Next Generation of Whelen Modified Stars Look To Make History At Martinsville

(Press Release from NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications)

The Whelen Modified Tour raced under the lights at Martinsville Speedway in 2007 (Photo: Howie Hodge/NASCAR)

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is returning to Martinsville Speedway in 2020.

Yes, you read that correctly.

In what will be the first event in 10 years at the ‘Half Mile of Mayhem’, the stars of NASCAR’s Modified ranks will showcase their talent around one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks. The event will take place on Friday, May 8, 2020, under the lights, as part of a weekend that will also include the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Saturday night.

Shortly after Martinsville made the announcement on Facebook live on Tuesday, social media was buzzing with comments from drivers, teams and fans surrounding the marquee event planned for next year.

“It’s a piece of history for the Modifieds and everyone knows that Modified fans and teams are all about our place in history in NASCAR. From a series standpoint, I think it’s awesome that we go back and I really love the timing of it,” five-time series champion Doug Coby, who has four previous Martinsville starts, said.

In his second Martinsville start in 2005, Coby was under the lights driving for Curt Chase, where he finished fifth.

“We packed the stands for that race,” Coby said. “And I think you are going to see a similar response, especially pairing us up with the Cup Series. You could just feel the atmosphere was really lively the whole time. Night racing is always better, especially for the Modifieds. I think everyone wants to see night races. It’s really special to be under the lights.”

“It’s huge for our series, there is a lot of history there from the early days in our series and a lot of our legendary races took place there. A lot of the legends of our series have won there and i think it’s really cool for the next generation of drivers to be able to go to Martinsville,” defending Whelen Modified Tour champion Justin Bonsignore told “Hopefully make this is a yearly tradition of going down there and having a shot at a Grandfather Clock.”

That infamous Grandfather Clock is going to be on the line for the winner of the MaxPro Window Films 200. The clock has been given as the winner’s trophy at Martinsville for decades, including when the Whelen Modified Tour visited the track most recently in 2010.

“I would say it is a unique piece that ranks in the top-five of all trophies,” Monster Energy Cup Series champion Kurt Busch said of the trophy last year. “It is something that every driver has on their checklist. They want to win it for their team owner, sponsors. Everybody is trying to get ahold of that clock. The two that I have are bookends in my conference room and are displayed proudly.”

Bonsignore is hoping he can win that clock. In his Sunoco Rookie season, Bonsignore finished second, coming up just short of winning in his first start at the oval. Even though he didn’t race there under the lights, he’s excited to see it play out. A year after winning eight of the 16 tour races and grabbing his first championship, he’s excited to hear the news.

“I’ve heard some stories that it was really cool to see the place lit up and race there at night because it takes it to the next level. I think it just adds to the prestige of everyone wanting to be there. There are big events for our series and we’ve been able to have success at Loudon and Bristol,” Bonsignore said. “It would obviously mean a lot (to win). We were close in 2010 and I think this is going to be right up there with the top events in our series. It’s cool that we are building back up to have these big events, I think the next generation of drivers coming up will do a good job of building on these traditions.”

Coby also wants to add the clock to his trophy case.

“The history of the clock, and how many people do and do not have a clock, it’s probably the most coveted trophy that we would race for in terms of what it means across the board, not just Modifieds, but some of the best Late Model drivers and Cup drivers have it,” Coby said. “To get the opportunity to go back there and chase a win, with a team that I know will be well prepared and capable of winning… I certainly think our Mayhew Tools team will be ready to go under the lights.”

Woody Pitkat, the most recent Whelen Modified Tour winner this season at Wall Stadium Speedway, also has previous experience at Martinsville.

“Last time I was there I didn’t qualify well but I led halfway and got the halfway bonus and ended up finishing seventh. I see that clock in Bobby Santos’ house when we go there for cookouts. It’s a great track,” Pitkat said. “Any time we can go to a track where we are featured with the Monster Energy Cup Series drivers, it’s always fun to go there and try to put on a show for them. You are going to have extra fans there that might not have seen Modifieds in the past.”

RACING-REFERENCE: Previous Whelen Modified Tour Races at Martinsville Speedway

Veteran Eric Goodale, who first learned of the news when contacted by on Tuesday, also has previous laps there, with three prior starts.

“Martinsville on the schedule sounds damn good to me,” Goodale said. “Martinsville is one of my favorite tracks, it was first ever race in a Whelen Modified Tour car. It’s one of my favorite tracks to drive as well — hard on the throttle and hard on the brakes. If you did a poll of a lot of the drivers in the pit area, I’d say drivers would put that track in their top three favorite tracks to drive.”

Much like the rest of the Modified community, Goodale is ready to feel the force of the car as he barrels off into the corner at speed under the crisp shine of Martinsville lights.

“I think it adds another dynamic to it when you race at night,” Goodale said. “That’s one of the things that I love about the Gander Outdoor Truck Series, racing under the lights on Friday night a lot. It makes it even better for the fans to watch. It’s probably one of the coolest trophies in our sport. I have a spot in my house it can go. I wouldn’t be upset if that baby comes home with me.”

In 35 previous Whelen Modified Tour events at Martinsville, multiple former series champions have been to Victory Lane, including Bobby Santos III, who won the most recent event in 2010 en route to the championship in the same season. Former champions Mike Stefanik, Mike McLaughlin, Jeff Fuller, Tony Hirschman, Ted Christopher, Donny Lia and Ryan Preece also have been victorious at the half-mile. Prior to the recent break in competition, Modifieds had competed at Martinsville for six straight years between 2005 and 2010.

