With no advance warning, the skies turned black as huge storm clouds raced over the area. The “Long Island Express” was ready to bear down on New England. The affects were devastating as the famous 1938 hurricane roared through this quiet farming town. When the skies cleared, buildings, trees and just about anything in the storm’s path had been destroyed. Included was the farm of John Hoenig and his family.
In the aftermath of the storm called the “Long Island Express,” many chose to rebuild. Some chose to pull up stakes and move elsewhere. However, John Hoenig had a dream. If ever that dream were to become reality, now was the time.
He began to remove the downed trees and clear the land. He brought in a rock crusher, built a sawmill, and moved thousands of cubic yards of gravel. All of these items were needed to create his dream. Before long, the nation’s first asphalt racetrack was beginning to take shape and John Hoenig’s dream was coming true.
By the standards of the day, a 5/8ths mile, high-banked racetrack was huge. Most tracks had dirt, boards or bricks as surfaces and were ¼ mile in length or less. But, in spite of the critics, Hoenig persevered and on May 26, 1940 the gates opened for the first time to a capacity crowd. The word of this new “super speedway” spread across the country and soon Thompson became know as the “Indianapolis of the East.” Nearly every big name driver in the country set his sights on Thompson, CT. The track became a Mecca for auto racing drivers and fans.
With the speedway less than ten years old, a new dimension was added in the form of a road course. This addition brought an entirely new group of cars and fans as they enjoyed another “first” in Thompson, the country’s first enclosed racecourse. Next came the addition of a ¼ mile oval track that was built inside the much larger original track. Thompson, Connecticut had, indeed, become the center of auto racing in the northeast.
When the glory days of the “big cars” and midgets began to fade, Thompson became a leader in what has become know as Stock Car racing. Thompson Speedway's first event for the newly organized NASCAR Grand National cars came on October 12, 1951. The one hundred mile, 200 lap event saw 38 cars take the green flag. NASCAR's biggest names of the day were on hand. Drivers like Tim Flock, NASCAR Champion Herb Thomas and Jim Reed lead the Grand National line up which also included some very famous New England drivers like Jerry Russo, Dave Humphrey and Reino Tulonen. The event was won by Neil Cole who drove a 1950 Oldsmobile to victory and collected one thousand dollars for his efforts. In 1969, NASCAR's Grand National (now NEXTEL Cup) division returned to the "Big T". The 1969 rendition saw David Pearson in victory lane. The 1970 race was won by Bobby Issac.
Over the years, Thompson Int'l Speedway has attracted some of racing’s biggest names and has been home to many of today’s racing stars. One of the first to leave the Thompson “nest” to test the waters in the major leagues of the sport was Pete Hamilton. He established himself very quickly by winning the Daytona 500 while driving for Petty Enterprises. Geoffrey Bodine and Greg Sacks became Daytona champions after several years of plying their trade at Thompson. Ron Bouchard gained national prominence with a 500 mile victory at Talladega and both Ron and his brother Ken became NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Rookies of the Year. Steve Park, Brett and Todd Bodine, Jimmy Spencer, Mike McLaughlin and others have gained national prominence following successful years at this famed Connecticut speedway. In 2001, the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series National Champion, Ted Chirstopher, gained his title from Thompson.
Surrounded by the gracious beauty of Connecticut’s quiet corner, Thompson Int'l Speedway is much more than a racetrack. It has become a destination for thousands who enjoy its beauty, 18 hole professional golf course, lighted driving range, banquet-size restaurant and lounge and much more. All of this is only a two-mile detour from Interstate 395’s exit 99.
Today, this grand lady still is the crown jewel in short track racing in the northeast. Thompson Int'l Speedway hosts several major events each year and also provides a wonderful variety of weekly racing programs. These major events attract thousands of fans from both the U.S. and Canada. Unlike so many race facilities that have fallen on hard times or have disappeared from the landscape, Thompson Int'l Speedway continues to thrive even after more than sixty years. Maybe we have to go back to that day in September 1938 and look at the foresight of it’s founder and think that maybe, just maybe, much of that same grit and determination was passed on to his son, Donald and grandson, D.R. for Thompson Int'l Speedway has never left the Hoenig family and today stands proud as one of the nation’s truly great racing facilities steeped in racing lore and tradition. The Thompson Int'l Speedway, an American classic.