Blame Game: “NASCAR” Is Easy Excuse When It Comes To Whelen Modified Tour Struggles

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to Stafford Motor Speedway next weekend for the division’s second visit to the half-mile oval in 2013.

The TSI Harley-Davidson 125 is one small part of what many in motorsports describe as the high holy weekend of racing of in the United States. It’s a weekend that showcases IndyCar with the annual running of the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s longest event, the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Most likely, less than 30 Whelen Modified Tour teams will show up at Stafford and almost assuredly there will be those that will look at the plethora of issues surrounding the overall health of the division and immediately put all the blame squarely on NASCAR.

The fact is, putting the blame solely on NASCAR for how far the Whelen Modified Tour has fallen is irresponsible and as long as people blame NASCAR for the ills of Tour Type Modified racing, they will go on ignoring what the real issues are.

Though it’s easy to blame NASCAR right? If one listens long enough to some around the division they’ll hear a laundry list of perceived reasons of why NASCAR has killed the division.

In a column published in the New Britain Herald last week with the headline “NASCAR Must Admit Problem With Modifieds” longtime motorsports journalist Brian Danko wrote: “If NASCAR doesn’t care, who should?”

The most commonly offered reason when it comes to those pointing the finger at NASCAR for the demise of the Modified Tour? NASCAR just doesn’t care? Though how one quantifies “caring” can be quite a variable and hardly a concrete reason for the overall downfall of a racing division.

In a haste to direct the blame of all problems on NASCAR, many simply ignore the realities of what motorsports in general has become circa 2013.

Sure, car counts have lowered drastically in the Whelen Modified Tour over the last decade? Where in motorsports have they risen?

Across the spectrum of motorsports car counts have been falling over the last decade. From NASCAR’s highest divisions, to stock car short tracks across the country to IndyCar and Sports Car racing, nobody has been immune to lowered levels of participation. This is not a localized phenomena of the Whelen Modified Tour.

And then there are purses that have remained stagnant or fallen. NASCAR doesn’t pay the purse. The tracks hosting the division pay the purses. And NASCAR didn’t create an economical model in short track racing that has made the series financially unfeasible for most short tracks to host. It’s become a common refrain “If NASCAR would just pay more.” Well, the economy of short track racing won’t allow for that to happen.

And if NASCAR is the root of all problems with the Whelen Modified Tour and the model of Touring Type Modified racing, then that means fixing the problem would be easy right?

If the diminishing state of the Tour is all because NASCAR has done such a poor job of supporting it and helping to keep it thrive, then that would be saying that under the watchful and supportive hand of a group that did care then touring Modified racing would thrive like in the 70’s and 80’s right?

So then why hasn’t that happened?

If the fix is so easy like so many say – get rid of NASCAR because they’re killing it and don’t care – then why hasn’t it been done?

Jack Bateman has tried in founding the Valenti Modified Racing Series, which is celebrating its 10th season in operation this year. The VMRS has grown from small roots to a hearty and quality racing division that stretches strongly throughout New England. No knock on the VMRS, but they aren’t exactly replicating the heyday Touring Modified racing from the 70’s and 80’s either.

And the never ending argument that TV is the elixir needed to save a once proud segment of racing has become stale and overused.

Like anything, if enough people wanted to see it on TV some network would find a way to put it on TV and cash in on that market. The fact is, the market for Touring Modified racing is minuscule and there’s no value there. Why should Modifieds be on TV if there isn’t a market strong enough to support its financial viability?

Racing divisions across the landscape of motorsports in every form have all dwindled in exposure, popularity and competitive participation over the last two decades. NASCAR isn’t the reason why so many Whelen Modified Tour teams have decided to stop participating in what has basically been for years a losing proposition. NASCAR isn’t the reason why families are choosing other alternatives to spend their entertainment dollar other than watching the Whelen Modified Tour. NASCAR isn’t the reason why kids aren’t growing up around the Whelen Modified Tour and creating the next generation of interested individuals.

