Q&A With NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series Director Jimmy Wilson

Jimmy Wilson (Photo: Jason Smith/pixelcrisp for NASCAR)

Jimmy Wilson (Photo: Jason Smith/pixelcrisp for NASCAR)

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour heads to Stafford Motor Speedway this weekend for the second event of the 2015 season, the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200.

The Whelen Modified Tour is riding the high of rising car counts, a new television package and a schedule that actually grew for the 2015 season.

Third-year NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series director Jimmy Wilson recently sat down to answer a number of questions about where the series stands.

Q: How excited are you for the 2015 Whelen Modified Tour Season?

A: “I think the 2015 season is going to be a really good season. There’s a lot of positive things. A lot of excitement. I kind of feel like the atmosphere in the garage, the teams are excited and ready to get started. Our television package is a huge piece to try to attract new teams to the series and strengthen the ones that we’ve got with 10 televised races for the Whelen Modified Tour. There’s a lot of exciting things that’s going on from that standpoint to attract new teams, strengthen the one’s that we’ve got and grow the series.”

Q: How do you keep the positive momentum of series growth continuing?

A: “From the competition side of things, you basically have to let it play out. To start with, we’ve spoke with the competitors and setting the tone right out of the box that you need to – getting through [the first event] is paramount for a lot of the teams that are going to be from race to race – so we have encouraged them that maybe sometimes when you’re out on the racetrack think about the big picture and lose the battle to win the war so to speak and make it to the next race. Then you get them moving along and doing well. Everything is in place from the television standpoint and what’s attracted the teams here, so now it’s a matter of making sure that they can continue on from race to race. I think the biggest thing is to manage our races properly and make sure that we don’t tear up the equipment the best we can. I think that is the key point in doing that at this time.”

Q: A few years ago there was a real backlash to the NASCAR Spec Engine Program within the Whelen Modified Tour team ownership group, and now that has taken a big turn. Eighteen cars were at the season opener at Thompson with Spec Engines. How proud are you of how that program has developed?

A: “As far as that’s concerned, it took a very methodical approach to that program. One thing that we’ve said all along is that we want that engine to be an option for the teams. So you’ve got Package A and Package B and whichever fits the team as best possible. I think we’ve achieved at this point and we’ll continue to monitor that moving forward to make sure that we have parity between the two so one doesn’t have an advantage over the other. And from that standpoint I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished. A lot of people at that [NASCAR Research and Development Center] have really done a lot to make sure that we’ve got that and we’ve had a lot of support with it and I think that’s another key point that’s helped the car count. You’ve seen some very positive releases that have come out from various competitors … that have specifically said ‘We wouldn’t be able to come run the Whelen Modified Tour if it wasn’t for this package.’ So even if it helped just bring two or three cars that wouldn’t even look to come with us I think we’ve achieved our goal with that.”

Q: How proud are you that the Whelen Modified Tour is a series that can boast of having 12-15 teams each week on the entry list that are legitimate contenders to win at every event?

A: “I think back to two years ago when I was first asked to come here and take the series and I was excited because I’ve always loved the Modifieds because the racing is outstanding. When you take your officials hat off and put your race fan hat on, the racing is outstanding. The competitors do a great job. Coming up here and working with them, they’re always prepared. What I see in the garage as the series director is reflected out on the racetrack. You’ve got 13 or 14 cars that are capable of winning races. I’m very proud of that. And that’s something that we continue to try to manage to make sure that we enforce our rules the same from one end of the garage to the other. We need to make sure that we keep the parity there and always keep the have’s and the have not’s as close together as you can. That guy that might be 17th or 18th or 19th, they still have to feel like they’ve got the same opportunity as the person who is up there in the top-10. That’s our job to make sure that we continue to do that. And I’m very proud of what we have.”

Q: The series averaged 26.6 cars last year at the 12 non-combination events on the schedule. Do you think that number will increase this year?

A: “I feel like this season you’re going to see the average number increase some. I wish I had a crystal ball, but trying to measure it from the conversations I’ve had with different car owners during the offseason, from new numbers people have requested, number one the amount of phone calls I’ve had this year and had those conversations about has easily been as many as what it’s been the previous two years. From that standpoint I think it would be a reasonable expectation to say that we should be in the upper 20’s to lower 30’s everywhere that we go this year. I think that’s a reasonable number.”

Q: More than half of the series events [nine of 15 races] are run at three tracks in Connecticut. Where do we stand with the series adding some new venues?

A: “We’re always open to going to new venues or venues that we haven’t been to in a while. The unique thing about a regional touring series … you’ve got tracks that will come on the series, then go away for a while, then they come back, and you experience that a lot. We had a lot of conversations with different tracks for the series for the 2015 season and I think there could be some possibilities coming along. But we always looking forward to trying to expand and going to as many different venues as we can, but also to make sure that we don’t do too many events. You’ve got to do so many events to keep the teams busy and provide enough races for the sponsors and the sponsor commitments, but you also don’t want to run them in the ground and run people out of money with too many races.”

