Back surgeries may have slowed Jeff Zuidema when it comes to getting around a track fast behind the wheel of a race car.
Zuidema, who was named racing director at Thompson International Speedway in late December, has spent the winter working to get car counts back on the rise at one of the country’s most legendary short track facilities.
“I think we’re definitely moving in a positive direction,” Zuidema said. “It’s a new deal and I have one shot to make a good impression.”
Car counts had been on a steady decline in a handful of divisions at the track over the last few years. Over the last two years there were many weeks when the track would struggle just to get double-digit numbers in its premier NASCAR Whelen All-American Series SK Modified division.
Zuidema said the track has worked to align various divisional rules closer with divisions at Stafford Motor Speedway and the Waterford Speedbowl. They’ve opened the Late Model division up to American Canadia Tour Late Model rules. And Zuidema said bringing the perspective of a competitor to the leadership role of competition at the track is important to attracting competitors.
Thompson opens it season April 13-14 with the running of the Icebreaker.
“I’m a competitor,” said Zuidema, who had to end a decades long racing career after the 2010 season because of back issues. “I’ve always been a competitor. I wish I could still be a competitor. But I can’t, so this is very good for me and it got me back involved and pumped. Everything that I will do will be from helping the competitors side.
“We need racecars. How do you have a five-eighths mile track – the best facility around – how they got back to averaging 10 cars in those divisions I just don’t know. They got on their own planet in rules with every division. It was a little change this year and a little change the next year and all of the sudden you can’t run that racecar at Waterford or Stafford. Now we’ve fixed that.”
Zuidema said he expects 18-20 SK Modifieds at the track when weekly Thursday night shows begin May 30.
“If I don’t get them 20 racecars and the max points for the [NASCAR Whelen All-American Series scoring system] then your key players are not going to support it,” Zuidema said. “Guys like Ted [Christopher] and [Keith] Rocco and Woody [Pitkat] might only be occasional because they’re not getting max points. So I have to get them 20 and right now I feel that we will have 20 in that division every week.”
Zuidema said one thing fans will not see happening is the track allowing drivers in the SK Light Modified division to start and park in the SK Modified features this season to inflate the starting fields, a practice that was common throughout the 2012 season.
“Will not happen,” Zuidema said. “I will not do that. If I don’t get them 20 [SK] Modifieds, I didn’t do my job. Doing that is kind of making a mockery of things. Those guys were starting and parking and collecting the money and it just wasn’t right. I will not do that.”
Zuidema said he expects at least 18 cars a week in the track’s Late Model division. The new ACT rules package opens the division to competitors from numerous tracks around New England, including the Waterford Speedbowl.
Zuidema is hoping he can get some competitors who run regularly at Waterford to also compete weekly at Thompson. The Speedbowl will be running a weekly show on the Saturday qualifying day for Icebreaker weekend, but Zuidema said he will allow any Waterford Late Model competitors to skip qualifying that weekend and start at the rear of the field in Sunday’s Icebreaker feature.
Zuidema said the track will add special Driver appreciation races for the Limited Sportsman and Mini Stock divisions on the Saturday of the Icebreaker weekend. The races will be open to any drivers who started an event at the track last year but did not finish in the top-10 in points.
“Those two divisions have been the best divisions at Thompson for the last 10 years when it comes to car counts,” Zuidema said. “They were the only divisions with cars last year. Those guys that support what’s going on here even deep in those fields need to be taken care of and this is our way of doing that.”
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