Bonsignore Keeps Hot Streak Alive With Thompson 125 Victory
Story By: Taylor Therrien/Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returned to Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for the second of four appearances at the track in 2018 with the Thompson 125. Coming into the fifth race of the season for the tour Justin Bonsignore was riding a hot streak winning two of the first four races including the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson in April and looked to pad his points lead with another Thompson victory.
Early on in the night’s main event it looked like former title holders would dominate the Thompson 125 with Ryan Preece and reigning champion Doug Coby each seeking victory in a fast-paced event. Coby led nearly a hundred laps from start to finish with lap traffic making for an intense bumper-to-bumper battle as Preece sought any advantage to take the top spot. However, everything changed for both leaders when a caution came out on lap 91 and sent drivers to pit road and suddenly the two frontrunners found themselves at a major disadvantage.
Under caution the entire field hit pit road with Justin Bonsignore taking the lead for the first time all day. When the green flag waved on lap 98 Bonsignore never looked back and quickly set the pace for the last 25 laps holding off a hard charging Rowan Pennink to secure his second consecutive win, his third of the season and his second win of the year at Thompson. Pennink, Coby, Preece and Dave Sapienza rounded out the top five.
“We fired off really good and I could see Doug (Coby) was tight so I wanted to get the lead and grab some points there,” Bonsignore said in victory lane. “Our car faded a little bit. We were just a little too free to run that pace and we knew if we got to the pitstop and put the option tire on we’d be in good shape. The guys won it on pit road tonight.”
With three wins in his pocket and the points lead after going winless in 2017 Bonsignore added that he and his team don’t plan to let success go to their head. They know the season still has a long way to go before a champion is crowned.
“This is an unbelievable start. We’re not taking it for granted,” Bonsignore said. “It’s still only race five, but we’re just enjoying it and living in the moment right now. Racing can humble you quick. I learned that last year and I said that at the Icebreaker. We’re just going to keep our heads down. We’ve got a lot of momentum. Confidence is sky high. Everybody is working well together. It’s a great time to be running a modified.”
A theme for the rest of the night seemed to be champion success as reigning and former title holders took nearly every other victory over the course of the evening. The Sunoco Modifieds began the action with a 30-lap feature that pitted two of the best against each other with Ryan Preece and Keith Rocco seeking glory in the third race of the season for the division at Thompson. Preece had the advantage of starting up front and led the first ten laps before Rocco worked his way to the lead. Preece would not be denied however, putting his bumper to Rocco’s until the caution waved with ten laps remaining setting up a sprint to the finish between two of the most iconic names on the local racing circuit.
The final ten laps were more of the same with Rocco leading and Preece utilizing every trick in his arsenal to try and take the win. Preece made one final move on lap 29 but was unable to seal the deal as Rocco performed the hat trick winning all three Sunoco Modified events of the season so far at the Big-T.
“I figured (Preece) had something for us. They’ve got a good car and they just built that thing. It’s just so hard to pass here without touching anybody. We had a really good car tonight and after we got by him I figured it would be hard for him to get back by us, but he did pressure us through the rest of the race,” Rocco said of his battle with Preece. He also commented on his threepeat to begin the season at Thompson. “It’s awesome. We had four straight at Stafford and we got three straight here so hopefully we can keep the momentum alive.”
The Mini Stock division featured its own battle of heavyweights that saw three of the most dominating drivers on the track in recent years fight for victory. Eric Bourgeois, who had won both previous races in 2018, 2015 champion Dave Trudeau and two-time reigning champion Wayne Burroughs went back and forth for the top three positions for much of the event but the battle eventually came down to Trudeau and Burroughs for the top spot which was settled on a restart halfway through the event. With only seven laps remaining Burroughs and Bourgeois restarted side by side and remained that way for a solid lap until Burroughs was able to wrestle the lead away and hold on for his first victory of 2018. Burroughs all but sacrificed the championship a week earlier when he was unable to race in the Military Night event on June 7 due to a prior commitment, but he called the win a satisfying consolation prize.
“We were a little bit bummed we got knocked out of the points race, but from here on out it’s just trying to come here and win some trophies,” Burroughs said in victory lane. “We did that tonight and we didn’t put a scratch on the car. It was fun racing and we got the job done.”
The trend of champions continued into the NEMA Lite 25-lap feature with a very familiar face taking home the trophy. After working his way through the field in the opening laps Dan Cugini was able to add yet another Thompson win in his record after charging to the lead following a caution on lap 11. Cugini moved past early leader Anthony Payne when racing action resumed and earned his first victory of the season in his attempt to repeat as series champion.
“It’s always nice to get a win especially when we’ve run a few races where we were so close. This one just worked in our favor. This is my favorite track by far. People say that about everything, but this is the track I always love coming to,” Cugini said after his win.
