Brett Thompson and the number 61 VaCom Chevrolet 34th at Irwindale Showdown

Brett Thompson and his kid, Emerson and father in law, Rod..........Photo Credit Gina Graham Fariello

By RA Fariello

In what has become a NASCAR Winter Tradition, the 6th annual Toyota Speedway at Irwindale CA “Showdown” was held on the evening of 1.30.2010. The popularity of this race was evident by the live broadcasts carried by Speed Channel TV and satellite radio in addition to a total ‘sellout’ at the speedway. With a good number of marquee names, such as Logano, Gilliland, Truex, etc. from other NASCAR series added to the list of positives, this event has become more important with each succeeding year.

For this race, Brett Thompson and Thompson Motorsports anticipated an excellent level of performance from the car and a possible top 5 finish. The first goal was obviously achieved, but on-track events conspired against a top 5 finish.

During the winter months TMS hired the well known and respected, Charlie Wilson, as Crew Chief for the Team’s 10 cars and 3 trucks. The intent of this change is a belief that Mr. Wilson’s philosophy and methodology would provide a better ‘fit’ with Brett Thompson’s driving style. Combined with engines from Earnhardt Childress Racing (ECR), the #61 car was exceptionally neutral in handling and fully competitive in horsepower. In fact, Brett Thompson, in a later TV interview, described the #61 car as “the best car I’ve had in years”.

The car was unloaded for initial NASCAR Inspection on Thursday, 28 January. It arrived after a day long test session at the LVMS “Bullring”. That test was accompanied by a 4 hour session on the chassis dynamometer of Kevin Kroyer (Kroyer Racing Engines; N. Las Vegas, NV), a winner of past “Engine Builder of the Year” awards. It was after those testing and shakeout sessions that the cars were hauled to the Irwindale Speedway.

On Friday, after 2 practice sessions, qualifying took place during the late afternoon and evening hours. Unfortunately, during this session two variables acted against the TMS Team. Brett’s initial 4th place on the leader board position slipped away as the sun set, with the colder air resulting in the latter half of the field qualifying faster then the 1st half. The second issue was associated with missing a final, and overlooked, adjustment to tighten the car for qualifying. Thus, the car was ‘loose’ during the qualifying laps. However, neither of these issues would be a problem during the nighttime race when the track would be much cooler, and thus, the cars would tighten up.

The important problem associated with the qualifying result would be with a mid-pack starting position (18th), especially given the Showdown’s history of high driving intensity and numerous accidents. The Showdown is a non-points, de-facto invitational race, carrying only an economic penalty for a crashed car or a DNF. Thus, 100% of the drivers are racing to WIN: no one on the race track was considering a final Series Points position. That backdrop is explanatory as to what creates the intensity of the racing involved; although that intensity produces great racing for the fans, it also means that starting a race ‘mid-pack’ carries a higher level of risk than normal.

After pre-race ceremonies and driver introductions, the 40 car field rolled off at about 7:20 PM. The first lap was led by Joey Logano and 3rd place was occupied by David Gilliland. Brett Thompson, due to several cars in front of him ‘slow-starting’, was roughly 23rd. For about 15 laps, during which time the field began to open up a bit, car positions were fairly static. At that point, knowing that he had a superb car under him, Brett began an impressive move toward the front. In fact, by about the half way point of the first 100 lap stint, Brett was already battling for 13th position. At that time, while using the bottom line for passing, a car in front of him got loose and slowed slightly. To avoid a crash the #61 car had no choice but to break hard while turning, a risky maneuver. The end result was a slight bump to the front car, a spin for Brett and, an aero damaged hood on the #61 car. This situation illustrates the dangers inherent in mid-pack racing.

Following the 100 lap race break & pit stop, the car returned to the track with some temporary aero repair in evidence. While not quite as quick as it had been, the car was still very good. That is, until just over the half way point in the race. At that time a car spun, then slid into a second car, and finally both crashed into the wall directly in front of Brett. The VaCom #61 somehow managed to get stopped before impacting the other two cars, but then a 4th car, who was unable to stop, hit all three cars. The outcome of this accident was a red flag stoppage of the race, 4 badly damaged cars, and an end to the race for Thompson Motorsports.

Disappointing as it was, this was the first time in two years that TMS has had a badly damaged race car. Also on the positive side was the superb drive by Brett Thompson coupled with what he called “the best car I’ve had in years.”

The race was eventually won by Joey Lagano in the #25 Home Depot car.

With an optimism driven by the performance of the car, the accomplishments of new crew members, and the horsepower from the new engine supplier, left TMS with conflicting emotions: while the Showdown result was a huge disappointment, the more important long term outlook for the 2010 season was, indeed, very positive.

TMS wishes to thank VaCom Technologies, and President Doug Scott, for their support as a primary sponsor of TMS for the Showdown. The Team also offers thanks to all the VaCom Employees who joined TMS as Hospitality Guests; their support was also welcomed.

TMS also thanks you, our fans and friends, for your support. Please check our website, for this seasons “3-Series” racing schedule

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