NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Director Chad Little Responds To Pressing Competitor Concerns

The mood around the pits in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has been one of sour disappointment of late as it pertains to how competitors feel about the direction NASCAR is taking with the division.

Chad Little

In the build-up to Saturday’s Town Fair Tire 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, many involved with the teams were saying NASCAR was implanting rule changes to favor the spec engine that the sanctioning body has helped develop as a lower cost alternative to traditionally built motors.

On Wednesday Ed Whelan, owner of the 2008 series championship team, said he was shutting down his operation immediately. Whelan listed lowered purses, rule changes and the spec engine issues as reasons for his decision to shut down his team.

On Thursday longtime series stalwart team owner Bob Garbarino hinted that his team could be the next disappearing from the series. Garbarino, who has been staunchly loyal to the series since its inception in 1985, unleashed on NASCAR for their treatment of teams involved in the series.

Thursday afternoon, during an interview with RaceDayCT, Whelen Modified Tour director Chad Little addressed many of the concerns raised recently from within the series.

On The Spec Engine, which Ron Silk’s Ed Partridge owned team ran Saturday at NHMS:

“The first thing I would remind all the competitors is that this the same exact engine, identical except for an oil pan, that was introduced five years. This is the same motor that Todd Szegedy tested at Concord, except for an oil pan. It’s the same motor that LW. Miller ran at New Hampshire three years ago, except for an oil pan. It’s the same motor that Corey LaJoie came to Stafford with this year. It’s the same motor that [Doug] Coby ran at New Hampshire. So I would remind the competitors that nothing has been shoved down their throats. We don’t operate that way. It’s an option and remains option. It’s been an option for six years in the K&N Series and it remains an option today in the K&N Series. It’s a less expensive alternative with equal power and torque. We get our data from not from other competitors, not from other dyno’s, we get our date from our dyno at the [NASCAR Research and Development Center]. It’s a state of the art dyno. Controlled air source. It’s very accurate. It measures engines on how they accelerate from one RPM to the next. It’s extremely accurate and extremely state of the art. We came up with a package several years for a less expensive alternative. All we’ve done is that we crossed it over to Yates. Nothing has changed on that engine. There’s nothing being forced upon them.

“Let’s step back and look at it from 20,000 feet, it just so happens that one of our very best teams and very best drivers [Ron Silk] – a champion driver by the way – is using it and he’s going to do good no matter what motor you put in the car. And it shined. It should shine. It’s a good engine, it’s not going to shine any more than a Hutter or a Bruneau motor. If the car is good and the motor is good, guess what, you’re going to have a good day. And he did. He had a good day.

“Is it too strong? I don’t know. Who knows? Sometimes you draw good cards and sometimes you don’t. I know that car was handling awful well at New Hampshire. I have the blessing of seeing it from the tower, a better view than any crew member had besides the spotters. That car was rolling through the center [of the corners] really really well the first half of that race and it showed. The second half of the race the car got tight and guess what, he traded the lead 17 times with Mike Stefanik. That’s a really good race and Stefanik ended up winning. Did the motor run away? I would say no, 17 lead changes is pretty solid. There was a blanket of seven cars at the start/finish line within two-tenths of a second.

“Lets not overreact people. If this thing needs to be pulled back a little bit at New Hampshire, that’s the only thing we can look at right now. … Nobody is forcing anything down anybody’s throats. If the thing needs to be pulled back a little back don’t you think NASCAR will pull it back? Come on, we’re not in the business to put people out of business.

“We lived through the same thing with K&N Series and at the end of the day change is hard for everybody. Our car counts have suffered the past couple years. The economy is tough. Everyone is having a hard time making ends meet, all the players, the promoters, the fans, the teams, the engine builders, the car builders. Sometimes our decisions aren’t popular with some of those groups. But all in all we try to make smart decisions, we don’t make knee jerk decisions, NASCAR never has and that’s why they’ve been able to survive for 60 something years. We have solid sponsorship in the Modified Tour and K&N Series. There’s 450 spec engines that have been out there and they didn’t take off in the K&N Series because it was a bad engine. They took off because it was a less expensive alternative. And if the teams in the Modified north tour don’t want to use them they don’t have to use it. Nobody is going to force them to. If it allows a couple new teams to come and run the Modified Tour then we’ve accomplished our goal.”

On the halfway break introduced for Saturday’s race at NHMS:

“That was a very unpopular decision, but I’ll stand by it because it allowed a couple new teams, maybe not to come to New Hampshire this time because their decision was already made, before they realized the advantages of the break, but it certainly made it easier for them and that’s the goal of that. Not necessarily to make it easier for our guys that have a lot of resources, but we have to make sure that we have a field that has depth. Not just 20 cars, that’s not going to make a good Tour. We want 30 cars and 40 cars. And if we can do something to allow a couple new teams to come to a race and be competitive and feel like they can be competitive, guys like Mike Christopher and Steve Dickey and Rob Fuller, the guys that don’t have full-time crews, that’s what we want to do. We want to make it easier for these guys to come. If you’re starting a new team and you can spend $24,000 and buy an engine and you don’t have to have a solid pit crew to come to the biggest race of the year, I think we’ve done our job.

“The break is not going to be popular, especially to the guys that had an advantage with good pit crews. They’re not going to like it. I wouldn’t like either. But when you look step back and look at it, it’s hard to argue with the break and it’s hard to argue with the spec engine. Saving money never hurt so bad. We’re not trying to hurt anybody, we’re just looking at alternatives that may make it easier for news to compete in our series. That’s the bottom line and I’m sorry some of the owners don’t like it. The door is open and I’ll listen to their comments all the time but at the end of the day we’re going to make a decision and sometimes they like it and sometimes they don’t.”

On losing a team like Whelan’s or the possibility of losing a team like Garbarino’s:

“It’s awful. I hate it. Those decisions, if the decisions actually make a couple teams quit, that’s a big concern. After I got off the phone with Ed Whelan, I don’t believe the spec engine made him quit. If there was five reasons of his frustrations leading to quitting, the spec engine was one of those five, because he said that himself so I won’t doubt what he said, but it’s importance was diminished compared to the other reasons. It was the tipping point or could have been the tipping point, he said it was the tipping point so I’m not going to doubt his reasons, but it certainly wasn’t the main reason. I had a good conversation with Ed. I told him that I was very sorry to see him leave. He’s a premier team in our organization, but he’s got other reasons. Some of them person and some of them business, but the spec engine wasn’t the reason. It’s not the main reason that he decided to stop. It’s a frustration of his. If you’re an owner and you have four built engines and you feel that something is going to devalue the value of those engines it’s frustrating, I can feel their pain. But long term, it’s a decision that we have to make. What I don’t understand is that this isn’t a decision that was made before New Hampshire. This motor is five years old and nothing has changed on it besides an oil pan. The competitors need to step back and look at that. This isn’t new guys, this is the same thing. It’s always been out there. It’s just that you’ve got a couple people really looking at it and one of them happens to be the 2011 champion. He’s pretty solid.

“It is bothersome. I don’t want to see Garbarino leave or Whelan leave or anybody for that matter. An ideal day for me at the racetrack is when I go home at night and I know that our decisions didn’t frustrate anyone during the day. I don’t like that. I want to hear their concerns, we will listen, but we have to look at their comments in the context of 30 competitors and in the context of the sponsor Whelen and in the fans and the promoters. There’s a lot of considerations and sometimes it’s not about what one person thinks is best for the series, it’s about all those other factors, sponsors, fans, promoters, all of those things come into play with it.”

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