When the Sportsman division stock cars pull out from the pit lane to race at Elegant Builders Raceway Park, and Tracy Thompson Reilly begins to lead the “Thompson Girls” into a cheering frenzy in the grandstand, experienced fans know that the two-car Thompson Racing Team is ready to take another green flag in search of victory.
Simply put, the entire Thompson Racing Team entourage, whether on the track or in the grandstand is a great credit to the sport and has been for many years. They are known to be among the most loyal and enthusiastic participants and fans in local racing. A few years back the family won the EBRP Alex Friesen Spirit of Racing Award.
The on-track portion of the Thompson Racing Team consists of veteran team owner Jim Thompson and his Sportsman division drivers Jayme Thompson and Mark Pennell. Joe Reilly, husband of Tracy, is the crew chief for both cars.
In the main grandstand, “The Thompson Girls,” Tracy and Jnan Thompson offer much cheering. Jayme, Tracy and Jnan are Jim’s daughters. Jayme, 39, sat in the grandstand cheering with her sisters before she got behind the wheel of a race car herself in 2009.
“I always wanted to drive a race car since I was a kid,” said Jayme. “But I never got the spark to do it until my mother, Sandy, passed away in 2009. After my mother died in January of that year, I went behind my dad’s back and bought a four-cylinder car to race in April, but it needed a racing seat. I ask my dad if he had a spare racing seat and he asked if it was for a bar stool. I said no, it’s for my race car. Once he got over the shock and surprise, he’s helped me ever since I started driving.”
Jayme finished ninth in Empire Builders Raceway Park’s 4-Cylinder points her first year and progressed placing a solid fourth in each of the last three years. She won her first EBRP 4-Cylinder feature in 2012, driving the Lalomia family car and won again last season in the Thompson family car. This season she has switched full time from the entry level 4-Cylinder class up to the top of the track’s divisional ladder, the Sportsman.
“People sometimes ask me why I jumped from the 4-Cylinders to the Sportsman without racing in the Street Stocks first,” said Jayme. “Well, we had the backup Sportsman in my dad’s racing garage because Mark drives the other Sportsman car, so as the second Sportsman car was just sitting there it made more sense, rather then buy a new Street Stock just to get the back-up Sportsman car out there.
“Last year, I drove full time in the 4-Cylinders but got into the Sportsman car for the last two races at Lancaster. Driving both cars on the same day was tough. We decided that this year I would move up full time to Sportsman. It’s been a very big learning curve going from a front-wheel drive four-cylinder car to a rear-wheel drive Sportsman car and also racing the Sportsman on the big oval compared to when I drove the 4-Cylinder on the small inner oval at Lancaster.
“I’m just going to keep rolling along and learn and eventually I feel that I will be running with the boys up front.”
One of those “boys” she will be trying to catch is her Thompson teammate, veteran Mark Pennell, son of the late racer John Pennell. Now 53, Mark Pennell has been involved in area stock car racing since high school. “I’ve been around long enough that I’ve raced against a lot of people’s dads and now I’m racing against their kids,” laughed Pennell.
Pennell began his racing career in the old Limited Modified class at Holland Motorsports Complex where he competed for six seasons before moving to the TQ Midgets and Late Models at EBRP. After driving his own Late Model for several years he later drove a Late Model for the Thompsons.
“I was picked to join the Thompson team by Sandy,” said Pennell. “I was at the Lancaster awards banquet one year, and Sandy came up to me and said ‘I want you to drive for us,’ and she asked me if I would do it. I did. It’s nice that Sandy got to see me race the Late Model, but I am saddened by the fact that she passed away before we switched to the Thompson Sportsman car, and she never got to see me run that car. It took a lot out of all of us when Sandy died, but she made me promise her that I’d never quit driving and I’m still driving.”
Pennell is especially grateful to Joe Reilly and the rest of the Thompson family.
“Joe works on both cars, often by himself, and he does a great job,” said Pennell. “I mean, he has to work with two different drivers, two different cars, and, sometimes, what does he get for it – two different headaches. The closeness of this race team goes way beyond the race track. We all do other things together. Last year, the Thompsons came to my house for Thanksgiving. That’s how close we are.”
Team owner Jim Thompson is an extremely humble man who constantly avoids the limelight. “I’ve owned race cars for many years and I never will ever blow my own horn about anything, but I guess what I will say is that I must be crazy at times to be a race car owner but if I haven’t learned by now I guess I never will,” he said laughing. “I’m afraid I love it too much.”
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Moments after the most recent stock car race day concluded at Empire Builders Raceway Park last Sunday, Tracy was packing up her bleacher blankets and other assorted items simply stating, “that I love going to these races and I had fun today and we’ll all be back for the next race.” There is no doubt the Thompson clan will be back as they always have. Racing is the better for it.