Riding a high like few racers ever get to experience, Ryan Preece survived a battle of wits and strategy to conquer the Bud 150 at Thompson Speedway, his second consecutive victory and third in a month’s time after Preece also captured the checkered flag in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race in Iowa. The 150-lap feature came down to Preece and reigning champions Doug Coby after the two drivers pitted late in the event when Preece himself spun after apparent contact in turn two. The two drivers worked their way to the front in the last 25 laps, trading the lead several times before a last-lap duel was cut short when Coby blew a tire coming across the line for the white flag in his pursuit of Preece. Preece was awarded the victory, his fourth of the season on the Whelen Modified Tour, and said he was riding the momentum of his recent success in hopes of wracking up more victories to keep himself relevant in the sport he loves. “I’m riding the wave. I’ve got to keep winning races. My career depends on that. It’s the only way I’m going to stay relevant is by winning races, especially after the whole Iowa deal. It’s the only way I’m going to make a future for myself,” Preece told reporters after the win.
While there was debate among several drivers over the circumstances of Preece’s spinout, which some credited as “strategy” and other drivers wouldn’t comment on at all, Preece himself said that he received a nudge from behind and, after refusing to pit earlier in the event, his tires had fallen off too much at that point to keep the car stable.
Doug Coby was credited as the runner-up in the event after his crash froze the field coming across the line for the final lap. Ted Christopher and Timmy Solomito finished third and fourth and shared their thoughts after the race as well.
“I was a good run. We ran really good at Stafford and I knew we had something to build off of with that,” Christopher told reporters. “I think we were best in class because we wanted to do a late pit, but we were just too free in the beginning. It worked out for (Preece and Coby) and I knew it was going to be one of those two guys who got through.”
Points leader Timmy Solomito said he wants to ride the consistency into the rest of the season, hoping to keep a firm grip on his lead having only a slim ten-point advantage over Rowan Pennink, who captured the pole for the Bud 150 and finished seventh, following the race at Thompson.
“You have to race smart, but you have to race hard too. It’s still a long time to go in the season. You don’t want to put yourself in a position to get wiped out early and lose points,” Solomito said. “You’ve got to run hard, but you have to be smooth and you have to be there at the end. We’re focusing on the big picture right now.”
Before the Whelen Modified action the Sunoco Modifieds started off the night with an intense 30-lap feature that saw the points race tighten up and a familiar face return to the top of the leader board and to victory lane. Keith Rocco won the Sunoco race during the 2016 Bud 150 event and repeated the feat in 2017 with his second win of the season. Rocco outraced a hard charging Steve Masse in a bumper to bumper dash to the finish in the closing laps to take the victory and the points lead after Ryan Preece experienced mechanical issues early on in the event. Rocco benefited from a late caution that saw all three of the leaders at the time, Woody Pitkat, Ted Christopher, and Troy Talman, spin out of turn two. When the green waved once again Rocco took the lead and was practically pushed around the track by Masse until a last lap duel allowed Rocco to gain enough of a gap to win.
“Masse was pushing us pretty good down the straightaway, but to move to dive bomb somebody and make it stick is pretty tough. I think his car was too free to do that,” Rocco said of the battle for the lead in the closing laps. He added that he felt like his team finally caught a break in 2017 as the results allowed him to overtake Ryan Preece as Rocco continues his quest for a second straight Sunoco Modified title. Masse held on for a second place finish followed by Ted Christopher and Woody Pitkat, who recovered from their on-track incident, in third and fourth and Todd Owen in fifth.
The NorthEastern Midget Association (NEMA) Midgets were next up with yet another driver familiar to victory lane in Thompson taking the checkered flag. Randy Cabral continued his winning ways at the Big-T, adding to his impressive win total that makes him the winningest driver in the NEMA Midgets at Thompson. Cabral also claimed his second consecutive series win on the season and fended off a hard charging John Zych, Jr.in the closing laps to get the job done. “I had to keep my cool and keep going,” Cabral said. “It was awesome. I love this place.” The win wasn’t enough to put Cabral in the points lead for the season, but it closed up the tight battle for the championship lead going into the series’ next event at the Waterford Speedbowl on August 12. Kyle Hamilton, Jim Chambers, Mike Horn, and Bethany Stoehr rounded out the top five in the 25-lap feature.
The Limited Sportsman 20-lap feature ended in an emotional win for Brent Gleason. It was his second consecutive victory at the track making him the first two-time winner in the division in 2017. Gleason found himself up front for much of the event, even going side by side with Shawn Monahan for nearly a full lap before taking the lead for the final time and holding on for the checkered flag. Gleason dedicated the win to his father, who he admitted recently got some bad health news, and said he wasn’t going to let anyone but him cross the finish line first. “ I knew that my car was better on the long run – I’m just glad it’s over. It took so long,” Gleason said referencing a red flag that slowed the race during a multi-car incident on lap six. The win is Gleason’s second at Thompson since he had a win disqualified for an improper engine. Gleasons called his recent success vindicating. “I didn’t have much say over that motor, but when we rebuilt it I had the say. I told them exactly what I wanted in it and we rebuilt it and while it’s a little harder to drive it helps it handle better. We may not have the best stuff but we’re the best team, or at least we try to be.” Shawn Monahan held on for second followed by Al Stone, Steve Kenneway, and Troy Waterman.
The final events of the night saw points leader Wayne Burroughs, Jr. take yet another win on the season in the 15-lap Mini Stock feature.
Oval racing action returns to Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Sunday, September 10 with the Sunoco 20/20 “For the Fans” event. The evening of racing will be the final opportunity for local racing division competitors to gain points, wins, or momentum as the season draws closer to the October World Series of Weekend where local champions and the Whelen Modified Tour champion will be crowned.
WHELEN MODIFIED TOUR BUD 150 FINISH TOP-10: 1. Ryan Preece (Berlin, CT); 2. Doug Coby (Milford, CT); 3. Ted Christopher (Plainville, CT); 4. Timmy Solomito (Islip, NY); 5. Bobby Santos (Franklin, MA); 6. Andrew Krause; 7. Rowan Pennink (Huntington Valley, PA); 8. Eric Goodale (Riverhead, NY); 9. John McKennedy (Chelmsford, MA); 10. Woody Pitkat (Sturbridge, MA)