2014 Phoenix International Raceway: The Race In Photos

Photojournalism: R. A. Fariello | Photography by Gina Graham Fariello

The 1st race of the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro season took place on 27 February at the Phoenix International Raceway {PIR}.  Thompson Motorsports brought the familiar, but reworked in the off-season, #61 car to the race. The race also had its expected representation of quick K&N East Series cars, many with family ties to the large NASCAR race teams located in the NC area.

After a long winter break, the TMS team, lead by Crew Chief Will Harris, were excited to be at the race track again. The team unloaded a well prepared #61 car. After 2 practice laps, Brett told Will over the radio, “This car can Win!”

The car practiced 11th and 8th in two sessions and then, after holding the fastest speed in qualifying for the first 23 entrants, eventually qualified an impressive 4th. It was all good at TMS – #61 Driver Brett Thompson and Crew Chief Will Harris were confident it was going to be a good race!

When the race began, the #61 “RTTI Going Green with Blu” (Blulng.com) Chevrolet quickly moved to 2nd position.

However, on a subsequent and very early restart, another competitor’s car brushed against the right front fender of Brett Thompson’s car. The #61 began to slow up at a rate of about .15 seconds per lap and, as a consequence, it was unable to maintain pace and began falling behind in the race standings.

Eventually, with most of the race laps completed, the situation forced an unwanted pit stop. The TMS Pit Crew found everything to be OK with the exception of some damage to the right front fender. It was ‘pulled and pounded out’ by the pit crew and the car returned to the track where, astonishingly, it was again very fast! Brett then made an impressive charge from the back of the pack, passing 5 cars in the last 4 laps, and finished a very strong 9th.

At another time and in another place, 9th may have seemed a ‘good’ result. But, given the circumstances encountered at this race, 9th place was obviously an excellent performance.

Special Note: For 2014, part of the PIR Story IS the Story of PIR, That being the –

PIR Anniversary Celebration of 50 Years of Racing

After its initial opening in 1964 the Phoenix International Raceway morphed from a venue where road racing was the primary form of competition, into the very scenic and popular “5-corner oval” that it is today.

Much of that transformation came through the vision of the now legendary, Emmett “Buddy” Jobe.

Today, this superb racing venue is an International Speedway Corporation facility and it is currently managed by the very capable Track President, Bryan R. Sperber.

Emmett “Buddy” Jobe (R), the founder, former owner and, developer behind the PIR concept, enjoys a laugh with friend and PIR Media Credential Coordinator, Frank Bachinski.

The 50 year celebration of PIR was widely reported in local press outlets. “Phoenix International Raceway President Bryan R. Sperber announced plans today for the track’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 2014. Sperber was joined by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, Avondale Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers, West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame Chairman and former NASCAR Vice President Ken Clapp and 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner Tom Sneva for the announcement.” {Ref: Arizona Business Magazine}

With wife Laura, PIR President Bryan Sperber attends the 2013 WCSC Hall of Fame Banquet

There is also an interesting and very important bit of history at PIR, which is best explained by the excerpt provided below.

Factoid #1, “The hillsides adjacent to the track also offer a unique vantage point to watch races from “Monument Hill”, located alongside turns 3 and 4, is a favorite among race fans because of the unique view and lower ticket prices. At the top of this hill lies a USGS bench marker known as Gila and Salt River Meridian, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. *** Long before PIR existed, this spot was the original “land survey point” for all of what later became the state of Arizona.** {Ref: Wikipedia.org}

Generally overlooked too, is the positive “economic benefit” that a successful race venue like PIR offers the cities they are located in. In the case of PIR that economic benefit is currently estimated at over one-half BILLION dollars a year, up from $475,000,000 in 2005. Major racing venues make an obvious, large, and important, contribution to both local employment and area finances.

Factoid #2, “Phoenix International Raceway generates approximately $475 million annually and over 5,000 jobs.     ”Source: Arizona State University Study, November 2005. {Ref: Internationalspeedwaycorporation.com}

HistoricMonument Hill” lies on the East Side of the PIR front stretch and creates a scenic backdrop for the ‘early’ hours of setup at the track.

The day prior to the race is ‘setup day’; the TMS Crew gets the #61 car ready for NASCAR ‘Tech’

Off turn #4; the car was 8th quick in the 2nd practice. Note the new ‘colors’ for a TMS car. This was due to a business, and race, partnership between Rich Thompson Trucking Inc. and the visionary Natural Gas Fuel Company, “Blulng.com”. With federal regulations on trucking efficiency nearing, ‘Blu.Lng’ offers a pathway to an environmentally cleaner and more economical future for American Trucking. It is Win-Win

With a few moments to spare, the photographers get Jane & Rich Thompson to stand for a picture

On day two, the car is made ready for its final trip through NASCAR Tech

Prior to Qualifying, the cars are required to go through NASCAR Tech again. After Qualifying no changes can be made to the car. That is insured by “Impounding” the cars until the start of the race.

The ladies of TMS … a lot of smiles considering there is no nearby shopping available!

Brett Thompson climbs into the #61 car and readies for his qualifying run

Brett’s qualifying run was very good and resulted in a 4th place starting position for the race

The #61 held the “quick time” position until the last 5 cars went out – an excellent effort by the TMS team.

Series Director Kip Childress and Official Becky McBride (center right) gather past winners of the Spencer Clark Award for a group picture. Rich Thompson, 2nd from the right, was a past award honoree. Others include (L to R) Bill McAnally, Bill and Kay Sedgwick, Bob Bruncati and, Pastor Bob Bucher (R)

As the 5 PM race time approaches, Brett Thompson goes through ‘driver intro’ for the 21st time. That is a PIR record for a NASCAR K&N Pro driver.

Brooke Thompson supports her favorite driver with a wish of good luck in the race

The Grid is set as the 5 PM race time approaches

The cars roll onto the track for the parade laps

Approaching the Start after which the #61 quickly moved to 2nd place. Shortly thereafter, during a restart, damage was done to the right front fender of Brett’s car. Although that damage was minor, the aero loss was major.  As a result the car became visibly slower until a late race repair could be done.

The story of the “mid-race” was that of the #61 car trying to hold position with, what was, an “aero wounded” car.

Finally, with only about 20% of the race remaining, there was a chance to make a repair on the car without the loss of a lap. The Pit Crew then pulled the fender back to a better aero position. Unfortunately, when Brett returned to the track it was at the back of all of the lead lap cars.

The #61 car returned to the track with a RF fender which was roughly restored to its earlier level of aero performance. With a very intense bit of driving during the few laps remaining, Brett was able to move forward to a 9th place finish.  In doing so, the #61 car had to pass 5 cars in the last 4 laps!

Mixed emotions: Brett was very pleased with both his and the cars performance … but the bad luck issue made for a “what if” question to cope with.

2 long days of work lead to post-race solitude

800 miles to home … but “Blu.Lng” can make the trip more economical!

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