But NASCAR is the excuse, and all too generic excuse, too many will give for the failures plaguing the division. Until that changes and the real issues are tackled, the problems will only continue to get worse.

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  1. goodfella says

    i like how you say the VMRS doesnt replicate the 70s and 80s modifieds when you attended your first race in the mid 90s

  2. Having just read both of the stories you just posted, I saw something in one, that I think relates to the other…$17 for a regular night’s points race is to much…here in NC, doesn’t matter if your going to a dirt track, legends racing or Bowman Gray on a regular race night, you won’t pay more than $10…$$$ is always at the root of an issue…

  3. I think if the tracks didn’t charge 40-50 dollars a person to get in that would solve part of the problem. but on the other hand if nascar marketed the division better with sponsorship it would help the purse problems . I think that’s where the blame comes in. maybe even coming up with some sort of tire rule where they teams are only allowed to run certain amounts of tires a weekend would help out keeping cost of racing down

  4. So please tell us Shawn, what are the “real issues” that need to be addressed? You mention that phrase a couple times in the article, but you never actually spell out what they are. If you are so convinced that Nascar isn’t the problem, surely you must know what these “real issues” are. Lets hear it!

    Furthermore, if you think the entire short track industry is in the same shape as asphalt modified racing, you need to get out more. The dirt side of the sport is still thriving. There’s a plethora of races on dirt for late models, sprint cars, and even modifieds that pay $10,20,30, and even 50-thousand to win. The crowds at most of those events aren’t any bigger than the Sizzler crowd and many are smaller. A lot of those events are on television too. How can this be when, according to you, the state of the WMT represents “the realities of what motorsports in general has become circa 2013”? The answer is that the asphalt side, especially the modifieds, lacked the leadership over the past 30 years or so that the dirt side had with people like Glenn Donnelly and Ted Johnson. Is that Nascar’s fault? Well, they can’t claim the mantle of industry leader without owning up to their failures. And relative to some other short track racing groups, they have failed miserably with the WMT.

  5. The real issues? It has to do with the fact that many of the reasons why the WMT has had such a sustained downfall have little or nothing to do with how NASCAR how has led the division. A short track economic model in the Northeast that doesn’t support an overburdened purse structure? That’s NASCAR’s fault? The real issues? How about getting kids to events? How about teams themselves bearing some of the responsibility of marketing what they’re doing? I’m not discounting that NASCAR has had some responsibility here, but to continually blame all the issues on NASCAR is to stick one’s head in the sand. That’s what it’s become, “Oh NASCAR screwed up and there’s no fixing it now.” That’s basically the sentiment that’s constantly out there. Again, everybody says what a great thing it could be if NASCAR wasn’t ruining it, so how is it that nobody seems to be jumping up to make to do it instead of NASCAR and making it such a great thing? Yes, you’re right, dirt racing seems to have avoided a lot of the issues that have plagued asphalt racing, but the reality is, asphalt racing across the board has seen dropping competition, attendance and interested over the last decade.

  6. Nascar is absolutely in control of the economic model and “overburdened purse structure”. They apparently charge astronomical sanction fees as well. I heard from one promoter that he had to pay well over $60k for a flash race that paid a total purse of less than $30k to the teams. Am I the only one that thinks that’s incredibly screwed up? No wonder the VMRS is so attractive to the promoters.

    “…but the reality is, asphalt racing across the board has seen dropping competition, attendance and interested over the last decade.” That’s a symptom, not a cause. I still maintain that if the right leadership had been in place over the last 30 years, that would not be the case. One example of a lousy policy by Nascar (at all levels) is their relentless pursuit of “parity”. Having all cars the same, especially on asphalt, makes for one-groove boring freight trains where passing can only be done by moving someone out of the way. If parity was so great, why isn’t the IROC series still around?

