The Ever Changing World of East Coast Modified Racing by Jim Blacroch
There Are Plenty of Choices For Teams and Fans, But How is The Health of The Sport?
Just over 10-years ago Riverside Park, Claremont, Shangri-La (Tioga) and Wall Stadium all ran some sort of weekly 'Tour-type' Modified program. With the announcement of Wall's recent closing, a couple more opportunities to race 'Tour-type' Modifieds fell by the wayside, while taking away any opportunity to race a Wall-type or crate Wall Modified weekly.

Currently, there are only three tracks that will run 'Tour-type' Modifieds in one form or another on a weekly basis; Riverhead Raceway, Mountain Speedway and Mahoning Valley Speedway, while Lancaster and Spencer will run the cars on a limited basis. All-Star Speedway (formerly Star Speedway in Epping, N.H.) has a multiple race series scheduled {Editor's Note - Star runs a weekly Modified divsion that features ZZ4 Crate-engined cars, but the rules do allow for a Tour-type Modified to compete with certain concessions] and you could make an argument for Bowman-Gray Stadium in N.C., but they run on a 10” (narrower) tire that resembles what the SST cars run on in the Western and Central New York area. Friendship Speedway in North Carolina had run Modifieds on and off under the ASA sanction, but is now putting down the dirt, eliminating them completely from the asphalt fold.

Tracks that run derivatives of the 'Tour-type' Modified include those that run SK or Sunoco Modifieds (Thompson, Stafford and Waterford) along with Chemung and Wyoming County. Spencer and Lancaster both run SST programs as well.

As for tours, NASCAR's Whelen Northern and Southern Tours remain at the forefront, with the DART Race of Champions Tour (RoC), the True Value Modified Series and the ASA Southern Modified Series out there.

The strength of the of RoC in New York and Pennsylvania and the True Value Series in New England are a testament to the keeping the budget minded racer in business. The difference between the Northern and Southern NASCAR Tour's have equally drawn some of the Northern teams to the South because of the budget minded situations.

With all of that said, you have to look at things in shear numbers. 25-20 years ago, the options to race an asphalt Modified anywhere on any given weekend were seemingly limitless, while just 10-years ago, several tracks had changed gears, but there were still more weekly options. Today, the number of races for all of the Northern Tours combined is less then 50. Of those 50, a high percentage of those races take place in one geographic region at a limited number of tracks for each specific series. Perhaps less more is more, but there is a business quote that is frequently used, “if you are not growing, you're dying…”
(Top to Bottom) The RoC Asphalt, True Value and NASCAR Whelen Modifieds all go on tour through the Northeast.
That should be what most of the East Coast asphalt Modified set are asking, whether you are fan, a competitor, even a series. With the current state of the national economy it is much more challenging to travel on a consistent basis and when it comes to running an already expensive racecar that is a hobby on a tight budget, it almost seems out of the question for the average folks all the way up to the wealthier owners. Changes in the industry have ear-marked the division for a number of years, but somewhere out there, there remains a strong contingent of staunch supporters, in the forms of tracks, series, teams and fans.

Let's put the grim picture behind us and focus on the positives. The True Value Modified Series started by long-time asphalt Modified racer, Jack Bateman when the weekly program at Claremont was lost, has grown into one of the premier series in New England. Benchmarked this season by a return of Modified racing to Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont. Tom Curley, promoter of the legendary _-mile and Bateman are not foolish by any means and both recognize the strength of the other. The True Value Modified Series race at Thunder Road should be a grand slam, weather permitting of course. Inside the traditional Modified media of New England that race may draw more attention than any other. Sunday, May 25th will be a historic day in Vermont and very significant in asphalt modified racing history.

The DART Race of Champions took a serious hit when the Wall decision to close came about, but Andy Harpell is resilient and came up with a plan that puts him in place where he has had to reduce the RoC to one region from its typical North and Central Region concept, but in the end, the format is unique. It will draw attention from competitors and fans, plus the 12 race schedule works and with only a few conflicts with other series and tracks, the lineups should produce the who's-who of modified racing.

“It is definitely challenging these days,” offers Harpell. “But, that doesn't mean you quit. We've proven that the Race of Champions Tours work, both dirt and asphalt. We did the one region concept for the dirt racers and they embraced it and I think once we get rolling with the asphalt program, those racers will do the same.”

