Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Returns To A Road Course

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!

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Modifications To Enter The Former Oval Area

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The Existing Oval Track Grandstands

At the oval area exit, the walls have been knocked down.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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25 Responses to Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Returns To A Road Course

  1. Dave Gran says:

    Great write up! Thanks for putting this together. Can’t wait to give it a try next year. Dave

  2. Storm Field says:

    Steve;
    Really nice overview of Thompson from both the historical perspective and with a look to the future. As you know only too well, it’s rare that old tracks are reborn. We mostly lose them forever to suburbia, etc. but the “rebirth” of Thompson is very exciting.
    Looking forward to racing there in June at their Vintage Motorsports Festival, which will be dually sanctioned by VRG and VSCCA, another first! Should be some great cars welcoming the track back to active duty. Hope we’ll see you there. Stop by the Joisey Boyz paddock to wet your whistle!
    Best,
    Storm Field

  3. Great right up. Looks like a fantastic course. Cannot wait until it opens!

  4. Bob Melhado says:

    Steve ..I was pleased to see you attended this tour.. There are 2 SCCA races on the Schedule
    I attended our VSCCA Annual Meeting last weekend in Lakeville..VSCCA will be racing there along with the VRG club the last weekend in June…I will keep in touch with you about our events. You are welcome to attend any as my guest…

    As usual… great article !
    Thanks !
    Bob Melhado

    • Hi Bob!
      Great to hear from you again! I did find out that the VSCCA ands VRG were going to be at Thompson next year, but I did not know the date. I would be interested in attending the Thompson event. The vintage cars at Thompson seems very appropriate. Let’s keep in touch about this!
      This coming weekend I have the opportunity to see an alloy-bodied XK120 Jaguar that raced at Thompson in 1951.
      Steve McKelvie

  5. Peter Cheney says:

    My first Drivers School with SCCA was at Thompson. I am So pleased to see it’s return. Peter Cheney

  6. Dave Panas says:

    Steve,
    Nice write-up and great pix. I raced there in a FV in the late 60’s & early 70’s. It was a great track then and I’ll love to get back there next year.

  7. Dave Perlman says:

    Steve,
    Thanks for the good news about the rebirth of Thompson as a road racing course. My first time there was in 1960 and I remember watching at the toe of the boot (the hairpin of the button hook) when Roger Penske and George Constantine came through side by side maybe trading some paint. That was my intro to sports car racing and I never got over it. I raced Thompson in 2 of its configurations, the second and the third that was much like the first with the oval but was a little longer (1.7miles). For a good history of Thompson see http://www.barcboys.com/SecondPage.htm
    and click on Thompson. Thanks again for the3 good news and a great article.
    Dave Perlman

    • Thanks Dave for the information about the Thompson track. The link that you provided in your comment does provide some good history of the Thompson track. Glad that you liked the article!
      Steve McKelvie

  8. Chris Rallo says:

    Nice write up! I had no idea the history of the place!

    So is the oval still going to be usable or not? I thought so.

    Mike Rand. no ‘s’

    Cheers,
    ~Chris

    • Hi Chris! Thanks for the correction to Mike Rand’s name. Initially I thought that they were going to keep the oval, but during the tour I was told that the oval would not be maintained. It appears that the oval is going to be eliminated, but I’m going to wait awhile before I get too definitive on this.
      Steve McKelvie

      • funfvblog says:

        Hi Steve,
        Great write up.
        As to the oval, I was in the tour group with Josh and he mentioned the road course will enter the oval where you say but not use the banked right turn. At that moment the path wasn’t cut as to where it would go exactly but from what he explained, it appears similar to the graphic you show of the proposed layout. This is in an effort to slow the cars down and not damage the walls:)
        The oval is staying and there are 7 Nascar events scheduled for 2014. The Nascar events are on their own days and will not coincide with any road racing events.
        The entire facility is shaping up very nicely and I can’t wait to try it out!
        -Andy P.

      • Thanks Andy for the additional information about the oval!
        Steve McKelvie

  9. Frank E.Ewing says:

    Steve,
    Thanks so much for this excellent article on the Thompson road course. I have been searching for several months now as to what is going on at Thompson. Your article is the first one that I have found that puts it all into perspective. I am very excited to get on track and also visit Thompson as a spectator. My ride to a track has now been cut in half as Lime Rock was a two hour drive and Thompson will be only one hour. No need to stay overnight. The one thing that is somewhat of a puzzle is where the parking lots will be. Keep up the good work.
    Best Regards
    Frank

  10. Tom says:

    Do you know when “test and tune days” will be available for the road coarse?
    Thanks,
    Tom

  11. Phil Ackley says:

    Rewind to 1960-1964 I used to watch the races at a teenager from the buttonhook, and actually drove the track with Bonnet and Boot Sports Car Club. Wasn’t there a George Weaver in the chain of ownership? My brother slow-rolled an AH Sprite in 1960, when flame retardant gear was dipped in something like starch (?)
    I wish I could find the pictures of Duncan Black in his SP250 or Bob Grossman and a number of other Ferraris worth a city block today. Phil Cade in his Maserati, Walt Hansgen, John Fitch, Buzzeta’s RSK Porsche’s and Yenko’s and, and!
    I later won several races the revised track in GP in 1974-76. We had to remember potholes along with braking points, apexes, etc.
    I am still winning races at 70 years old and will somehow get to this rejuvenated track before I hang up my wheels.
    Congratulations, promote the history!
    Phil Ackley

  12. John Masters says:

    Hi Phil, Many people didn’t know Mr. Weaver was part of Thompson Speedway but in fact he was a big part of it. The road course was built on two separately owned pieces of property and Mr. Weaver was the owner of part of the land. I never hear the Weaver name mentioned in the same sentence as Thompson Speedway and was very surprised when I read your post…good memory!
    Some people might not like it but if your talking history the Weaver name is part of it.
    John Masters

    • packley@verizon.net says:

      Steve/John

      Sorry your email got tucked in junk folder for awhile until I rescued it.

      Thanks for your comments to my remarks on your thought/memory reviving article on Thompson Speedway. I hope to get there to try the track in the future. My goal is to sell my 3 race cars, get a new Z07 Stingray and tow it to the special tracks I raced early in my career for special DE events.

      Thompson would be one of my targets.

      Regards,

      Phil Ackley

      iPad created on the move pardon ipad-intelligence induced typos

      >

  13. David Meisner says:

    Thanks for a wonderful write-up bringing back so many great memories of the ’60’s racing at Thompson. As George Weaver said: Yours for our sport!.

  14. johnwreed3 says:

    Steve, this is a terrific article!

  15. Pingback: NERRC Championship Finale & Historic Race Group Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park | Grand Prix Road Trip

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