Nobody could ever question Jamie Tomaino's commitment to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He has made 501 starts in the series so far and doesn't plan to stop adding to that tally anytime soon. He's also one of the Tour's strongest supporters - making friends with both fans and fellow competitors at every race.
What people might question though in recent years, has been Tomaino's competitiveness. The 1990 Tour champion has not won a race since 1994 at Lee USA Speedway (NH) or a pole since 1999's Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT). His past four point finishes have been 11th, 16th, 9th and 16th.
“Everyone figured that I was washed up,” admits Tomaino. “They just figured…well whatever…that I was older now and that time had just taken me by the wayside.
“[They think that] When you don't run up front, but you used to be there all of the time.”
The lack of results does not mean that Tomaino has lost his desire in recent seasons though. In fact, quite the opposite has been true. Just making it to the track for every race in the past several years has been a struggle for Tomaino. He's been to every single race that the Modified Tour has ever held since it was introduced in its current form back in 1985. He failed to qualify for four of those races, so he hasn't started them all - but for each one, he rolled through the pit gate and gave it the best shot that he could.
“I've gone to every one of these races and I haven't had what everyone else has always. I've gone even if I had no money or no tires. I still came here and tried to do the best that I could. Unfortunately this sport takes a lot of money.”
Now, it looks like Tomaino might see his patience and hard work rewarded. In the off-season, he reunited with car owner Howard Harvey and even had a new racecar built. That car ran up from in both the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour season opener at Concord Speedway (NC) and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour opener at Thompson International Speedway (CT). It looks like happy days are here again for Tomaino and company.
“When I had the right equipment, I was one of the tougher guys to beat,” said Tomaino. “The guy who is helping me now has enough to buy me the equipment that other drivers have. I'm going to be very fortunate this year and we're going to get our share of victories. I haven't had too many through the [recent] years.
“In the 1980's, I did. Back then, I had as good of motors and as good of cars as anybody out there. When I won my championship, it was in the 1990's, and I was just really fortunate. We just had one motor and we won the championship. That was just a fluke in a way. I ran good every week and had good finishes, but as far as having the tools to do it, I just didn't.”
Tools weren't the only thing that Tomaino has lacked lately. A top flight, or large enough, pit crew has also been something that he has missed.
“That is another thing that I lacked [but don't now] - a pit crew,” said Tomaino. “You can't win a championship without good pit crew guys and unfortunately now, there are guys who think that they are worth $2,000 a weekend. Well, they're all nuts. If anyone is paying them, they are nuts.”
Tomaino also thinks that some of the high buck teams in the sport are nuts for what they bring their cars to the track with.
“Look at these tractor trailers,” said Tomaino, looking down pit road at the haulers his one-car trailer shares space with. “Do you really need all of that when you use it maybe 20 times a year?”
Heck, Tomaino has even found a dual use for his own trailer. On some race weekends, he has cut his lodging budget by laying out sleeping bags in the trailer and using it as an RV of sorts.
“Yes, we do that at New Hampshire,” said Tomaino. “So we use it both ways and we have a blast doing it.”
The type of thing helps the #99 team stay close. Another thing that helps is the fact that Tomaino's two sons, Trey and Jamie, Jr., are an essential part of his race team - even more so this season.
“My car is based in North Carolina. Both of my sons got laid off [from crew jobs in the top tier of NASCAR race], so they are trying to pass the time away by working on my car. Right now, there are no jobs down there. It's kind of a crazy situation because when they got laid off, I really needed their help. Without them and five others guys, I'd be in trouble.
“With most people, it is the other way around and the father is helping the kids. In my case, I'm too stubborn to give up my racing. So my boys sacrifice. They'd both like to race, but I can't quit.”
The fact that his sons are down in North Carolina helped Tomaino to reunite with car owner Harvey. They first joined forces over 30 years ago and are now back with a vengeance.
“The funny thing is that when my son went to North Carolina, I knew that Howard Harvey had left the State of New Jersey and went down there. But how can you put a thumbtack on a map and have it land in the same place? Well, it turned out that they both lived in the same town….about a mile from each other.
“I drove for him in 1976 at Trenton. I drove his back-up car with 162 cars there. They took 60 and I qualified 52nd in the back-up. The main car had Will Cagle driving and it didn't make it into the race. He wanted my car, but my owner said that since I put it in the field, so I was racing it. One thing led to another and we won Martinsville in '83 and the Turkey Derby in '81. Tony Hirschman drove for him and I drove for him. When he felt that one of us wasn't giving it 190%, he put the other one in the car.”
One of the nicest things about racing up front again is that Tomaino now has the chance to race wheel-to-wheel with several other elder statesmen of the Modified Tour. In recent years, the 52-year-old racer might not have battled too much with fellow over 50 veterans Mike Stefanik, Ted Christopher, Eddie Flemke or Reggie Ruggiero, but now he can again.
Teddy [Christopher] is over 50 and he still gets the job done every week,” said Tomaino. “But he's fortunate. He's always had good equipment. You've got to be blessed.
“Mike [Stefanik] is a true champion. I'd race against him anytime of the day. You don't have to worry about getting shoved into the wall with that guy, he's a true gentleman.”
And now, just like Christopher, Stefanik and company, it looks like you'll be seeing Tomaino battling for top positions on the track this year.
“I'm sure that you'll see that car out front,” said Tomaino of his #99.
And at Thompson in April, they did. Tomaino led 24 laps in that race and it was a very popular thing.
“Everyone told me that the crowd was on my side 110% [at Thompson],” said Tomaino. “It almost worked out to be a storybook ending. It didn't, but guess what? There are more races coming up.”