Change is the watchword for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2015.
From the moment that Ryan Preece scored the final victory of the season at Thompson Motorsports Park in October, the pieces began falling into place for the following season. This will be the 30th campaign in the storied history of the Tour and many of the roster changes during the winter will likely result in one of the most exciting seasons yet.
The first major change was the mutual parting of Ron Silk and the No. 6 Eddie Partridge team. They had been together for five seasons winning six races together but none over the past two seasons. That change opened up one of the premiere rides on the tour, creating much fanfare over who would pilot that entry.
The No. 6 seat barely got cold before a major announcement that past Tour champion Ryan Preece would take over the ride. Ryan and the team started quickly traveling to the North South Shootout at Hickory and winning in their first time out. Then he dominated in February at New Smyrna Speedway winning that championship.
The team will be fielding a new Troyer with a spec motor which looks to be a tough combination in 2015.
Preece is excited for the start of the season. He feels the fields of cars will be up with several drivers coming on the tour part time this year. Preece is a pure racer and with the No. 6 team he will get a chance to race nearly every week. The early races in Florida and on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour (NWSMT) gave Preece and the team track time to figure out the new car before the season began.
With Ryan Preece leaving the No. 16 that then opened up the potent Flamingo Motorsports machine for another top contender. Quickly, the seat was filled by defending rookie of the year Timmy Solomito. Timmy has expressed a lot gratitude to drive that car and for crew chief Sly Cabon. Solomito has made several trips to the Massachusetts shop to establish an early rep with his crew.
They have spent the winter updating the short track and big track cars powered by Bob Bruneau power plants.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Solomito said. “The 16 team seems real organized. They have a lot of experience on the tour and that’s really going to be beneficial. I’m excited to work with the guys, they seem like really nice people.
“[This] was kind of unexpected. I’m sure they had plenty of inquiries about the opening. I feel fortunate for the opportunity and I’m excited to start another chapter on the tour. Hopefully we can have some good runs next year and do really well.”
The Wayne Anderson ride also opened up during the winter with the No. 75 being filled by the older Solomito brother, Shawn. The elder Solomito will also run the full Riverhead Saturday night schedule, and if all goes well, the full Tour schedule with the exception of the two New Hampshire Motor Speedway events that conflict with Riverhead.
Long Islander Donny Lia has moved on to the No. 8 Sypher car — leaving the No. 4 Mystic Missile. The No. 4 Bob Gabriano machine sat vacant for most of the winter until former champion Todd Szegedy was hired to return full time to the tour after racing part time last season with Rob Filler and the No. 15 team.
“It is a complete honor for me that I was chosen,” Szegedy said. “That car has so much history, and Bob has a lot of history.”
Several new Long Island-based teams will run limited schedules this year. Brendon Bock and the No. 29 will miss Thompson and will start the season at the Spring Sizzler due to previous commitments. Jeff Goodale and the No. 46 who will have a new Spafco chassis with a Spec motor. Jeff and Kyle Ellwood, who like Jeff Goodale, will start the season at the Icebreaker and run the two Riverhead Raceway shows plus the World Series.
Tom Rogers has announced he will run the tour in the Billy Darrow car. Long time tour racer Ken Heagy will also be back in the No. 18 with Buoy One as a sponsor for what he hopes to be a full season. Until then, he’s racing week-to-week.
Johnny Bush and his No. 98 would have liked to make his return at the Icebreaker but work commitments will postpone that until later in the season for the Memorial Day weekend Waterford Speedway race. Meanwhile, defending Whelen Southern Modified Tour rookie of the year Spencer Davis will also graduate north and run the full schedule for Hillybilly Motorsports and the David Hill No. 79 team.
Max Zachem will be at the Icebreaker in his own No. 14 and will be running race-to-race until his results dictate a decision one way or the other. Zachem has been concerned that his motor would not be ready for the start of the season but got the call on Monday that he was good to go.
Ron Yuhas has stepped out of his car as he continues his recovery from the September cash that saw him land hard after crashing with Timmy Solomito at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Anthony Nocella will take over the No. 64 this season.
Cole Powell is waiting for a motor to be finished to get to Thompson and will run a partial schedule while Jimmy Blewett will return on a part-time schedule this season as he spends more time at dirt tracks across the Northeast in 2015.
Steve Masse and the No. 11 has a car that is almost ready but he admits that he will likely need additional funds to return to competition. Meanwhile, Dave Brigati and the No. 36 team has committed to the two Riverhead races and the event at Monadnock Speedway.
A welcome change for 2015 NWMT season is the broadcast schedule. TV is back in a big way this year with best TV package since Versus broadcast several races back in 2012.
Ironically Versus became the NBC Sports Network which will broadcast the races this year. The schedule includes 14 Northern and Southern races. Short tracks like Riverhead Raceway on Long Island and Monadnock Speedway in New Hampshire join larger tracks like Thompson Motorsports Park, Stafford and NHMS on national TV on a tape-delayed basis.
Meanwhile, here are the things that will have remained the same from 2014 to 2015.
Thompson Motorsports Park will open its 75th season with the traditional Icebreaker and the 127th NWMT race in its history.
Hoosier tires is also back with a five-year deal. The tires will be cheaper this year saving all the teams money. The Hoosier Lap Leader Award, Hoosier Fastest Lap Award, and Hoosier Most Improved Award will be presented at each event for both Modified tours throughout the season, with additional mid-year and year-end awards increasing the prize pool for eligible teams.
2014 NWMT champion Doug Coby No. 2 will be back to defend his title and looking for his third crown. Coby will have a new LFR chassis and spec motor at Icebreaker and is expecting a bit of a learning curve in the first few races of the season.
Justin Bonsignore be back and is looking to improve on the three wins and championship disappointment after leading the standings for much of the year. As a result, he should again contend in the M3 No. 51 car.
Bobby Santos will return to the Tinio No. 44 and Teddy Christopher will be back in his familiar No. 13 colors as well. Woody Pitkat is back in the Buzz Chew No. 88 as well.
Eric Goodale will try to build on the early season wins New Smyrna and Caraway and is hoping to return to the championship hunt as well.
Jamie Tomaino, whose cars have been at every race in the history of the tour will be part of a 2 team effort with teammate Chase Dowling. While Chase is not his first teammate it will be his youngest. Tomaino has said his team is looking for a lot great finishes and having a lot of fun this year. Doug Dunleavy, one of the biggest supporters of the tour and racing in general has come on board to help fund this team. The team numbers will be No. 99 for Jamie and No. 9 for Dunleavy.
Wade Cole and his No. 33 never seems to miss a race even with his limited budget and ramp truck hauler should be a regular as always. The Ole Blue No. 3 will also return this year with Troy Talman behind the wheel
Other teams expected are the No. 07 of Patrick Emerling, the No. 26 of Gary McDonald, Melissa Fifield in the No. 01 — the 2014 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s most popular driver. Rowan Pennink will return in the familiar number No. 93 as should Danny Watts in the No. 82 who had a tough February in Florida with a couple of crashes.
Andy Seuss right now is set to make three appearances this season — all at New Hampshire. He is focused on the Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
Those who have not committed but should make appearances are Jimmy Zacharias, John Beatty, Frank Vigliarolo Jr. and others.
The official Thompson entry list should be up in about a week and the expectation of 33-35 NASCAR modifieds has the fans of modified racing excited winter is over and it’s time to go racing again. Race22.com will be at the Icebreaker and every race this season to bring you coverage of the WMT. Follow along with us on Facebook and Twitter.