Q: There’s a stretch from May 30 to June 10 that will see three Whelen Modified Tour events at three tracks in Connecticut in 12 days and then another stretch in August with events at Stafford and Thompson back-to-back in a six-day span. Are we asking too much of fans who might be forced to pick and choose events because of the financial burden of attending too many higher priced shows in a a short period?

A: “You always want every one of your events to be very good and be healthy. And with that, we view that racetracks as our partners. We communicate with them in doing these events and scheduling these things. It is a tight stretch. The other thing is, when you’re here in the Northeast, your season is short in trying to get all these races in. I guess in a perfect world it would be great if you could do a race every other weekend, but when you’re dealing with such a short times span to get X amount of races in unfortunately you do wind up with some hectic scheduling like that.”

Q: With the growth of the Valenti Modified Racing Series and a series for  Open Tour Type Modified events around New England, is there a worry that Modified racing could get spread to thin among sanctioning groups?

A: “I really can’t speak to that overall. The best answer that I give to that is that my responsibility lies to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and we’ll do everything that we can to make our series the most attractive for the fans and for the competitors. That’s what we’ve done and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

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  1. Larry Larivee says

    Why aren’t we pushing to modified racing back to the tracks they used to dominate at, and be on double duty weekends with Sprint Cup so the likes of Ryan Newman and others who love modifieds can promote and participate. Not only at New Hampshire and some of the Bristol races, but how about Martinsville, and Dover to name a few.

  2. It would be nice to see a combination event with the southern modified tour at Martinsville and Richmond. I know the travel expenses for the northeast teams would be a factor, but if the purse was good and some air time was offered for sponsors it might work. If your going to be the top tour for mods you may as well go all out and make it a little more prestigious by running at more cup tracks in front of cup spectators.
    Another thing I’d like to see is a south/north mod combination race at Stafford and Thompson. Bring back the Labor day 200 ands the Thompson 300! Every tour race in the northeast is basically the same thing, 125 or 150 laps. Also, Mark Arute, make the Spring Sizzler 80 LAPS AGAIN!

  3. Larry, a Modified race at Dover would be a very, very bad idea.

  4. Things are looking good on the tour these days. Not all doom and gloom. Seekonk is a possibility in 2016. Dover is not.

  5. Crazy in NY says

    The Tour had 9 different winners in 2011 and 7 in each year since. so where does this
    13,14,15 potential winner thing stem from? A fantasy at best.

    You also never pressed him on why the Tour is limited to the few tracks it has and why it isn’t expanding if everything is so rosy.
    Doesn’t surprise me he glossed over the question on the growing MRS and the Open comp events
    that are drawing old WMT type numbers this year. You let him off easy here Shawn I’m afraid.

  6. I went over the sizzlers entry list and count 9 legitimate potential winners, I tried but just don’t see 13 plus there that can win. While a 30 plus car count looks good on paper and a pretty sight coming to the green, is 20 mid-pack cars and 1 that runs 3-4 seconds off the pace(name withheld as no bashing is intended) but is that really something the series should exited about? Im still not sold on this so called huge tv package as 0 live events really does nothing. I don’t see many future tracks on the schedule as they don’t want to endure the costs involved with bringing this series in for an event.
    As much as I hate to be negative and truly love modifieds the WMT has turned into nothing but a overpriced 75% snooze fest with the hopes that the final 25% of the race will provide a good finish. Fast cars start in the front,run in the front and stay in front. Hit the pit and 5-10 laps later back in front. In short I don’t really know how to fix this series but in my eyes it is definitely broken

  7. Hi crazy… I think he just meant that there are that many cars that have the ability to compete for a win… Obviously you arnt going to have 15 different winners

  8. The Snore right on just a fan , I always set my expectations so high for the Whelen Modified Tour and often walk away extremely disappointed . I often wonder if they just got back to the basics and kept it simple instead of trying to duplicate other series. Old fashioned heat races, handicapping and shorter race if that might work ? I’ve said in the past and I hope I can say it again this year if you want to see good Modified racing go to Stafford Speedway and watch the SK’s on Friday nights

  9. Fast Eddie says

    Once in a while the subject comes up of different ideas with Cup races; how about a trial run with the modifieds? Example: Spring Sizzler – Make it twin 100’s. Award points and $$ for both segments, 15 minute break to tweak the car (great for track concessions & easier for small pit crews) and invert the lead lap cars. Two shorter “racier” races instead of “the long green flag run” that doesn’t have much happening in the middle of the longer race.

  10. Crazy in NY says

    “Hi crazy… I think he just meant that there are that many cars that have the ability to compete for a win… Obviously you arnt going to have 15 different winners”

    Steve, the point is you can claim anything (15 potential winners) but the numbers don’t lie.
    I’d settle for a decent number of lead changes but the Tour falls flat on that as well in my opinion.
    The MRS has more different winners consistently than the Tour but I wouldn’t claim they have 15
    or even 10 but the outcomes on that series are less predictable than the WMT.

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