Among active tour drivers so far this season, Jimmy Blewett is the only one to previously visit Martinsville’s Victory Lane.

“We are pretty thrilled with the schedule for next year,” Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said during a press conference Tuesday. “It’s going to be a great time bringing the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour back. Everybody asks us all the time, ‘when you are going to bring the modifieds back’? We are really excited about it.”

“When I heard about it, I really wanted to be part of today. This place means a lot, not only to my family, but the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour community,” Tommy Baldwin, a former Daytona 500 winning crew chief and current Modified car owner, said. “I can’t wait to get here in May and I can’t wait to be under the lights. With my dad, we had the pleasure of winning twice hear under the lights with the Modified.”

Ryan Preece, the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion and current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, was another driver happy to see the announcement.

“My first time at Martinsville was under the lights, and I remember when I was 14 or 15-years-old, and my father and I were racing somewhere in Pennsylvania, and we decided to drive through the night to watch the Modifieds there,” Preece told “I feel like the Modifieds have a great fanbase, and as long as everything plays out right, I see it being very successful.”

“When you win Martinsville, and get that clock, it’s a big honor. There are a lot of guys who have those clocks. It was special to me to get one. I had a lot of good runs there, and it’s a place I’m looking forward to going to. It’s another race I will able to do, and I’m pretty pumped about it.”

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  1. It’s a disconnect that seems to always be there and I always fail to understand it. On southern tracks from Bristol to Martinsville the drivers always seem to go out of their way to elevate the events beyond what fan interest often shows. The challenge, the history and atmosphere. Getting to mingle with the Cup drivers has to be a highlight for the mod guys I would think.
    Then they show the races like at Bristol and the place in empty. “We packed the stands” says Coby. Sure hope that even 30% of such a thing happens in this race and it will be successful.
    Contrast that with races at Thompson, Stafford, Seekonk and now Wall. Stands are mostly full of adoring fans that are known to travel long distances to get to the race. The Ice Breaker frequently is cold and blustery and the fans come. That event is a mind blower it has so much racing and fan engagement. Bristol has high banks and empty seats, Wall has high banks and the stands are full. If the goal of racing is to have people watch I’d say Bristol was a failure and appropriately in the rear view mirror and Wall a success.
    Good for the drivers. The clock sounds pretty cool and yes this is a press release to build excitement for the event. But geeze Louise do you always have to be drooling over these southern tracks like you’re returning to the Mecca of racing. Last time I checked the NWMT fan base wasn’t south of the Mason Dixon line.

  2. David Fisher says

    From the perspective of a southern boy that grew up a stones throw from Martinsville Speedway, it was once a mecca of racing for modifieds. History proves that, and I wish you could have been there. The 70s were incredible, and the 80s were almost incredible. The return to Martinsville some years back when they ran under temporary lights was awesome and drew a good crowd, but just like at Bristol, the track has a bunch of seats, and you can draw 25,000 people and it looks empty. I have been to Bristol for several of the modified races, and the average fan is not coming when it is 100 degrees at 6:00 race time in August. And the real fans don’t all come when they know the race may get stopped just so the trucks can start on time.
    One problem we have now that we didn’t have in the 70s is that there are very few modified teams in the south, and those here only run the stadium. In the 70s, with good cars here that could be competitive with the northerners, it was a true north vs. south event. Ray Hendrick, Satch Worley, Paul Radford, Johnny Bryant, etc. could and did win against the Yankees. It gave us a chance to see the best of the racers and a rivalry as well. Now, you only have a few guys willing to run in the big races down here. Either way, this fan is excited to see this race happen, and hope fans from the north and south can support it.

  3. Please understand that Coby is a professional salesman.

  4. If one has to explain the significance of Martinsville then it’s probably a lost cause.

    I don’t think there will be an issue getting 30 cars. They got about that in South Boston earlier this year. I’m hoping for 35 myself. I was at the fall Cup race at Martinsville last year. The locals were really excited for a night Cup race. Trust me, the party will go on all weekend long. The fans will show. Having a couple of Cup guys (Preece,Newman, others?) in there will give the locals someone to cheer for.

    Bristol can’t draw any fans for any race. That wasn’t a modified specific issue there as it turns out.

  5. That was an outstanding entry Mr Fisher giving a perspective with a southern view. Thanks.
    I’ll never challenge how things were different in the time frame you reference nor that it was glorious for the North/South rivalry. Part of of the evidence it was as you say is how much excitement a return to the iconic track is having in some quarters even now. It’s a big weekend, they’ll get a lot of cars and hopefully strong fan interest.

  6. Mr. Fisher wrote: “One problem we have now that we didn’t have in the 70s is that there are very few modified teams in the south, and those here only run the stadium. ”

    There used to be a Southern NASCAR Modified Tour too. There isn’t much of a market for modifieds in the south anymore, as shown by the lack of support for the NASCAR Southern Tour, which was shutdown a few years ago. The south seems to prefer Supers. Bowman Grey seems to be an anomaly, and modified racing in the south doesn’t get any interest beyond Bowman Grey. There is no market for modifieds in the south anymore. Modifieds have become a niche market in the south.

    Since the NASCAR Southern Tour shutdown, how many southern teams have shown up for a NASCAR modified race? They haven’t shown up for NWMT races at southern venues. The southern mod teams refuse to travel across a street to race, so the northern teams have to haul a couple thousand miles to the south? ABSURD!!!!!! Why haul and incur enormous expense for something that there is no market?

  7. If a full grid of mods from the northeast show up at Myrtle, