ZACH SYLVESTER MAKES HIS MARK IN MODIFIEDSby Mike Twist
Young Racer Comes From Family With Deep Connecticut Background
Fans of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour have definitely taken notice of Zach Sylvester over the past two seasons. He was a rookie last year on the Tour and came out of the box strong, finishing fourth in the season-opening Icebreaker at Thompson International Speedway. From there, he recorded another pair of top five finishes on his way to tenth in the final standings.
To start off his sophomore year, Sylvester made even more of a splash. He finished second to Ted Christopher at this year’s Icebreaker and backed that up by finishing second to Tony Hirschman at Stafford Motor Speedway’s Spring Sizzler. Sylvester hit a patch of bad luck in the middle of the season. Those seconds are his only top fives so far this year, but Sylvester is looking to put that bad luck behind him and has moved back in the top 10 of the standings with two races remaining.
So over the past two years, Sylvester has made himself familiar to Modified fans, but prior to that, he was already pretty well known for his efforts in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series divisions at Thompson and Stafford.
“I started in quarter midgets at the Little T [Thompson Speedway’s starter track] when I was nine,” said Sylvester. “I did that for two years. Then when I was 13 or 14, I ran mini stocks. When I turned 16, I ran Late Models for a couple of years. Then I ran a Pro Stock at Thompson. I ran that for a season. Then I ran SK Modifieds for a couple of years. I have pretty much moved up the racing ladder.”
Before Sylvester even sat in a quarter midget, Connecticut race fans already knew his last name. Sylvester’s uncle Tony is a now-retired racer who gained fame in the Late Model and Busch North ranks with his tiger stripes paint schemes.
“Tiger Tony is my uncle. I used to watch him all the time. You talk to people who have been around arcing a lot longer than I have and they say that it’s not what it used to be. I can see where they are coming from because I remember watching my uncle 10 years ago and it’s not what it used to be. It’s kid of a shame really, but that’s how the sport has grown.”
With bloodlines like that, you might expect Zach’s uncle to be coaching him at the track. That isn’t the case.
Despite his uncle’s background, Zach Sylvester saw that Modifieds were the natural career path for him to take. Considering his love for that type of racecar, it’s a good thing.
“This is by far the biggest thing [in Connecticut] even more than Busch North. NASCAR loves its full body stockcars, but these things [Modifieds] are totally different animals. When I was younger, I really didn’t care for them. The more that I watched them and when I started driving them, I realized that they are awesome. These are incredible machines.”
“He doesn’t come out to the track much,” said Zach. “I don’t blame him because if you do something for so long and it’s in your blood, you find other venues. He supports me and helps me out when he gets the chance. If he can make a show or two, that’s great.”
Tony Sylvester made his mark mostly in full bodied cars and not the Modifieds that his nephew races, but he’s impressed at the steps that Zach has taken in his career. Especially considering that some of the guys that Tony raced against, like Jerry Marquis and Mike Stefanik, now race with Zach on the Tour.
“He’s probably more astonished than I am that I’m where he used to be and higher. He ran the SKs and the Busch North Series, but he never ran the Tour. I compete against guys that he ran against and even beat them. That blows his mind.”
Sylvester makes laps at Thompson with his #15.
Zach Sylvester (51 Photos)
The fan base of the Modifieds is one of its biggest attractions.
“You’ve got a great fan count at every race and a great car count at every race,” said Sylvester. “The competition in this division is just phenomenal. That’s what makes this division. Busch North is kid of dying out. It’s single file racing without passing and nobody wants to see that. This is exciting. That’s what NASCAR was brought up on and what they are supporting, so it’s kind of sad when NASCAR doesn’t give us better promotion, better purses and more TV, but that’s the way that it is.”
The young driver enjoys the Mods so much, that he is a fan himself when he’s not racing one.
“I love watching Modifieds myself. When I’m not running, I follow the SK Modifieds and the True Value Series. Anything open wheel, you get a totally different perspective of racing. There’s a lot of excitement in it. I would recommend this to anybody.”
When Sylvester moved up to the Mod Tour, he wasn’t the only rookie. He brought a team of young talent with him as well. It’s taken some time to learn the ropes when competing against teams that have been around for decades, but their hard work is starting to pay off.
“It’s experience with all of us. We went through last year as rookies. Everybody on this team was a rookie and we were the new guys on the block. We had to learn as we went. We were decent at most tracks. We struggled a little bit with our short track stuff last year, but it’s gotten better.
“We still struggle at some tracks, but I think that no matter how good a team is, there will still be those couple of tracks where no matter what you do, you can’t seem to get it right. You get through those tracks and make the most of the places where you run better.”
One of those places where Sylvester has shown that he can run best in Thompson. So with the 2005 season coming to a close over the next few weeks with two events at the Connecticut track, don’t be surprised to see another driver break through for his first victory before the season in the books.