The name Icebreaker took on more than normal meaning in April 2015. Thompson Speedway opened its season after a winter that dumped over 100 inches of snow - something that brought back memory of the infamous 1978 and '79 New England blizzards - and opened amid some of the best mid-April weather in years.
Not only did the weather bring out positivity, it brought out the strongest crowd for the Icebreaker in awhile and also showcased some eye-popping changes to the speedway, eye-popping especially to one who hadn't been to Thompson in several years. With a strong sponsorship presence from the Mohegan Sun casino, the speedway now boasts garage buildings in what had once been merely an open paved lot for team transporters; it also boasts a revamped road course, sporting new road course pavement, SAFER barriers, and old-fashioned Armco - so old-fashioned it made the road course look like Watkins Glen.
The Icebreaker thus opened the NASCAR Modified Tour season with the strongest field for the 150-lapper in years. But for two-time series champ Doug Coby, it was merely a showcase of spring cleaning. Staring on the pole in his Smeriglio Racing #2 Chevrolet, Coby took off in a race that was an exercise in close but ultimately futile pursuit by the likes of Bobby Santos III, New England legend Ted Christopher, and contender Ronnie Silk. Silk offered the only true challenge for Coby, as pitstops past halfway under yellow put Silk in the lead; it took three laps and a nifty three-abreast slide job by Coby on the restart before he retook the lead and finished up cleaning house at the Icebreaker.
Numerous yellows kept the field close; it also put the #88 of Woody Pitkat behind the eight ball early as NASCAR briefly stopped the race to find a mysterious fluid leak that drivers reported but could not identify; finding the #88 to be the culprit, NASCAR sent Pitkat to the pits to get the leak fixed. This done, Pitkat had to rally back to the front and he did just that, ultimately finishing second.
"Every restart we started on the bottom," Pitkat said after the race, noting the long-standing reality of Thompson racing that the low line in the corners simply isn't fast. It thus leads to Modified racing there resembling sprint cars with slide-job passing and the cars noticeably loose in the corners.
Coby's housecleaning at Thompson furthers a Modified career that started well in 2004 but hit a series of detours in the 2008-10 period as Coby had to go car-hopping, an experience that "promoted me a lot to the series," he has said, which stood him in good stead once he finally got settled again, first with the Dave Darling team in 2011, later with the Smeriglio outfit.
The top nine finishers were Chevrolets, including fifth-place Ryan Preece in Ed Partridge's #6, one of the few cars that could give even a cursory challenge to Coby all day. The Chevy monopoly was broken by Todd Szegedy, driving Bob Garbarino's #4 Dodge; it marled a comeback of sorts for Szegedy, who ran just six Tour races in 2014.
The Icebreaker also marked the beginning of a new TV deal for NASCAR's smaller touring classes as NBC Sports Network taped the race for airing later in the week. If the deal helps as some clearly hope it does, it will be a step forward for NASCAR given long-standing acrimony over negligence, real and perceived, toward the sanctioning body's smaller touring classes.
For the Modified tour spring cleaning resumes at Stafford Speedway at the end of the month.