NEW ERA OF SOUTHERN MODIFIED RACING BEGINS by Bob Dillner
WHELEN Backs NASCAR Southern Modified Tour
It’s a new beginning, a new era of sorts. Southern Modified racing will change this Saturday and it will never be the same again. The inaugural NASCAR Southern Modified Tour race will be held Saturday night at Caraway Speedway in North Carolina and all eyes from that important office in Daytona Beach, FL will be on that race.
For years, Modified racing in the south has been run by an independent group known as SMART (Southern Modified Auto Racing Teams), but they have stepped aside for now to allow NASCAR to attempt to bring a new level of excitement and prominence to the division. And they have without the new series even turning a lap. That was evident on Wednesday evening when the announcement was made at the Richard Childress Racing shop in Welcome, NC that Whelen Engineering would be the series sponsor.
“I’m super excited about this,” said longtime southern Modified driver Frank Fleming. “I’m 45-years-old and I’m probably in my last five years of a racing career. It gives
me a super Touring division to run. I didn’t want to settle into a Saturday night racetrack so now I get to spend the last years of my career in a NASCAR traveling series with a great sponsor. The only thing I don’t like about it is that they didn’t do it 15-years ago.”
“I’ve been hearing from NASCAR that we were going to put this thing together for a while and they have done everything they said they were going to do,” commented fellow Modified driver Bobby Hutchens. “Throwing this series sponsor in here is a big shot in the arm for so many people who have worked so hard to keep this type of racing alive on a tour type level for so long.”
“It’s a historic moment for our sport because we are showing that we really believe in grassroots racing,” said Don Hawk, who is in charge of NASCAR’s Racing Development. “We believe in the guy who works during the week and goes racing on the weekend to entertain the average family who maybe cannot afford to go to a Truck, Busch or Cup race.”
The Whelen announcement was very important in the grand scheme of bringing the Southern Modified to prominence once again, but maybe more important to the short term, was NASCAR’s announcement this week that they will increase the point fund for the Southern Modified Tour significantly over what it has been in the past.
“We are pretty comfortable that we are going to at least double it,” said Hawk. “We also have Anheuser-Busch that stepped in and is going to offer a pole award; Powerade came along with a hard-charger award, Featherlite with a “long-haul” award and CV Products as well. We have more stuff coming down the line too.
“We wanted to bring some credibility and money to this so that these guys can race and have the dignity of getting a decent purse check at the race and at the end of the year have a good points fund. We want to ratchet the division up a bit.”
“It’s huge,” admitted Hutchens. “Most of the guys who run these cars around here have regular jobs during the week. They do this for a hobby. From a financial standpoint these are pretty expensive cars, so the point money is going to help us a lot.”
What is also going to help is exposure and it all begins on Saturday night. Speed51.com will be there to cover the action every step of the way and its editor Bob Dillner, who is also a Television commentator for SPEED Channel, will bring one of the networks cameras there to provide hi-lites and interviews to its SPEED News program on Sunday at 7pm EST.
“It means more to our sponsors than anything else,” said Fleming. “We used to have the North Wilkesboro races on TV, but we lost those years ago, so to have SPEED Channel there will help us a lot.”
The scene at Wednesday's press conference at RCR Headquarters in Welcome, NC. (51 Photos)
“I personally can’t remember a true SMART event in the past that had TV coverage,” stated Hutchens. “This is going to be big for SPEED to there for all of us and the series as a whole.”
The event at Caraway this Saturday is big for many reasons, but none more important that the fact that these Modifieds will put on a heckuva show.
“It’s going be side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel with sparks flying,” described Hawk. “There’s going to be a lot of excitement. I think you are going to have a new adrenaline rush amongst these guys because they really know somebody cares. NASCAR cares. You can say it by saying it and it’s another thing by saying it and doing it and we’ve put equipment there (including an ambulance), we’ve put the people there and the money as well. Nothing against SMART, we are still working with them and enjoy doing so, but I gotta tell ya, we want this to be viewed as something that just got a round of wedge and got a little bit better.”
Burt Meyers #1 Modified will be at Caraway on Saturday for the inaugural event. (51 Photos)
Geoff Bodine (left), Jerry Cook (middle) and Scott French (right) pose with the new SMT logo.