On Saturday November 16, 2013 I had the opportunity to visit and tour the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut. This tour was part of a Sports Car Club of America meeting to discuss the road racing schedule for 2014. The Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (TSMP) is located in the northeast corner of Connecticut very close to both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. And it’s only about 30 miles from my house!
Location of Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park
These days SCCA and the Thompson track are not always talked about in the same paragraph, but thanks to the re-establishment of a road course at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, the SCCA and Thompson Motor Speedway are now working together to schedule racing for the 2014 season. Things are changing at Thompson and it is clear that the SCCA members are enthusiastic about the changes.
The Thompson track has a long history that began with the devastating hurricane that swept through New England in 1938. That hurricane killed over 320 people and is recognized as one of the most destructive hurricanes in known American history. At that time John Hoening was farmer near Thompson, Connecticut. After the storm devastated his farm, he decided that rather than clean up all the downed trees and return to farming he would build a race track. And he did. He built a 5/8-mile (1.0 km) paved oval track which opened on May 26, 1940.
Scene From Opening Day At The Thompson Speedway
Hoening’s racetrack made a big impact on American car racing at that time. In those days a 5/8ths mile, high-banked racetrack was considered to be huge. Most American race tracks had dirt, boards or bricks surfaces and were ¼ mile in length or less.
About 10 years after the initial track opened, a road course was added at Thompson Speedway. It is said that this was the first closed purpose-built road course race track in the United States. Actually this was the first of three road course configurations at Thompson Speedway, therefore it is referred to as “Thompson 1”. The Thompson 1 layout was integrated with the oval track layout.
Race At Thompson 1
If you look closely at the above photo, then you can see how the oval track and the road course were blended. In the early days there was a significant amount of sports car racing at the Thompson track.
MGs Racing At Thompson 1 (Note Both Left And Right Hand Drive MGs)
After a few years the second layout of the road course at Thompson, Thompson 2, was used. During my tour on Saturday, I was able to talk with a racer who had competed at Thompson 2 and he was able to point out the names of two of the most challenging corners on that track – “The Light Bulb” and “The Button Hook”.
The Thompson 2 Layout
The fellow who told me about the corners at Thompson, said that in the day, Road & Track magazine identified the top 10 race track corners in the United States and two of those ten corners were at the Thompson Speedway. Thompson Speedway was an important road racing track in those days.
For the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park it is “back to the future” for now. The existing oval track is going to be removed and a new purpose-built road course is going to be constructed. The proposed plan for the track is shown below:
The Proposed Track Layout At Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park
The new track will be about 1.7 miles (2.8 km) long and will be run in a clockwise direction. At this time much of the binder coarse asphalt has been laid, the new garage and classrooms built, as well as the control tower is nearing completion, therefore we were able to get a good idea of the configuration of the track during our tour.
The Control Tower With The New Garage And Classrooms In The Background
The longest straight portion of the track is along start/finish area in front of the control tower. This straight is somewhat broken up with the Dog Leg which is a slight left into a short straight leading to the Golf Course Turn.
Looking From The Dog Leg Into the Golf Course Turn
I think that the Club House Turn has the potential to be the most difficult corner on the track. It is a tight, slightly downhill right turn with little to no track camber.
The Clubhouse Turn
To enter the oval area, the existing walls that define the oval will be torn down. This track arrangement will allow the grandstands to be used by the road race spectators.
Modifications To Enter The Former Oval Area
The Existing Oval Track Grandstands
At the oval area exit, the walls have been knocked down.
Oval Area Exit
One of the racers noted that the start/finish straight actually starts at the Diving Turn. This turn is tight and could be a first gear turn. At the turn exit, the drivers will have to accelerate hard and continue accelerating all the way through the next corner to the end of the Sassoon Straight at the Gold Course Turn.
Looking Back At The Diving Turn
One thing that is interesting is the large hill on the inside of the Diving Turn. This will be an excellent spectator area with a view of much of the track.
The Sassoon Straight
The Sassoon Straight has a little crest at the beginning then continues past the Control Tower on the right side of the track.
I want to thank Hal Denham for providing me with the opportunity to tour this track and to Mike Rand, who was the leader of our tour group and very knowledgable about the new Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
I think that this will be a good race track and I look forward to watching some good road races at Thompson.
Please note that the historical photos of the racing at Thompson came from the Thompson Speedway website and the base image of “Thompson 2” came from “A Guide To American Sports Car Racing” by William S. Stone written in 1960.
You can also see more about the race track layouts at Thompson Speedway in subsequent posts that I made on November 29, 2013 and December 7, 2013.