Need For Speed: Track Night In America Lets Everyone Hit The Road At Thompson Speedway

SCAA Novice Class instructor Renee Dupuis talks to a driver on pit road as the checkered flag falls on the SCCA Track Night in America Event Thursday at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (Photo: Shawn Courchesne/RaceDayCT)

THOMPSON – Going too fast on the streets is something James Ralph admits he’s had problems controlling in the past. 

It wasn’t so much the going fast part that was the problem for the 21-year old from New York City, but more the collection of speeding and reckless driving citations he was collecting while going fast. 

“I have a fast car and I want to go fast,” Ralph said Thursday while in the garage area at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. 

At Thompson Thursday Ralph was taking part in the outlet he has found to save himself from trouble on the road while driving his Subaru STI. 

Ralph was participating in Thursday’s SCCA Track Night in America event at Thompson. Track Night in America allows anyone over 18 with a street legal vehicle and a valid driver’s license to get on track and push their car to its limits. 

Thompson is hosting eight Track Night in America events this year. Thursday marked the fourth event this year at Thompson, with events remaining on July 30, Aug. 22, Sept. 12 and Oct. 3

“We’re here for you to come with your family and hang out and go out and work with a group based on your experience and go out and enjoy your car,” SCCA Event Manager Greg Amy said. “Our hashtag is #funwithcars. It’s about recreation not competition. We don’t even expect anybody would even have a desire to go to competition. If they do we can point them in the right direction. … This is about going out and enjoying your car.” 

Locally, Lime Rock Park in Salisbury, Palmer (Mass.) Motorsports Park and New Hampshire Motor Speedway also host Track Night in America events

Ralph was at his third event of 2019 Thursday, but his first at Thompson. He previously took part in an event at Lime Rock Park and an event at Palmer Motorsports Park. It costs $165 to participate per event. 

“I can’t afford to get more speeding tickets or reckless driving tickets,” Ralph said. “And doing that on the street, it’s just not safe. It’s irresponsible. Doing this, it’s cheap. I go to the track because I can’t afford more speeding tickets and I have a fast car. It’s better to make a fool of myself here than out on the streets.”

Former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver and SCCA Track Night in America Novice Class driving coach Renee Dupuis (center) meets with Novice Class drivers at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for Thursday’s SCCA Track Night in America event (Photo: Shawn Courchesne/RaceDayCT)

Thompson Speedway typically averages about 75 cars for each event with those cars split into three groups based on experience: Novice, Intermediate and Advanced. Each class gets at least three 20-minute on track sessions per event. 

Former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Renee Dupuis has been part of the Track Night in America programs regionally – primarily at Thompson – over the last five years. 

Dupuis serves as the Novice Class instructor for events at Thompson. Her duties revolve around preparing the Novice class drivers for what they should expect before the event starts and then going over coaching issues after each session on track during each event. 

“I’m in charge of a group of 25 people every event that have very low level experience with any type of on track activity,” Dupuis said. “You’ve got big heavy cars with a lot of horsepower, you’ve got little light cars with a ton of horsepower and you’ve got little light cars with no horsepower. And you’ve got to get the 25-30 of them through this program every night. It’s a tall order with a novice group keeping everybody safe and having a good time. 

“It’s a highly policed event. We talk to them when they first get here and then they go out on the track for a pace lap session. Just a follow the leader thing with a pace car at low speed. Then they come in and talk to me again. So we talk about the passing procedures and the flags. It’s a lot to introduce to people in a short period of time. Then they go out for another 20 minutes session. Everytime they go out on track they come back and we discuss things and how it went.” 

SCCA will host about 150 Track Night in America events this year at about 30 race tracks across the country. 

Garrett Ondo of Barrington, R.I. was making his first visit to Thompson Speedway Thursday night, but the 29-year old said he has been participating in the events for four years with various cars at tracks from California and Nevada to Pennsylvania and South Carolina. 

He was at Thompson Speedway Thursday with a 2018 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport that he bought new last year. He said of the 10,000 miles on the car about 3,000 have come doing Track Night in America events. 

SCCA Event Manager Greg Amy (right) talks with a participant at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for Thursday’s SCCA Track Night in America event (Photo: Shawn Courchesne/RaceDayCT)

“Cheap. Safe. Fun,” Ondo said when I asked what draws him to the events. “I do it because it’s a hobby. I started off with Truck Pulling, Drag Racing then got into Autocross and I thought this was a better value because I actually get a lot of on track experience. I’m here to go fast in a safe and reasonable manner. I don’t do the whole speeding on the freeway thing. This is my time to exert everything that I have.” 

Max Wang was getting plenty of attention on track and off Thursday at Thompson with his Audi R8, which he said is valued at about $155,000. 

The 32-year old from Boston said he has done about 15 Track Night in America events between Thompson Speedway, Palmer Motorsports Park and Lime Rock Park

Wang said he garners plenty of attention on the road with his R8, but he avoids pushing the car too far on public streets and highways. 

The Audi R8 owned by Max Wang at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for Thursday’s SCCA Track Night in America event (Photo: Shawn Courchesne/RaceDayCT)

“It’s hard but I resist that,” Wang said. “I don’t do things stupid. Sometimes people want to race me and I just ignore them. … This is where I can push myself and the car to the limits, legally. I’m very aggressive here. This feeds my hunger for what I want to do with this car.”

Asked if pushing to the limits even during the highly regulated events scares him Wang said: “Of course I worry.” 

“You can crash and you can get hurt and the car can get hurt. You have to know that when you get here.”

That stark reality of what can happen was on display for Thursday at Thompson. Chris Bouvier, of a 30-year old from North Smithfield, R.I. had a brake failure and ended up crashing his 2015 Camaro into a barrier, doing extensive front-end damage to his car. 

Bouvier said he was participating in his seventh Track Night in America event. 

“The brakes failed, the car went into a slight spin and once you hit the grass it was like being on ice,” Bouvier said. “You can have a mechanical failure and spin out like that. You always know something can happen, you know that when you get here. If you want to go fast things can happen and you have to know that.”

Picture This: Photo Gallery From Track Night In America At Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park

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  1. Mike Joy says

    This is a great event, and a great, inexpensive way to get on track. My son Scott did one at the Charlotte roval, then went back for the SCCA race later in the year and set a new track record !

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