  7. Shawn what about the ever increasing license fees that NASCAR imposes on these tour teams and such. why have teams left WMT to go to MRS. when at the world series WMT had 28 cars and MRS had 34, what’s that tell you. NASCAR makes the expense more to run it and you get to see more racing for less cost on MRS.

  8. Franchise the Tour. Then everybody has a stake in the outcome and will work harder all around to promote and sell their product. Not to mention the so called blame game will go away. If you own a piece of the product you will work harder to make it pay off….

  9. darealgoodfella says

    The MRS exists because the NASCAR Tour had participants looking for another option. There has been talk for decades of taking the Tour independent, out from under NASCAR. The owners would organize and leave NASCAR all together. That never happened, but MRS did. And the MRS shows how Tour modified owners wanted to leave NASCAR. So why did all those MRS teams want to leave NASCAR? If they didn’t go to the MRS, they just left racing. And over the last few seasons, there have been several columns reporting how current owners of competitive Tour teams are not pleased with NASCAR and are considering leaving the NASCAR Tour or shutting down the team. We can just list those owners, with the Eddie Whelan #36 one of the more obvious. He made it clear in the press after a Waterford race that it cost several thousand dollars to run car at the Waterford event, only to win a couple hundred dollars. NASCAR just doesn’t have the cachet it used to, and it better bring something to the party, start with using its vast network to get exposure for the Tour to bring in fans and sponsorship. That is something only NASCAR can do, not each short track owner. A Mod Tour car needs to be associated with a Cup car, so that when a Cup car gets exposure, the Tour car gets mentioned too. The fee that NASCAR gets paid at these short track events needs to be linked to the sponsorship it brings, fan gate, and car counts. If the event is not financially successful, NASCAR doesn’t get paid. NASCAR needs incentives and to share the risk. What does NASCAR bring to the Tour?

    That said, things have improved. Rules and tech inspection seems to be getting better. Sewer pipe sized carburetors are on the decline. Maybe good rules compliance will encourage some teams to come back. A legit team is just wasting $5-7 thousand per race racing against sewer pipe sized carburetors.

    About 10-15 years ago, there was a waiting list of several years for tickets to a Cup event at Loudon and the worst seats were about $100. Now good seat tickets are a fraction of that price and there are plenty of empty seats. That shows that ticket prices are not the overwhelming factor. There is something wrong with the management of the product, or more competition for entertainment. And look at all the advertising that is going on now for the Cup races to try to sell tickets!!!!! Advertising and exposure, what a totally new concept!!!!

  10. NASCAR may not be the ONLY issue, but it is a REAL issue… NASCAR has been requiring thousands of dollars of updates… fuel cell, seats, etc.. WHY? to insulate NASCAR’s liability if something were to happen… “hey, we (NASCAR) did everything we could safety-wise.. now, while safety is a GREAT thing, has NASCAR been able to procure series’ sponsors or injected money directly into the series’ to offset these costs to owners?? the answer simply is no… some teams cannot afford to buy a $2500 seat, or and $1200 fuel cell to compete on a tour that they lose thousands of dollars each event… thus, these teams have to choose to sit out… if NASCAR isn’t the problem, they DEFINITELY have proved they are not the solution

  11. The Tour used to have alot more luster and respect. Just a few years ago the races were paced with a Calloway Cadillac from Cadillac Motorsports, and there were TWO Featherlight trailers full of Modified related items. The tracks gave them a real hard time, overcharging, and in some cases, not even letting them in…this goes to a short sighted mentality that certainly didn’t help things. A sort of circus atmosphere of a big deal coming to town was lost. Just a symptom, but certainly part of the demise.

  12. My Take: Racing in the 90s when many people say popularity was at it’s biggest wasn’t really all that popular it was more of a fad. Just like Football, Baseball, Basketball before it and I’ll say Hockey now. This “fad” (and I really use that because of a lack of a better term) is basically a wave that roles from sport to sport every 10-20 years, eventually it’ll get back around to motorsports at which point fields will be full, everything will be sponsored and the stands will be full… For about 15 years or so until that wave starts to roll onto another sport & the stands slowly become emptier the fields shorter & the sponsorship dollars not enough.

