Phoenix International Speedway: The Race In Pictures

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

The 14th race of the NASCAR K&N Pro Race Season took place at the Phoenix International Raceway on 11.12.2011.  The #61 car of Brett Thompson was unable to finish the race due to damage sustained in an accident: one he did not cause, but was inadvertently caught up in.  The TMS #61’s season ended with Brett Thompson 6th in series points.  Although this certainly ranks as a good result it was less than hoped for, especially since it was mostly dictated by racing fortunes best described as horrid.

In reporting on the Phoenix Race it must be noted that multiple sub-stories were integrated into the weekend’s events. The most obvious of these was the new contouring and resurfacing of the PIR track. In spite of great care on the part of the PIR management, these changes still produced a “green” racing surface.  When combined with the changes in track configuration, the observed speeds indicated that most drivers exhibited a measure of caution during their early practice laps.

Another story centers around the remarkable, and continuing, development of the K&N Pro Grand National cars. The track speeds at PIR placed the top K&N qualifier almost a full mph faster than the fastest Nationwide Car and, at 26.894 verses 29.936 seconds, ahead of Kyle Busch’s Sprint Cup qualifying effort! This reality is made even more impressive when it is remembered that the K&N Cars race on Bias Ply, not the considerably faster Radial Ply Race Tires used in the other NASCAR divisions.

Lastly, Goodyear brought a new tire to PIR.  It required that considerable adjustments had to be made to the car’s setup, and that reality became an important “loss of practice time” issue for the TMS Team.

Many of the changes made at PIR were safety related: this picture shows a wider front ‘straight’ as well as a SAFER Barrier newly installed along the pit wall.  It was field tested, and certainly appreciated, several times during the race weekend!

The new tire for the race ‘deflected’ sufficiently and thus, created an unsafe tire rub against the #61’s suspension. The car was then raised to provide additional tire clearance but that adjustment ruined the front end valence from ‘sealing’ with the track.

Brett Thompson is left watching the time for scheduled practice ‘tick’ away. The TMS crew worked feverishly to fix the Tire Rub and Nose Valence Seal issues … but it took a considerable amount of time to accomplish all of the necessary work.

To solve the tire rub problem almost all of the scheduled practice time was used up. It was a very big crew effort, but when it was finally completed, Brett only had enough time for a handful of practice laps. Obviously, that was a less than ideal situation for racing on a substantially changed track!

With the work finished, the TMS #61 was ready for practice; but only a few minutes remained in the session. Brett Thompson, clearly, would have to exercise considerable caution in Qualifying.

There was a huge field of cars for the PIR Event; many of the entries were from the “East” Series.

Looking at Turn #4 from #3: another new structure is part of PIR’s very expensive upgrade program. Right: A new full-time NASCAR driver named Danica is shown during Nationwide Practice.

Jane Thompson is shown with Bryan Sauer (L) and Tom Thompson (no relation). Bryan and Tom are managers in the Corporate Offices of Rich Thompson Trucking Inc. Tom was the lucky winner of an all expense paid trip to PIR; the lucky draw took place at the 2010 RTTI Office Christmas Party

An “everybody is invited” party, prior to race day, is a TMS Tradition at PIR. Following expectations, the children appreciate parties the most!

With the #61 car properly sealed against the track, and with the Tire Rub problem solved, Brett’s approach to qualifying was conservative. It had to be a conservative effort since mechanical issues had severely limited his on-track time. Brett qualified 31st, but pronounced the car as being “very good”.

With qualifying complete and the cars impounded, there was roughly 7 hours until race time – and very little to do during that time.  Well, looking at tires qualified as something to do! So was mentally calculating their $15,000+ cost!

Seeing famous faces – and famous hats – was also something to do!

And, watching Ken Clapp (2nd from Left) receiving yet another honor, was something special to do!

The crew gets ready to prep the car for the race.  Both the RTTI Company and the TMS Team use the superb line of products from MOTHERS.  Here the car gets its pre-race shine with the aptly named MOTHERS “Showtime”.

Jane Thompson and her cousin, Teri Tatum, pass the time enjoying “catch up” conversation and the warm afternoon Phoenix sun. The race began slightly after 5:00 PM.

With time to relax, the TMS photographer manages to talk Rich and Jane Thompson into allowing her to photograph them in a setting that might be defined as a “Natural Background Racing Portrait”.

Meanwhile, the Nationwide Race was won by a very popular first-time NASCAR victor, Sam Hornish Jr.

At PIR, Thompson Motorsports was joined by a very talented young driver from the Spokane WA area, Braeden Havens. Braeden has been extremely successful in winning multiple championships in several racing divisions.

With the Nationwide Race complete, The K&N cars are lined up for track entry

As race time approaches the cars are ready for the START Command and the Parade Laps.

Waiting for the “Green”: the start time is very near sunset. Brett Thompson is shown starting 31st.

With the race underway, Brett Thompson began passing cars a rate of almost 1 car every 2 laps. The race development, indeed, looked very positive for TMS.

In an astonishing drive forward, Brett Thompson had driven the #61 car up to 14th place after only 39 Green Flag racing laps (64 laps total). By lap 64 the mood in the TMS pits was buoyant… and then disaster struck!

Entering Turn #1: the two cars located directly in front of the #61 fought over the same bit of racetrack, and crashed. Unable to avoid them, Brett, too, became involved in the accident. It was a serious event; one which ruined the #61 and briefly set it on fire! For TMS a very good evening came to an abrupt end.

The TMS crew made a valiant attempt to get the car back out in the race. In the end, that was impossible as attested to by the amount of damaged material already cut away from the car.

{Note: Picture from track screen/YouTube}

A moment of high anxiety: Racing fortunes can change in a heartbeat.  This fiery scene, in the aftermath of Brett’s involvement in an accident, provided National TV with exciting and attention grabbing visual “Clips” of the event.  For family members, friends and, fans, the visual reality was far less exciting but far more worrisome.

With the 2011 NASCAR K&N season at a close, and Thanksgiving at hand, the picture above illustrates that giving thanks is not limited to Turkey Dinners.  Although Brett Thompson remained unfazed by this event, his family and friends were not. All of them are very thankful about the outcome of this accident – even if accidents remain an integral part of living life as a race car driver. Again, we are all reminded of, and thankful for, the invaluable safety design requirements mandated by our friends at NASCAR.

Brett Thompson began this race in 6th place in series points – and he finished the season in 6th place.  Obviously, that was a commendable result, but the TMS Team wanted more. With the exception of one track, TMS had very fast cars at every race. However, misfortunes – often referred to as bad luck – seemed to follow the team from track to track. The fact that every single employee worked hard and effectively throughout the season is what enabled TMS to finish in 6th place.

For 2012 it is reasonable to expect “Lady Luck” to smile on TMS and the Team will respond in kind. This really was a good year for TMS – even if it was 5 positions away from the Team’s 2011 goal.

Be assured that, at TMS, the mood is very positive for the 2012 season.

***

We ask you, our friends and loyal fans, to follow us on this site during the off season. There are some exciting plans for next year and, as they are formulated, they will be posted on our website.

We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year – and offer a sincere Thank You to everyone.

-Thompson Motorsports


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