Harpell's unique format pays off a point fund for 'regular season' races, while the 'championship season' pays off the bulk of the point fund for competitors throughout a series of events, some new, some traditional that will definitely give the Tour a 'Race to the RoC' type of feel.

“Chemung will now be a 150 lap championship event,” offered Harpell, “In addition to our existing championship events, plus the Race of Champions at Oswego, which is the cornerstone of the series. There are also events like the US Open at Lancaster (now Dunn Tire Raceway Park) that have built a significant history on their own and as part of the series that have become prestigious and important in their own right.”

In recent years, the luster of the Race of Champions has returned. It has become THE event to be at for asphalt racers in New York, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, but this year it faces a challenge of conflict with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at Martinsville. Hopefully with cooperative schedules and a little help from above, not much will be missed and the NASCAR regulars who choose to run the Race of Champions will be able to use modern methods of travel and make both events.

“That is going to be a challenging day,” stated Eric Beers, who won the RoC at Oswego in 2004. “The big thing is we have to support both, because the NASCAR Tour is important to Modified racing as is going to Martinsville, but what most folks don't know or more importantly don't recognize is that it's not just another race, it's one of our best paydays. Whether you are leading laps or win the race, it pays very well and everyone needs to keep that in mind.”

Beers continued. “It is very cyclic. We need the tracks, the tracks need us, the series need us and so on down the road we go. The challenge becomes that there are only so many weekends to do this and only so many of them can pay huge money. I do wish

we could all work together a little bit more when we're doing the schedules. At the end of it all though, no matter how it works out, we all need to recognize and be very happy that we still have places and series to race on with the cars and people we really enjoy. Each year gets more difficult and more of us need to work together to make it better.”

In addition to Beers, the Martinsville conflict only really affects his Northampton, Penn., neighbor Matt Hirschman, but others have run Oswego in the past when it's been an off weekend from their respective series.

At Caraway Speedway's NASCAR's Southern Tour opener, 33-cars showed up. If that's any indication of the season to come then things might be in pretty good shape, considering the 33-cars was the highest car count for the series since it's inception. It was a good sign for the series, but it may have also signified somewhat of a turn from its Northern counterpart. In attendance were several Northern competitors participating in the series for several different reasons. Some used it as a test bed for the Thompson 'Icebreaker' that looms ahead, while others had other ideas about the series.

Outspoken car owner, William 'Bear' Callichio, who has teamed up with J.R. Bertuccio to run during the 2008 season had this to say, “As a car owner, who operates on a budget, the Southern Tour makes some sense. There are no tire changes during the race, which in turn means you don't have to travel with an overloaded pitstop crew, so it reduces your travel budget as well as your tire bill, your license bill, etc… It makes some sense. I love running in New England, that's home for me and to race at those tracks up there and against all of those competitors is awesome, but sometimes you have to race where your budget will dictate and right now this is where we are.”

There is no questioning that the Northern NASCAR Tour is not a cheap preposition, but it's even more challenging for folks that aren't based in Southern New England. Over 50% of that schedule takes place at Thompson International Speedway (five events) and at Stafford Motor Speedway (four events). Over the years, that has fallen into question, but both Thompson and Stafford are able to make it successful and with the return of the Tour to Central and Western New York (Chemung and Spencer) this season, fan's will have the opportunity to see the best of both the NASCAR world and the Race of Champions Tour.

Overall, the challenge remains up to the supporters of asphalt Modified racing. Since the death of Richie Evans in 1985, questions have surrounded the division as to where it's headed? What is it doing? Who is the leader?

The days of asking are gone. The days of extra needed support are here, why? Without support from the fans and the teams right now, the division may slip out of more tracks and more places. It's not gloom and doom to put that perspective out on the table, it's the cold hard facts and now is the time to change those facts. If you are an existing asphalt modified fan, quit reading this article on the internet and get out to a track near to see the division. If you are a racer with a car in the garage, get out and race it… If you don't do it now, you might not have that opportunity in the future.

Weekly tracks have a few different philosophies on Mod racing.  All-Star Speedway (Top) has a big-money mini-series planned for 2008, while down in Connecticut - Stafford, Thompson and Waterford (Bottom) run slightly detuned SK/Sunoco Modifieds.