It shouldn’t be surprising that the country’s smallest state would be the only state in the US without a racetrack to call its own. On the other hand, being the smallest state means you don’t have to travel far to see motor-racing, because there’s more than one choice within an easy drive, even by the typical RI driver’s standards.
More than that, if you judge racing by the endless hours of racecars chasing each other in a giant circle you see on TV, you might be surprised to see more cars side by side, more challenges to leads, more passing – in short, more racing – in one evening at a “short track” around here than you’d see in half a season on the tube.
Seekonk Speedway might as well be in RI, for all the Ocean-Staters in the crowd or in the pits getting ready to race. This wide bowl of an oval hosts four different divisions of racecars on summer Saturdays plus a few entry-level groups who race and learn on Fridays.
For decades the place has been billed the Action Track of the East. That’s more than a slogan. Go to Seekonk any Saturday and count on seeing fender-bangingly close racing from the start of a race to the finish – three or four times every night. Drivers run a heat-race to qualify and set their starting spots for a longer “feature.” Most of the races are over in a few minutes, so drivers have no time to pace themselves, no time to settle in. It’s last-lap passes from the start of every race.
It’s amazing how much different the racing is out at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut. Thompson has an oval, but it’s not like Seekonk’s. It’s more than twice as long and the extra distance is found between the corners, meaning Thompson requires big power and bigger braking to go fast there. And they do go fast.
Oval-track racing is a special event at Thompson as opposed to a weekly show. Many events happen on Sundays, there are a couple of midweek shows, and as with Seekonk, seasons end on October weekends loaded with action from visiting divisions as well as track-regulars.
Thompson offers way more than just oval-track racing. Many of Thompson’s oval-track events have drifting-competitions going on a short walk from the oval for those who like their motorsports to move at a slower pace. And the oval is part of a larger road course for race fans who insist that racecars should turn right as well as left. Again, these are special shows, so check Thompson’s schedule before setting out on that long journey of 20 minutes away from the home state.
It’s worth it. You haven’t watched racing until you see some guy slide his pristine Chevy Corvette though a broad corner at better than 100 mph. Or maybe you head out to see antique racecars roar around the place or check out the vintage motorcycles doing the same, all the while as classic cars and bikes burble around the grounds.
Connecticut’s the destination for motorcycles fans; Thompson will host you on your street bike more than once if you want to scuff the toes of your boots. For spectators, Central Village Cycle Club hosts motocross racing on a natural-terrain “real” MX track. It’s said that motocross racing is more physically demanding than any major sport besides soccer. The track’s just off Route 14 a few minutes out of Rhode Island. See it and believe it.
Trials-competition is another form of motorsports that slows the action down. Yet you might not believe what you see a trials rider do – even after you see it. Trials is about riding your bike over and around natural obstacles you wouldn’t think anyone could climb with ropes. It’s about control, not speed, as riders ride established trails on their way to the “observed sections.”
The New England Trials Association hosts events in the region, including a couple right in Exeter as well as nearby in Wrentham, Mass. Admission is free. You just stroll down the same paths the bikes are using to get to the sections where the magic happens while you stand close enough to hear each rider’s handler provide advice. Think of it this way: What motocross is to speed skating, trials is to figure skating – though it’s hard to do a triple-axel in a Honda. Oh, and these bikes don’t tear up the woods. Again, trials is about control, not speed.
Every venue listed here has a website with their schedules as well as the latest news in the sport. Of course, you knew that. So go check out the racing at any of these venues. And count on the fact that none of them are moving to Worcester.