Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – A new season began for the SMART Modified Tour on Saturday, March 4 at the Florence Motor Speedway in South Carolina.
With an expanded 14-race schedule and a roster featuring some of the biggest names in Modified racing, anticipation is high for the 2023 season.
Out of the 14 races on the schedule, the tour will visit 13 different race tracks. Caraway Speedway in North Carolina is the only track slated to host more than one SMART Modified Tour event in 2023. In addition to Florence, the tour will make eight stops at race tracks in North Carolina and five stops at Virginia race tracks.
All events will be live streamed by FloRacing. One of the highlights on the 2023 SMART Modified Tour schedule will be a stop at Rockingham Speedway’s “Little Rock” on October 14. The ground-pounding Modifieds will rumble around the half-mile race track that is located behind the backstretch of the larger track at Rockingham Speedway.
Matt Hirschman scored his fifth modified victory of the year thanks to his pit crew. Hirschman admitted he was looking at a third place finish in the SMART opener when the caution flew with seven laps remaining in the 99 lap event.
Hirschman, running third behind Caleb Heady and Burt Myers pitted with them for a new right rear tire. Quick work by his crew got him out first. Hirschman had enough to hold off Heady and Myers to take the win. Brandon Ward and Jonathan Brown rounded out the top five as a good opening day crowd looked on.
Ryan Newman, Gary Putnam, Jason Myers, Bobby Labonte and Carson Loftin made up the top ten. There were 24 Modifieds on hand.
Next stop on the SMART tour is at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina.
In NASCAR cup action at the Las Vegas Speedway William Byron took the win, Ryan Preece did not have a good day as he finished 23rd, down a lap to the leader. In Xfinity action Patrick Emerling finished 34th.
For the 2023 season at Stafford Speedway, Casella Waste Systems will step up their sponsorship by becoming the official sponsor of the June 16 Casella Waste Open Modified 80. Casella will also return to the track as an SK Modified® contingency sponsor and they will supply a weekly $125 bonus for each second place feature finisher.
The Casella Open 80 and the weekly contingency bonus won’t be the only things that will carry sponsorship from Casella Waste in 2023. Casella Waste is currently in the process of finalizing sponsorship with two SK Modified® teams and they will also help support several open modified teams when they come to Stafford during the season.
The 51st Annual NAPA Spring Sizzler® kicks off on Saturday, April 29, and will consist of two 40-lap NAPA Duel qualifying races for the Open Modified division. The 40-lap races will each pay $3,500 to win and will set the field for Sunday’s NAPA Spring Sizzler®.
The American Canadian Tour (ACT) will also make their return to Stafford Speedway on April 29th with a 75-lap feature with over 40 cars expected for the race. Limited Late Model, Street Stock, and Vintage All-Star divisions will complete Saturday’s racing program.
Sunday, April 30th will play host to the $20,000 to win 51st NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler®. Filling out Sunday’s racing card will be qualifying and feature racing for the SK Modified®, SK Light Modified, and Late Model divisions along with last chance qualifiers for the Spring Sizzler®.
Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) has announced a slew of world- class open wheel drivers who will compete in the 2023 SRX Series. Marco Andretti, the reigning SRX Champion, will defend his title, racing full-time this summer. He is joined by IndyCar legend and SRX veteran, Paul Tracy, and IndyCar Series and Indy 500 Champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who is back with SRX full-time after making his debut last summer.
The trio is joined by their IndyCar contemporaries, Tony Kanaan and Josef Newgarden, who will be racing part- time in 2023. Kanaan, an IndyCar series, and Indy 500 Champion himself, will race in SRX 3 times this summer (Stafford, Thunder Road and Eldora).
Josef Newgarden, a current driver for Team Penske and 2-time IndyCar Series Champion, will return to SRX for his second race, joining the field at Motor Mile on July 27th.
Andretti, Tracy, Hunter-Reay, Newgarden and Kanaan join previously announced all-stars: Hailie Deegan, Brad Keselowski, Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Helio Castroneves, Clint Bowyer, Kenny Wallace and Tony Stewart – as 2023 SRX drivers.
SRX will air on six consecutive Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN and the ESPN App, bringing back the iconic “ESPN Thursday Night Thunder” branding.
Thursday Night Thunder begins on July 13 at the Stafford Motor Speedway. Another sell-out is predicted as less than 200 tickets remain.
While Riverhead Raceway is the shortest track visited by the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, the demanding bullring nestled on Eastern Long Island will again be the most frequented by WMT teams in 2023. Track owners Connie Partridge and Tom Gatz have inked three dates for 2023 with Riverhead Raceway anchoring the 19 event WMT schedule.
The first WMT stop of 2023 at Riverhead unfolds Saturday evening May 20th with the Buzz Chew Chevrolet-Cadillac 200. A month later the WMT troops return to Riverhead for what promises to be a very special evening, the Miller Lite Salutes Mike Ewanitsko 200 Saturday June 24th. The race will celebrate the always popular and successful Mike Ewanitsko who ranks first in NASCAR WMT victories at Riverhead with 11.
Ewanitsko will serve as the Grand Marshall for the night. The 2023 WMT visits wrap up with the 2nd annual Eddie Partridge 256 Saturday September 16th. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Director Jimmy Wilson in conjunction with Riverhead Raceway officials announced that the infield pitting procedure introduced last year will be in place again for the 256. The first two Riverhead WMT races will use the “hot pit” set-up in the track pit area.
With the cooperation of the Arute family a book has been published with pictures and biographies of the 50 Greatest Drivers at Stafford.
The Stafford Motor Speedway had become the epicenter of NASCAR Modified racing in the northeast by the late 1980’s. From its dirt beginnings to its lightning-fast asphalt, Stafford had become the toughest and most gratifying track to score a victory. The Arute family which has owned and guided the destiny of the facility commissioned their thousands of loyal fans to name their favorite drivers. In alphabetical order so as not to offend anyone:
Tom Baldwin, Gene Bergin, Brett Bodine, Geoff Bodine, Ken Bouchard, Ron Bouchard, Mario “Fats” Caruso, Rene Charland, Ted Christopher, Leo Cleary, Tim Connolly, Jerry Cook, Corky Cookman, Pete Corey, Fred DeSarro, Richie Evans, Mike Ewanitsko, Ed Flemke, Sr., Jeff Fuller, Rick Fuller, Ernie Gahan, Bill Greco, Bo Gunning, Ray Hendrick, George “Moose” Hewitt, Tony Hirschman, George Janoski, Charlie Jarzombek, George Kent, Buddy Krebs, Randy LaJoie, Jan Leaty, Jerry Marquis, Mike McLaughlin, Ray Miller, Steve Park, Bob Polverari, Bob Potter, Brian Ross, John “Reggie” Ruggiero, Greg Sacks, Ollie Silva, “Wild” Bill Slater, Jimmy Spencer, Mike Stefanik, Carl “Bugsy” Stevens, George Summers, Jamie “The Jet” Tomaino, Maynard Troyer and Satch Worley.
Books are priced at $17.95 each and be purchased at the track at the Novelty Booth or at the Stafford Motor Speedway on line store. Books are also available at Amazon.com and at Coastal181 (877-907-8181).