  13. Shockguy says

    having worked directly with/for Nascar from the late 80’s to 2004 as a photographer and assist. pr…I have seen the same thing happen to Nascars’ other short track series’. the demise of the….All Pro, Southwest, Northwest and Midwest Tours one of which I worked on. Nascar took a thriving Artgo series and killed it. They took a thriving All Pro Series with Slim Jim sponsorship that paid for tv pckg and slowly ran it in to the ground. They wouldn’t allow Goodmark Foods(SlimJim & Greased Lightning continue tv pckg. All this was happening during a thriving economy and a huge racing growth. What about the Goody’s Dash Series and the once thriving Late Model Stocks in NC & Va.? Do I need to go into that as well? Tracks in NC & Va. had an average of 50 lms cars, that started decreasing in the mid 90’s. Do you want to challenge me on this…I also worked for a manufacturer of racing oroducts.

  14. nascar runs the show – and it is not pretty or affordable.
    this is not just the tour – we are talking about the weekly tracks they sanction here in ct.
    I keep asking the same question – how do the dirt tracks do it.
    NASCAR has the resources and money – they should be looking at DIRT and MRS to figure it out but I believe they don’t care.
    Why has the owners and drivers stayed this long – don’t know but it s time. We had a spokesman years ago in Dick Armstrong and he spoke up and made things happen….

  15. “NASCAR has the resources and money – they should be looking at DIRT and MRS to figure it out but I believe they don’t care.”

    Nascar has the “NIH” mentality (Not Invented Here) worse than any organization I’ve ever seen. If it isn’t their idea, it can’t be a good one. Nascar adopt a successful idea from another sanctioning body? lmao – never happen! They’d sooner do away with the tour than admit someone else had a good idea.

  16. GP,
    If the MRS model is the answer, why hasn’t there been a mass exodus of Whelen Modified Tour teams to the MRS?

  17. there are more and more teams making the jump – as an owner the MRS is the only one I can afford- as a fan I will only pay to watch the MRS – better show by far – Heat races and a consi are a big plus.

  18. Lauren,
    Who are the “more and more teams making the jump” ? The Pasteryak group and Art Barry? I’m not knocking the MRS, I think it’s a wonderful series, but there hasn’t been any sort of massive run to the MRS from WMT teams.

  19. Shawn, I never said the MRS is “the answer”, those are your words. All I said is that they refuse to admit that any other group ever had a good idea, whether it’s the MRS, DIRT, WoO, or whoever.

  20. Chuck Flynn says

    Funny that I had this conversation on Facebook with a MRS Driver / Friend of mine just a few weeks ago. I copied the text that you will see below (I am not showing the Driver’s name because I have not ok’d it with him but he reads this and may chime in) and keep in mind this Driver is a winner on the MRS and very competitive when he has driven Tour races. Some of the answers to why MRS and not Tour are explained;

    Chuck Flynn
    You guys running any tour races this year? I know they aren’t doing the North / South thing at Thompson.

    no the tires cost way too much money
    i ran 2 tour races last year and i couldve done the entire MRS race with that budget lol

    Chuck Flynn
    Wow, didn’t know there was that much of a difference. I’ve been out of the trenches for too long I guess! LOL

    well each tire on the tour is 190
    on the MRS its 145
    and u need 10 tires for 1 tour race
    so thats 2 grand on tires
    never mind u need people to change them
    u need to buy those people safety equipment, pit passes, food .. it all adds up

    Chuck Flynn
    Haha, and my fat 50 year old butt aint volunteering to change tires anymore! Oh well. Haha

    as much as id like to run the tour.. i like winning better
    so its the MRS where ull find me

    I think what he was getting at is the race length on MRS vs. Tour makes the huge difference.

  21. who have made the jump
    zacharias spiers pennick,brady, tc, pitkat, berghamn, perry’s, rocco, preece, casella, savary, wrenn, alexander colby, just to name a few.

  22. Lauren,

    I said teams, not drivers. There’s a BIG difference. So more specifically, what full-time Whelen Modified Tour “teams” have made the move to running full-time in the MRS instead?


  24. Mike Kalasnik says

    Just my 2 cents: Thompson charges $55 for its opening and closing race weekends. You can go to NHIS and see the mods AND Nationwide for $35. Why would anyone spend that kind of money on a race weekend? How many people can afford a $55 ticket? Certainly not a family of 4. Im sure this is an issue at a lot of tracks.

    Also dont forget, A LOT of people come JUST to see their local or family member race. A great example is Bowman Gray in Winston Salem, NC. They run the southern tour there, and when they do, they move their weekly show to Friday that week. The crowd is down a bit due to it being a Fri night BUT the attendance is still there. Saturdays race? Not packed. I went last year and it was maybe 40% full for a TOUR race, yet the next weeks Sat night weekly race was nearly sold out. Not everyone cares about the tour racing, and im sure its the same up north.

    As for dirt racing, its very popular down this way. I go to my weekly track for $12. Sprint Cars came in and it was $17, and a $4k to win Super Late Model was $20. $20 is the most ive EVER paid for a race in the south. Families wont go to these big money races, as the tickets are too expensive for them. $12 vs $20 might not SEEM like much, but it is when people have 2-3 kids. I still talk to people up north, telling me about $25-30 tickets for a modified race then I look at the payouts to the drivers, and its embarassing. On the flip side, Ill pay $12 at my local dirt track, and the winner of a crate late model race gets $1k for a 20 lap race. The tour might get $4k to win a 125 lap race. Doesnt add up. You can blame NASCAR some as they DO set the fee’s and licensing, etc… They need to be paid too.

    I recall the days of the mods having too many cars at NHIS. Back in the Busch North days, they would send cars home or start 45 or 46. Car counts were CRAZY then. It was also a cheaper ticket, and the cars didnt cost as much to run (tires, gas etc). Companies want TV exposure and they cant get it with the mods, except 2-3 races a year. They can with a K&N car as they have coverage on SPEED all year. A guy like Donny Lia, who won a tour title and a ton of races, lasted a year in the trucks (and even won a race). You have young talented guys in the mods, and they can never go anywhere. Back in the 90s, you wouldnt have a problem getting a Busch ride if you ran well in the tour (Bodine, Stefanik, Mike Mclaughlin, Spencer, etc…) Now, teams want kids that are 14/15 and have super late model and midget experience, get them in a K&N car at 15, and run then in Nationwide by 16/17. The days of going from the short track to mods to Busch North to Busch South are over.

    I LOVE the tour, and a lot of people do. Us fans just cant pay that kind of money to see 12 competitive cars in a race thats way to long with only 30-40 good laps of racing. I ask anyone to go to Bowman Gray on a Sat night. $10 tickets and no alcohol allowed in the stands, and the place is packed to see weekly “nobodies” race on a 1/4 mile track. If someone can take that magic and put it up north, and get drivers to actually have rivalries and get fans who are passionate about their driver and sport, you might not have some of the issues listed here.

  25. Tommy Lythgoe says

    Let me start by saying I’m an owner on the south tour & have been for about 9 yrs.I love modified racing & thats why I do it.I believe Nascar is not the whole problem but they sure are a big part of it.Like everyone else has been saying the extra cost they’re putting on the teams is the biggest thing I see.A $ was not needed.There was nothing wrong with the seats we were using.The entry fee thats paid to NASCAR has gone from $65. to $ just a couple yrs.Tires are now $200. ea.Bottom line is you can win every week & not break even.The teams up north do have other options that we don’t down here.I guess it’s they’re sand box we just play in it.

