LOUDON, N.H. – Look around all realms of social media Friday afternoon following the inaugural NASCAR Modified Tour Whelen All-Star Shootout and the most common theme was venomous anger.
One would think most anger would have been directed at NASCAR for their decision to shorten the event by three laps.
Not so though.
The bulk of irritation being expressed involved race winner Ryan Newman and the fact that the sanctioning body allowed the Sprint Cup Series regular to participate in the special exhibition event, despite the fact that Newman fit the criteria for inclusion into the event as a former series winner.
The angry sentiment concerning Newman’s participation with the Whelen Modified Tour is the same opinion that has seemingly poured from fans over the last two years each time Newman has participated in Whelen Modified Tour events.
The basic theme of most arguments made – whether thought out or crassly expressed – is that NASCAR should not allow Newman to race with the series.
The question is, why? What is bad about Newman participating? What is bad about anybody participating if they want to participate?
When Newman made his first Whelen Modified Tour start in 2008 his arrival was widely celebrated by most fans. He was welcomed with open arms. Fans were proud to say that a Sprint Cup star was taking the time to participate with the series they love.
Then Newman started winning and things changed. And yes, Newman’s disqualification from a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2011 swayed the opinions of many to negative, but he was hardly the first driver in series history to get disqualified from an event for cheating.
Gary Putnam and Kevin “Bono” Manion, the principles involved with the team Newman has run with since 2008, are Northeast natives and former Modified crew members who are still interested in participating and supporting the series. Yes, they’ve climbed the ladder to become crew members in the top echelon of NASCAR, but they’re Modified guys at heart.
Are they good at what they do? Sure they are. And isn’t having the best competition you can possibly have participating the goal? Are they dancing on the line of the rulebook? Probably. And so is every other top-level team participating with the series today. That’s part of racing anywhere. They got caught cheating and were penalized. NASCAR isn’t letting them getting away with anything.
Fans saying Newman shouldn’t be allowed to participate because he’s talented enough to compete regularly in NASCAR’s most premier division are actually insulting the regular drivers of the Modified Tour. It’s basically saying, ‘Our drivers aren’t as good so we don’t want him here.’ Reality is, there’s no truth involved in that at all.
Is Newman talented? Sure he is. He didn’t reach the levels he has in racing because he’s not. But the fact is, most Whelen Modified Tour drivers will say they want the chance to compete against him. They want the chance to test their mettle against a driver considered one of the best in the world.
NASCAR’s history was built on stars barnstorming events. Before the Sprint Cup Series became the behemoth of American motorsports that it has grown into, the stars of the division showing up to participate in grassroots short track events or with regional divisions was a regular – and celebrated – occurrence.
The fact is, like it or not, Newman moves the needle for the Whelen Modified Tour when he shows up to race. He brings attention from media and fans that the series wouldn’t get if he wasn’t there.
Attention brings opportunity, and that stands for all involved in the series. It’s a lot easier for a Whelen Modified Tour team to sell potential sponsors on getting involved if those potential sponsors have seen the series getting media attention. And Newman’s participation brings that.
And for a division desperate to help keep new supporters coming and new fans discovering, attention of any sort is a must.
After Friday’s race Newman was asked why he likes to compete with the division.
“They’re pretty close to the ultimate racecar to me,” Newman said. “Low [center of gravity], a lot of tire, a lot of horsepower. Just a lot of fun to drive. … The racing you see [on the Whelen Modified Tour], it’s awesome.”
NASCAR couldn’t pay enough for that sort of media pitch for the Whelen Modified Tour.
Newman isn’t killing the Modified Tour and he isn’t “stealing” from the division. Anybody can come along tomorrow with the right equipment and talent and start winning the same money that’s being won by longtime series regulars. Whether that new face is a well-known Sprint Cup star or someone nobody has ever heard of shouldn’t matter.
The Whelen Modified Tour isn’t a division that’s exactly turning teams away weekly. They need participants, they need positive attention. The fact that people like Newman, Manion and Putnam want to participate with the series and pump up the series to anybody that will listen should be all that matters.