RPW Column: NASCAR Whelen Modified; Driver Changes For 2022 On The Champ Trail

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – On November 1 NASCAR announced Whelen Modified Tour dates at Langley Speedway and Riverhead Raceway. The series will return to historic Langley Speedway in Virginia for the first time since 2018, and for only the third race in series history, on April 23. The spring date will be the third race on the calendar, after the already-announced season-opening events at New Smyrna Speedway (Florida) on February 12 and Richmond Raceway on April 1. The Whelen Modified Tour will also return to the storied fifth-mile Riverhead Raceway in New York, where the series has raced every year since 1985, with the exception of the COVID-impacted 2020 season. There will be three Riverhead dates on the 2022 schedule – May 14, June 25 and September 17.

A bit of a rub has surfaced between the Stafford Motor Speedway over this announcement as April 23 is the qualifying day for the 50th annual Spring Sizzler which is open competition. Is this a power play on NASCAR’s part or is it just an oversight? For Modified fans it’s a no-brainer. The Sizzler has the juice to draw the bigger attendance. Competitors on the other hand have a challenge. Most Whelen Modified Tour competitors have two cars. One can go to Langley and one to Stafford. Teams can get an alternate driver to qualify the car at Stafford while the Tour driver races at Langley. An overnight ride or a plane ride can get a driver to Stafford in plenty of time. Years ago Martinsville ran a 150 lapper for the Modifieds as a preliminary to their Sunday Cup events. Shortly after the checker would draw northern competitors like Bugs Stevens, Fred DeSarro, Jerry Cook and Bob Park to name a few, would run to their choice of transportation and make it to Stafford or Thompson the next day in plenty of time to compete. It’s not easy but it’s do-able!

A line has been drawn in the sand! NASCAR announced on Wednesday, November 3 a total of 13 races in the 2022 schedule for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, with additional dates and venues to be announced in the future. The schedule features some of the most popular short tracks in the northeast as well as historic tracks in Virginia and Florida. The Stafford Speedway did not re-up for any events.

“It will be special to start the season off at New Smyrna Speedway,” said Jimmy Wilson, Senior Director, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. “The Daytona Beach area is obviously the heart of NASCAR racing. We can’t wait to add the track to our history books.”

After opening the 2021 season for the Whelen Modified Tour, Martinsville Speedway will serve as the season finale and the stage upon which the champion is crowned on Thursday, October 27. This will mark the first time in 30 years – and sixth time overall (1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1991 – Martinsville has hosted the final Whelen Modified Tour race of the year.

The race adds championship flair to the NASCAR weekend at the half-mile track that also serves as the host of the penultimate races for the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Additionally, Wall Stadium (Wall Township, New Jersey) – which has hosted five Whelen Modified Tour races (most recently in 2019) – rejoins the calendar on Saturday, July 9. Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, New Hampshire, which hosted the series in 2020 for the 13th time, also returns, hosting a race on Saturday, June 18. The schedule is rounded out by stops at Jennerstown Speedway (Pennsylvania) on Saturday, May 28, and Oswego Speedway (New York) on Saturday, September 3.

“Riverhead and Thompson, as well as the addition of Monadnock Speedway, are key tracks for our drivers and teams who are based in the Northeast,” Wilson added. “We’re looking forward to returning to race in front of some of the most passionate fans in motorsports.” Wilson failed to state that the Stafford fans are also passionate Modified racing fans.

Below is the current 2022 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule. Schedule is subject to change. Race times and broadcast networks will be announced at a later date.

 

2022 NASCAR WHELEN MODIFIED TOUR SCHEDULE

Date

Race / Track

Saturday, February 12 New Smyrna Speedway
Friday, April 1 Richmond Raceway
Saturday, April 23 Langley Speedway
Saturday, May 14 Riverhead Raceway
Saturday, May 28 Jennerstown Speedway
Saturday, June 18 Monadnock Speedway
Saturday, June 25 Riverhead Raceway
Saturday, July 9 Wall Stadium
Saturday, July 16 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Saturday, July 30 TBA
Saturday, August 6 TBA
Wednesday, August 17 Thompson Speedway
Saturday, September 3 Oswego Speedway
Saturday, September 17 Riverhead Raceway
Saturday, September 24 TBA
Thursday, October 27 Martinsville Speedway

Among the driver changes announced last week is that Craig Lutz has found a home in the Danny Watts Modified for the 2022 season. He will pilot the car in this week’s Islip 300 at the Riverhead Raceway.

In Modified Racing action at the North-South Shootout in North Carolina, Matt Hirschman edged Patrick Emerling for the top spot in qualifying for the 19th Annual John Blewett III North-south Shootout in Memory of Charles Kepley. The duo, separated by only .160 of a second, will lead the field to the start of the 150 lapper. Row two is made up of Tommy Baldwin Racing teammates, Caleb Heady and Jimmy “Showtime” Blewett. Blewett is the brother of John Blewett III.  Burt Myers rounded out the top five qualifiers. There were 23 cars on hand. Prior to the start of the event Hirschman elected to take the back row challenge. Giving up the pole starting position and starting at the rear would award Hirschman a $2,000 bonus if he were to win.

