spoiled when he became part of a wreck on lap ten and was relegated to a last place finish.
An earlier caution was a multi-car pileup out of turn four, a problem spot for many drivers over the course of the night, on the very first lap of the race that created issues for several contenders most notably veteran Scott Sundeen who retired from the event after sustaining heavy damage. Another veteran driver and Icebreaker winner Shawn Monahan experienced his own troubles during a later caution forcing him to make quick repairs before the race returned to green.
When everything settled it was Ryan Waterman who charged his way to victory leading the bulk of the final 20 laps of the feature and fighting off a hard comeback charge from Monahan who recovered from his crash to finish second after passing Larry Barnett in the closing laps. Waterman also won the 2017 long distance event after the initial winner Brent Gleason was disqualified following post-race inspection, but in 2018 Waterman did it his way and took the victory through effort and execution.
“The plan was to be smart and be smooth. I wanted to come here and win and that’s what I did,” Waterman said in victory lane. Later he told reporters he enjoys long distance racing and felt his car was better on the longer runs. “I’d rather it be a 50-lapper like they used to be years ago, but I’ll take anything I can get. I like long races. My car loves the long races. I guess it takes me a little while to get going there. That’s why it took me a while to get by (Thomas Hanley). I’ll take a long race any day.”
The Mini Stock division began the night with a 15-lap feature and an opportunity for title contenders to gain an early advantage on the season with two-time defending champion Wayne Burroughs unable to attend the event. While 2015 champion Dave Trudeau led the early segments of the race it didn’t take long for another familiar name to make his way to the front of the pack. After taking the checkered flag in the Icebreaker in April Eric Bourgeois further solidified himself as a contender for the 2017 title with his second win to start the season. In victory lane Bourgeois took the time to thank the members of the military present for the race keeping in spirit with the theme of the night.
“I have to say thank you to all the veterans,” Bourgeois said. “I can’t be here to race if it wasn’t for those guys keeping us free. Thank you to them. This means a lot to me and I’m so glad they made this up for them.”
Next up the Sunoco Modifieds put on an entertaining and eventful 30-lap feature that nearly turned into a war of attrition for some of the divisions biggest stars. Ryan Preece began the event out front and battled series regular Woody Pitkat and reigning champion Keith Rocco throughout the opening laps. Things got interesting as the battle got even more heated 11 laps into the race and Rocco made a power move for the lead. In an attempt to regain the top spot Preece made his own bold move out of turn four resulting in both leaders spinning into the infield and Pitkat inheriting the lead.
Things didn’t let up as a massive multi-car pileup on the restart brought out the red flag after Timmy Jordan spun in front of the second half of the field resulting in an incident that saw Matt Gallo ride the top of the outside wall. All drivers walked away from the wreck without injury, but it wouldn’t be the final caution of the night. In total six caution flags flew before the halfway point of the feature and seven were flown in the event overall. When things settled in Pitkat resumed the lead, but Rocco would make a comeback working his way through the field in mere laps to take the lead by the halfway point. Despite a hard charge from Pitkat, Rocco held on for his second win of the season putting him once step closer to yet another Sunoco Modified title at Thompson.
“It was a great night for us. Hopefully we put a good show on for the fans. Weeknights are tough here and it’s a pretty good crowd tonight,” Rocco said after his win. “(Woody Pitkat) was aggressive and I was aggressive too. I was frustrated getting put around after leading the race, so I was out to make my way to the front one way or another. I did what I had to do.”
Finally, the night closed out with the Late Model division with a 25-lap feature. Former champion William Wall experienced trouble early on and would go on to finish last after winning in April’s Icebreaker. Up front though it was a battle of two cars, Ernie LaRose and Ryan Morgan, who battled for the lead for most of the race.
It all came down to a pair of cautions in the final five laps. After leading much of the race LaRose found himself at a disadvantage during the first restart when Morgan took the lead. A quick caution stacked up the field again and Morgan was able to muscle his way forward for a second time while Larose found himself on the receiving end of a bump that sent his car around and hard into the turn three wall, ending his day two laps short of the finish. Morgan had a third great restart and took home his second victory at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Race fans won’t have to wait very long for racing action to return to Thompson. The Big-T welcomes back the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for the Thompson 125 on Wednesday June 13 where Justin Bonsignore hopes to extend his points lead and add to his win total after conquering the Icebreaker event at Thompson April and crossing the line first as Seekonk earlier this month.