RPW Column: A Great Weekend At Thompson’s World Series Weekend & More…

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – On tap last weekend, the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park presented the 59th annual Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing from Friday, October 8 to Sunday, October 10.

The weekend was highlighted by the $20,000-to-win Sunoco Thompson 300 for the Outlaw Open Modified Series. The 17-division program also included the Sunoco Modified Triple Crown Series, ACT Late Model Tour, PASS Super Late Models, NEMA Midgets and Lites, all local divisions, and much more.

After locking up an eighth Thompson Modified title earlier in the day, Keith Rocco made the race winning pass on Jon McKennedy with 18 laps to go. In the process, Rocco pocketed a career high $20,000 with the winner’s check. The win also took Rocco over the top to a career overall total of 298 wins which include 153 victories at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, 70 at Thompson and 75 at Stafford Speedway.

“This is a pretty big deal for us,” Rocco said. “They’re all saying ‘well, you’re not a [Whelen Modified] Tour driver… I don’t want to sound cocky, but we just beat all the Tour drivers. I’m sure they’re going to find something to say about me and throw me under the bus, but at the end of the day, we got the trophy and we got the check.”

Chris Pasteryak started on the pole before Doug Coby took the early lead. Eight drivers swapped the lead 15 times.

McKennedy was the dominant car in the first stage, leading 84 of the first 100 laps before the race’s third caution for a Ronnie Williams spin. Mike Christopher Jr. took the lead on the restart just before a turn-two pile-up that put Dave Sapienza, Williams, Andy Jankowiak, and Noah Korner out of the running while wounding several others.

The race mellowed out in the middle stage as teams plotted their pit stops and tried to plan the best strategy around the caution flags. McKennedy dropped back near halfway with a loose spoiler, which allowed Ron Silk, Justin Bonsignore, and Anthony Nocella to take turns at the front. After making repairs during a pit stop, McKennedy worked his way back to the front, snatching the lead from Nocella with just over 100 laps to go.

Recently crowned NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Bonsignore outgunned McKennedy to regain the point after Eric Goodale hit the turn four wall on lap 217. McKennedy then took it back following caution number 12 on lap 248 and started to pull away.

Rocco found himself at the back of the lead lap but spun in turn four with 28 laps to go. That caution allowed Rocco to come get fresh tires, which he used to charge through the field in just 10 laps. McKennedy, who led over half the race before dropping out with a mechanical failure with 10 laps to go, was furious after the race at Rocco’s spin, which he claimed was an instance of Rocco making his own luck. McKennedy felt that Rocco should have been penalized for creating a caution. Rocco stated that he had a tire that was losing air and going flat. Buddy Charette finished second, followed by Ron Silk, Anthony Nocella and Matt Swanson. Rounding out the top-10 were Doug Coby, Andrew Krause, Tommy Barrett, Chris Pasteryak and Justin Bonsignore.

Much of the race was a war of attrition. 15 of the 25 cars that started failed to finish. Fifteen cautions slowed the race. On lap 101, the field was stopped on the front stretch for a wreck involving seven cars on a restart. There were ten cars running at the end, all on the lead lap. McKennedy, who had engine problems finished 11th. Rounding out the top fifteen were Andrew Molleur, Eric Goodale, Craig Lutz and John Montesanto.

In other action on Sunday, Jon Puleo held off Todd Owen over the final 10 laps to win the 30-lap Sunoco Modified feature. Owen, finished second and Troy Talman, third.

It was the first career Sunoco Modified win for Puleo. Despite a 15th place finish Rocco clinched his fifth consecutive Sunoco Modified championship at Thompson and eight title in the division overall at the track. Rocco ended up 15th in the 17-car field after wrecking with Ronnie Williams in a battle for second place following a lap 20 restart. Williams was attempting to pass Rocco and ended up almost going over the front stretch wall. Track announcers Matt Buckler and Jimmy Falconi clearly described the incident as “Rocco put Williams into the wall”. Andrew Moeller and Mike Christopher rounded out the top five.

Buddy Charette, won the caution-marred 25-lap SK Light Modified . Second place finishing Anthony Bello of Newtown was able to beat out Charette for the 2021 track championship. PJ Stergois won the 25-lap NEMA Lites feature. Dave Trudeau won the 20-lap Mini Stock feature.