Hirschman got by Jimmy Blewett on a restart with seven laps remaining to win the 150-lap 19th John Blewett III Memorial North-South Shootout. It was the seventh North-South Shootout victory for the Northampton, Pa. driver. Hirschman took home a little more than $9,000 for the victory, which included a $2,000 bonus for starting last in the 23-car field and winning after grabbing the pole position.

Blewett held on to finish second and Caleb Heady was third. Rounding out the top six were Kyle Scisco, Burt Myers and Ronnie Williams.

The New London-Waterford Speedbowl capped off their season with the continuation of the Fast Five event that was cut short three weeks previous when Glen Reen drilled Timmy Jordan into the backstretch wall which resulted in the catch fence being destroyed in the turn three area. Keith Rocco, who was leading at the time of the stoppage went on to record the win, bringing his track win total to 154 wins, 93 of those in an SK Modified. Rocco also has 49 career Late Model victories, four Limited Sportsman division wins, four Valenti Modified Racing Series victories, two Truck Series wins, one Pro Four Modified win and one NEMA Lite win during his career at Waterford.

The win also took Rocco to a career overall total of 299 wins which include 154 victories at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, 70 at Thompson and 75 at Stafford Speedway.

Following Rocco at the finish was Cory DiMatteo, Mike Christopher Jr, Dennis Gada and Andrew Molleur. Reen was credited with 19th spot and Jordan was credited with 20th.

When the SK Modified® race resumed, Keith Rocco led the field to green. He would then fall back to as low as 4th, when a caution that re-racked the field with 3 to go proved to be pivotal. He would rocket off the line and take the lead from Mike Christopher Jr and hold off a last lap attack from Cory DiMatteo to take home a cool $7000 pay day. Todd Owen’s third place finish was enough to award him the Fast Five Series Championship.

Mike Christopher Jr, who was originally supposed to be at the North South Shootout, restarted the race in sixth and charged like a man on a mission into the lead just 10 laps into the day. Cory DiMatteo, who was substituting for Jeff Rocco, was forced to start last for the driver change. He was up to second place and knocking on Christopher’s door by lap 73, even looking into the lead on lap 78.

A few minor incidents slowed the pace nearing the end of the race, setting up a three lap shootout for the $7000 pay day. After one false start, the leaders were able to sort it out by the second attempt which put on a show to the finish. Rocco would get the advantage going into turn 1 when Christopher chose the outside. They would wind up three wide into turn 1 on the following lap when Dimatteo would give it all he had on the inside. Dimatteo would make another bottom shot move on Rocco during the white flag lap and the pair would drag race to the line, with Rocco taking the win by only 0.071 seconds. Rocco accredited experience as what got him in the winners circle.

In other action at the shoreline oval, A special 40 lap Open Mini Stock race was won by Northeast Mini Stock Tour regular Mike Viens. Enduro winners included Beth Parks in the Ladies race, Maine’s Jamie Heath in the Full Size race, and Steven Brooks going back to back in the Compact Enduros.

Prior to the Islip 300 Tour Type Modified event this coming Saturday, Nov 13 at the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island, the nine champions of the Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series will be honored. During those ceremonies a new Eddie Partridge NASCAR Modified Championship Drivers Cup will be unveiled and presented to 2021 Buzz Chew Chevrolet NASCAR Modified champion Kyle Soper of Manorville.

The Eddie Partridge NASCAR Modified Championship Drivers Cup will serve as a lasting legacy to Eddie when the NASCAR Modified champion receives the perpetual award at future championship ceremonies in his name. In the weeks that followed Eddie’s sudden passing in September, the idea of naming the existing championship cup after Partridge was presented to Connie Partridge & Tom Gatz who both agreed to the lasting tribute. It was also agreed a new cup would be designed. “There are very few who loved the Modifieds the way Eddie did” track spokesman Bob Finan reflected, “he didn’t hunt, fish, golf or bowl, his sporting life revolved around racing, especially Modifieds, Tour Type or Crates he loved the open wheel machines”.

The Stafford Motor Speedway has been the epicenter of Modified Racing since 1967 when it was paved. Drivers Bugs Stevens, Ray Miller, Leo Cleary and Bobby Santos were there from beginning to end along with car owners Len Boehler, Bob Garbarino, Art Barry, Ted Marsh and Sonny Koszela.

Read all about it in the all-new book, The Modified Years At Stafford, by the Grace of God and 600 hp, which is gaining interest and has become a must have in race fans and competitors library. The book documents Modified Racing at the Stafford Motor Speedway from 1967 to 1986. Race by Race, Year by Year, it’s all there. Read all about it! Books are now available on Amazon.com and Coastal 181 (877-907-8181 toll free) and are available thru Stafford’s web site in their store. Order yours now. Makes a great gift!

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