The Limited Sportsman saw yet another champion who proved to be the class of the field as Ryan Waterman followed up his victory in the Limited Sportsman Long Distance race a week earlier with a dominating run in the 20-lap feature. The 2016 division champion has looked strong early in the season and made a statement by opening up a lead on veterans Scott Sundeen and Corey Fanning, both drivers he outraced to take the title two years ago, in the first 15 laps of the race. Things got dramatic in the closing laps as Waterman survived a late race caution and fended off a hard charge from 2017 division champion Shawn Monahan in the final turn to take the win, his second in a row at Thompson.
“I pretty much had my mind set to be in cruise control and try not to slip up. It seemed to work pretty good,” Waterman said. “Shawn (Monahan) is a hard racer. He gets every little bit out of his car, but I don’t think he had quite the car I had.”
The night ended with a 25-lap Late Model feature where Mark Jenison scored the victory after early leaders Matt Lowinski-Loh, Rick Gentes and William Wall were involved in a wreck out of turn four after going three wide through the corner. Jenison took the lead on the restart sand notched his first Thompson victory since 2007 in a car dedicated to veterans of the military.
The evening also included a powerful tribute to a member of the racing community. Prerace ceremonies featured a special dedication to AJ Vogel, a NASCAR official who passed away earlier in the week. Vogel’s family was presented a special checkered flag in his memory while one final radio transmission to Vogel was broadcast over the loudspeaker prior to the national anthem.
Racing action returns to Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in a month’s time on Saturday, July 14 with the second annual Thompson Throwback 100 featuring the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. NASCAR’s rising young stars will take to the track looking for victory as the Big-T celebrates the history of New England racing in style. The evening will also include the fourth feature events of the season for local racing divisions as drivers look to take one step closer to a title.
NASCAR WHELEN MODIFIED TOUR THOMPSON 125 TOP-10: 1. Justin Bonsignore; 2. Rowan Pennink; 3. Doug Coby; 4. Ryan Preece; 5. Dave Sapienza; 6. Timmy Solomiro; 7. Craig Lutz; 8. Rob Summers; 9. Chase Dowling; 10. Matt Swanson
SUNOCO MODIFIED FEATURE TOP-10: 1. Keith Rocco (Berlin, CT); 2. Ryan Preece (Broad Brook, CT); 3. Todd Owen (Somers, CT); 4. Steve Masse (Bellingham, MA); 5. Troy Talman (Oxford, MA); 6. Marcello Rufrano (Northaven, CT); 7. Bert Marvin (Colchester, CT); 8. Ronnie Williams (Tolland, CT); 9. Joey Gada (Uncasville, CT); 10. Kyler Cafro (Chaplin, CT)
MINI STOCKS FEATURE TOP-10: 1. Wayne Burroughs, Jr. (Oakdale, CT); 2. Eric Bourgeois (East Haddam, CT); 3. David Trudeau (Mansfield, CT); 4. Jared Roy (Sterling, CT); 5. Evan Bourgeois (East Haddam, CT); 6. Tommy Silva (Gales Ferry, CT); 7. Dave Trudeau, Jr. (Mansfield, CT); 8. Chris Taylor (East Lyme, CT); 9. Keith Ballou (Pascoag, RI); 10. Mike Anzalone (Plainfield, CT)
NEMA LIGHTS FEATURE TOP-10: 1. Dan Cugini (Marshfield, MA); 2. #6; 3. Anthony Payne (Fairlawn, NJ); 4. Meg Cugini (Marshfield, MA); 5. Ben Mikitarian (Northborough, MA); 6. Alan Chambers (Atkinson, NH); 7. Richie Coy (Haskell, NJ); 8. Jim Catald0 (Sterling, MA); 9. John Zych (Mendon, MA); 10. Randy Cabral (Plymouth, MA)
LIMITED SPORTSMAN FEATURE TOP-10: 1. Ryan Waterman (Danielson, CT); 2. Shawn Monahan (Waterford, CT); 3. Scott Sundeen (Sutton, MA); 4. Corey Fanning (Mapleville, RI); 5. Larry Barnett (Moosup, CT); 6. Chris Meyer (North Franklin, CT); 7. Jesse Gleason (Lisbon, CT); 8. Steve Kennaway (Lowell, MA); 9. Brent Gleason (Griswold, CT); 10. Mike Malbum (Moosup, CT)
LATE MODEL FEATURE TOP-10: 1. Mark Janison (Warwick, RI); 2. Woody Pitkat (Sturbridge, MA); 3. Tom Carey, III (New Salem, MA); 4. Nick Johnson (Rehoboth, MA); 5. Glenn Boss (Danielson, CT); 6. Chad Baxter (Pascoag, RI); 7. William Wall (Shrewsbury, MA); 8. Randy Tucker (Millis, MA); 9. Walt Sutcliffe (East Haven, CT); 10. Mike Benevides (Westerly, RI)