Drivers start their engines - and the NASCAR season - at Thompson Speedway

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Tue., Apr. 16, 2013
Thompson Speedway
Defending champion Doug Coby gets behind the wheel for the start of the race at Thompson Speedway on April 14. Photos by D. Coffey.

A line-up of 29 cars, their drivers and pit crews filled the pit area at the Thompson Speedway on the afternoon of April 14. The last race of the weekend, the Whelen Modified tour was also the highlight for most race fans. The drivers were ready to go, setting in motion the start of the 2013 NASCAR season.

Defending champion Doug Coby sat patiently on one of his car's 15-inch-wide tires. He had placed seventh in qualifying races on Saturday, but he liked his chances to compete. The 33-year-old started his racing career at Thompson's Little T track when he was 8 years old.

“Thompson is fun for the drivers,” Coby said. “It's fast. It's big. There are a lot of different ways to get around it. There are a lot of ways to make your car work in different spots. You'll see drivers trying some stuff that other drivers won't try, like passing on the outside. This is one of the few tracks you can pass on the outside, which isn't common. When there is an accident, and there is a caution flag and we restart the race, the preferred lane will be the outside lane.”

The cars reach upwards of 130 mph on the 5/8-mile high-banked asphalt track. “It's like being in rush-hour traffic, but going a hell of a lot faster, and with the ability to use the front bumper if you need to,” Coby said.

Jamie Tomaino, who has been racing for 39 years, stood by his 2013 Troyer car waiting for the call. Twenty years ago, there were more race tracks and fewer rules. “Now there are almost as many inspectors as there are drivers,” Tomaino said. He used to run in 33 races a season. This year it will be 14 races. “And it's hard to do 14 with the amount of money it costs to race one of these cars,” he said. On average, new cars cost about $80,000. Throw in a truck and trailer to transport it, the parts, labor and crew to maintain it, and it's a hefty chunk of change. “I've been doing it long enough and I'm fortunate enough to be grandfathered in to a lot of companies,” he said.

Twenty-year-old Patrick Emerling from Buffalo has been racing in the series for three years. He escaped trouble during a qualifying run on Saturday when his left rear tire spun off the rim and caused his car to spin out. “We're lucky the car wasn't destroyed,” he said. The memory of it didn't seem to weigh heavily on him as he waited for the race to begin.

When the drivers got word, they climbed through the windows and fastened themselves into their full containment seats. With helmets on and window nets up, they drove off in a line to turn two to be introduced to the crowd, and the 2013 NASCAR season.

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