Story By: BRANDON WHITE / NASCAR – RIVERHEAD, NY – Kyle Soper accomplished something Saturday evening that no other Riverhead Raceway regular had done in 27 years.
By earning his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory in Saturday’s Buzz Chew Chevrolet Cadillac 200 on Saturday evening, Soper became the first Riverhead regular to win a Tour race at the track since Ed Brunnhoelzl Jr. back in 1995.
Although Soper’s achievements at Riverhead include three track championships, he considered ending the long drought for Riverhead regulars to be a major highlight in his career.
“I wasn’t even born when [Brunnhoelzl] won, so this is quite an accomplishment,” Soper said. “I’m just so glad that I’m a [Whelen Modified] Tour winner now.”
The path to a Whelen Modified Tour victory at Riverhead on Saturday was a long, arduous process for Soper.
Eight of Soper’s 14 Whelen Modified Tour appearances entering the Buzz Chew Chevrolet Cadillac 200 had been at his home track of Riverhead. Although Soper had finished inside the top five three times, he came away from each race feeling more could have been done to position himself better for the win.
One recurring issue that Soper attributed to his struggles in Whelen Modified Tour races at Riverhead was his qualifying speed, as his front row start back in 2017 marked the only time Soper had qualified inside the top five at the facility.
Soper was determined to resolve his qualifying woes during the Whelen Modified Tour’s second of three visits to Riverhead this season, and he turned to a fellow Modified veteran in Jimmy Blewett for advice on how to get more out of his No. 15 Feeds car in time trials.
The advice Blewett gave Soper allowed him to qualify fifth, which gave Soper all the track position he needed to run at his own pace.
“I was texting Jimmy Blewett [on Friday] night about a qualifying setup,” Soper said. “He got us close and we got up to the front. Usually I start in the back, and that means I have to burn my tires up coming to the front. Luckily we started closer up, and I was able to save my tires.”
Soper applied a relentless amount of pressure to polesitter Timmy Solomito during the first half of the Buzz Chew Chevrolet Cadillac 200 before finally pulling in front with 86 laps remaining.
Once he got the lead, Soper then had to contend with three-time Tour champion Justin Bonsignore, who has put together an impressive resume at Riverhead himself that includes eight series victories.
Bonsignore managed to overtake Soper on the final restart of the night but struggled to pull away as the race neared the checkered flag. A daring crossover maneuver by Soper with 10 laps remaining allowed him to re-take the lead, forcing Bonsignore to settle for second.
While Bonsignore was disappointed to finish second, he was happy to see a Riverhead regular finally visit Victory Lane again after over two decades.
“It’s been a long time since Ed Brunnhoelzl won that race [at Riverhead] in the ’90s, so it was cool to see [Soper win],” Bonsignore said. “It sucks that he beat us to do it, but our car was really good through the middle section of the race and we got to second. I thought I was in good shape when I got the lead, but I started to free up with about 30 to go, and [Soper’s] car was way too good at that point.”
Bonsignore’s second-place finish proved to be another positive step toward getting back into championship contention.
Two poor finishes at Riverhead and Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway to open the 2022 season placed Bonsignore deep in the Whelen Modified Tour points, but he is confident that a fourth championship is still feasible following a more efficient showing at the end of June.
“All in all, this was a good run,” Bonsignore said. “We got the win [at Monadnock Speedway] last week and now a second [on Saturday], so I can’t thank this whole team enough. It was a hot one, but now it’s on to Wall Stadium in a couple of weeks.”
For Soper, fending off someone as talented as Bonsignore made Saturday’s victory all the more special.
Soper grew up idolizing the local heroes who helped build up Riverhead’s proud reputation, and he wanted nothing more than to honor those legends by representing them in Victory Lane during a Whelen Modified Tour-sanctioned race at the track.
With another Whelen Modified Tour race at Riverhead coming up in September, Soper plans to celebrate Saturday’s triumph for as long as he can with his father Tom and car owner Wayne Anderson before the series regulars invade the track once again.
“[Wayne] is probably stroking out right now because he’s so excited,” Soper said. “My dad worked so hard on this car. We were actually going to take the new car, but luckily we didn’t. There’s so many people that come to help us out and make this dream work.”
Whelen Modified Tour points leader Ron Silk ended up third, while Jon McKennedy and Dylan Slepian were the other top-five finishers. Completing the top 10 were Kyle Bonsignore, John Beatty Jr., Solomito, Austin Beers and Doug Coby.
A replay of Saturday’s Buzz Chew Chevrolet Cadillac 200 can be seen on the USA Network on July 3 starting at 1 p.m. ET.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will return to action on July 9, when the series heads to Wall Township in New Jersey for their first race at Wall Stadium since 2019.