  26. darealgoodfella says

    There are plenty of owners in the MRS that ran the Tour. So much so that if they came over to the Tour, cars would be sent home after qualifying. And then there are owners that left the Tour and aren’t even running the MRS.

  27. No disrespect too anyone cost has gone up in everything , from racing too baseball what ever . Bottom line you pay for everything , as for keeping the drivers , crew member or the fans safe there no price for that .

  28. Be careful what you wish for. It may come true.

  29. Shawn Its funny how you only read what you want – half the drivers I listed own their own cars – I didn’t mention Ethridge, Dupree. MRS races normally cost $20 to get in except stafford????? I don’t get it. Seekonk pays 10K to win and charges $20. why do tires cost $45 more, why the difference in licenses cost? Everything affiliated with NASCAR cost’s more – it should be the other way around.

  30. Joe Friday says

    Just a fact: The Seekonk 10k open show was $20 for several years but was last $20 in 2010. They caught a case of Connecticuttrackitus and raised the admission price each of the last two years to the point where in 2012 it went to $26. $6 in two years is a 30% hike. Very few families disposable income rose that quickly in the midst of a recessionary economy…

  31. Lauren,
    No, we’re talking about two different things. I was talking about full-time WMT teams that have made the jump to becoming full-time MRS teams. You seem to be talking about anybody that’s ever tried either.

  32. John S. – There is a specific tire rule for every race, which varies mostly by the race distance. For example, the Stafford Spring Sizzler 200 was a maximum allotment of up to 10 tires (4 for qualifying and to start the race, the others for practice and change tires during the race, with a max of 2 tires changed during the race). Likewise, for the Monadnock 200 it will be a maximum of 8 (4 for practice, 4 for qualifying and race, no change allowed during the race).

    It should also be noted on the tire subject that the Whelen Modified Tour has a tire distribution plan with Hoosier that provides 2 complementary “award tires” to each car owner that ranks in the top 20 of the points standings.

  33. darealgoodfella says

    Shawn, a review of the MRS results shows that there are very few true full-time teams on the MRS, especially when compared to the total number of registered teams/drivers/owners. The MRS has often been called an “open” series since most participants do not run the entire schedule. Last season, I think about 5-6 teams ran the whole MRS schedule, and of that, only two were really contending for the championship. Typically, around 15 or more cars run the entire Tour schedule, with plenty more missing just a couple races.

    The issue with the WMT is dwindling cars and competitors. The participants are leaving the Tour for the MRS series, regardless of if they are owners, drivers, or other. Or if they left the Tour, they left modified racing. The names of the participants in the MRS series reads like a Who’s Who of Who Used to Run the NASCAR Modified Tour.

    The Modified Tour is a NASCAR division, NASCAR runs it and manages it. First and foremost, NASCAR is responsible for the demise of the division.

    Mr. Cunningham, regarding the 2 complimentary “award tires” for the cars placing in the top 20 in points. Isn’t it true that those tires are being paid for out of the the various fees that all teams pay? So the bottom line is that the cars that are 21 and lower in points are paying for those award tires going to the top 20 cars. The struggling and underfunded cars are paying for the award tires for the top teams. So I guess we all need to watch the excitement surrounding the cars that are racing to remain in and gain the 20th position in points. Kind of like a “Lucky Dog” for tire awards.

  34. I think this should be known. Both MRS and the WMT are great series. You can’t compare the two though. Totally different animals. MRS is a budget series that you play the tire wear game where the guy who plays it smart has a chance to win. The WMT you have to have your car 100% on and race hard every lap. Instead of some people complaining about the series’ , why not support it. Help it grow again.

  35. Since tires have been brought up, let me just say that it is profoundly stupid to burn up $800 in tires in PRACTICE! “Budget series” or otherwise, that makes no sense what so ever.

  36. In terms of the tires, I really wish races like Monadnock and Riverhead would allow a 1 tire change during the race. The fans and the drivers called for it last year. It would really improve the racing and add a little strategy. Nascar should rethink that one.

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