THOMPSON – The grounds of Thompson International Speedway this weekend are a virtual celebration of short track stock car racing with 337 cars on site to compete in 16 separate feature events at the track over Saturday and Sunday of the World Series Speedway Racing card.
That’s a question track owner Donald Hoenig wasn’t ready to give a definitive answer to on Saturday.
Rumors have persisted over the last few months that Thompson Speedway management is looking at a possible overhaul, or even elimination, of their weekly racing series program.
Multiple weekly divisions at the track this year have struggled with car counts, including the track’s premier Whelen All-American Series SK Modified division. Thompson runs its weekly events on Thursday evenings from early May to mid-September.
On Saturday Hoenig said he’s not sure what will happen next year with weekly racing at the track.
Asked if the weekly racing series at the track could be eliminated for the 2013 season Hoenig said: “I don’t have a clue what we’re going to do come another year.
“We had a very difficult year like everybody else in racing. In my own head I’ve kicked around and talked to a lot of people, honestly, we established Thursday night, but with the economy the last couple years it’s been very difficult.
“… Gas prices, economy, the cost of living, people just don’t have the money. That’s the issue like on Thursday. Should we change it? Maybe. Are we going to do it? I’m not sure. You don’t know if you change if it’s going to get any better or not. And if you change what do you do to keep going weekly? Perhaps it’s Sunday. Sunday afternoons or nights in the summer? That would be one thing? Are we going to continue to run every single week? I don’t know. And can guys afford to keep running? I can afford to keep running the speedway, but drivers and car owners and everybody else, I think there’s just too much racing happening.”
Hoenig said there’s a possibility that the track could go to a minimal schedule of big events only for stock car racing. The other big factor involved in the decision making process is the possibility of a road course being built at the track. Speedway management has been studying the possibility of adding the road course for much of this season.
“When the season’s over with we’ll see how feasible it is to give it consideration of doing it,” Hoenig said. “There hasn’t been any decision made to do anything as of now. It’s been a complete study.
“We haven’t committed to anything. We did a whole complete study and we’ll sit down and look thoroughly through every aspect of it. It requires a lot of investment in doing it and there’s a lot of issues. Will it work? I don’t know.”
Sources have said that management has already set dates for certain sports car events for next season. Hoenig said not to read into that.
“We’ve talked about things, they’ve all been here,” Hoenig said. “Until the money is in the palm of your hand you don’t have anything.”
Thompson has had three incarnations of road courses through its history. Road course racing was last run at the track in the late 1970’s.
“I did club racing, I did rentals and I did professional racing,” Hoenig said of road course attempts in the past. “… The reason I stopped it was because the amateur stuff was good but the professional part was like with NASCAR only worse. I couldn’t deal with them financially.”
The loss of weekly racing at the track could alter how much NASCAR visits the track with the Whelen Modified Tour. Typically NASCAR regional touring events focus on running at short tracks that support NASCAR’s Whelen All-American Series weekly racing program.
The Whelen Modified Tour visits Thompson four times a year. The series also visits Stafford Motor Speedway four times a year. The two tracks made up more than half of the 14 event Whelen Modified Tour schedule this year.
“What would they have?” Hoenig said when asked about the possibility of NASCAR not going to the track if weekly racing was eliminated. “Thompson and Stafford are the backbone of the Tour and the drivers have always supported these two racetracks and the race fans have. That’s basically the hub of what they have. I don’t know where else they would go.”
Hoenig said he blames NASCAR for many of the ills that have come over his weekly program.
“I went through this with NASCAR on Monday,” Hoenig said. “I told them, you go back thirty years, there was tracks like Thompson, Stafford [Motor Speedway], Seekonk [Speedway] and all the New England tracks, we fed all these customers to you. They became your customers and you took them away from us. Now they’re all [Sprint Cup Series] oriented and we don’t have any race fan base like we used to.”
Hoenig said decisions on what next year will look like at the track need to be made quickly.
“In a month we’ll know,” Hoenig said. “… It’s going to take another month before we know exactly where we’re going to go for another year. But we have to tell people.”
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