Keith Rocco and Ryan Morgan emerged as the biggest winners of day one action for the 59th Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Friday, October 8. Rocco remained perfect in the Sunoco Modifieds for the 2021 season while Morgan bounced back from an opening-lap Late Model wreck to hang on for his first championship. Rocco, after starting eighth, passed Paul LaPlante and set his sights on Mike Christopher Jr.. But before Rocco could even contemplate a move, Christopher lost power as the field came off the fourth corner to complete lap 11. Christopher could only pull to the inside and helplessly watch as the field flew past. Todd Owen eventually picked his way through the pack to finish second. Owen then closed to within two car lengths of Rocco but could not seal the deal. It was the 60th career win for Rocco at Thompson Speedway. Danny Cates ended up third. Jonathan Puleo, Ronnie Williams, Teddy Hodgdon, John Lowinski-Loh, Troy Talman, LaPlante, and Brett Meservey rounded out the top-10.

Tom Carey III won the Late Model battle while Ryan Morgan’s scarred steed won the war. Morgan entered the 30-lap feature four points ahead Woody Pitkat for the Late Model track championship. But as the field came to complete lap one, both Pitkat and Morgan found themselves squeezed into the frontstretch wall, all but trashed. The title contenders were nose-to-tail for the start of the final 18-lap run. Carey checked out at the front while Pitkat and Morgan fought for every position they could. Pitkat settled in 10th while Morgan desperately fended off Jordan Hadley and Dennis Dumas in the 12th spot. Charles Bailey III got past Pitkat for 10th coming to the white flag, and with Morgan successfully parrying Hadley’s moves, the title went to Morgan by two points. It was the first championship of any kind for Morgan in 22 years of auto racing.

Other Friday night winner at Thompson was Paul Newcomb in the Street Stocks.

In the words of Ben Dodge, “They Kling and they Klang” going down the backstretch and thru the final turns. On Saturday Todd Owen ended Keith Rocco’s win streak at five as he won round two of the three round Sunoco (SK type) shootout. It was all Rocco for the first 21 laps of the 30 lap contest. Rocco had taken the lead from Danny Cates on lap 4. Owen took the lead on lap 22 and the games of wit began. Numerous cross over moves kept the competition at a fever pitch until the checker was displayed with Owen winning the battle over Rocco. Teddy Hodgdon ended up third with Mike Christopher Jr fourth and Jon Puleo rounding out the top five. Sixth thru tenth included Ron Williams, Troy Talman, Danny Cates, Doug Meservy and Paul LaPlante.

In other Saturday night action, Derek Gluchacki was the PASS Super Late Model 75 lap winner.A big shout-out to Leadfoot Larry Barnett who completed his season in perfect style, winning the season ending 25-lap Limited Sportsman feature, leading pole to pole to clinch his fifth track championship.

Doug Coby Racing announced on Wednesday just before the World Series that crew chief Phil Moran would be departing the team at the end of the 2021 race season. Moran’s final race for the team was on Sunday, October 10, in the return of the historic Thompson 300 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. Moran will pursue a new opportunity with Haydt-Yannone Racing in 2022 with driver Ron Silk.

Area Auto Racing News, America’s No. 1 Auto Racing Trade Paper reported last week that Jon McKennedy and Tommy Baldwin Racing will be going their separate ways in 2022. McKennedy announced to AARN that he has formed a new Whelen Modified Touring Series team with Tim and Sheryll Lepine as car owners and Rob Fuller as crew chief. Baldwin is now actively looking for a driver for 2022. With a new car already in place McKennedy was scheduled to compete at Thompson this past weekend and in the upcoming Islip 300 at Riverhead in November. McKennedy was in contention for the win when his car developed engine problems in the late going of the 300.

Read all about it in the all-new book, The Modified Years At Stafford, by the Grace of God and 600 hp, which is gaining interest and has become a must have in race fans and competitors library. The book documents Modified Racing at the Stafford Motor Speedway from 1967 to 1986. Race by Race, Year by Year, it’s all there. Read all about it! Books are now available on Amazon.com and Coastal 181 (877-907-8181 toll free) and are available thru Stafford’s web site in their store. Order yours now. Makes a great gift!

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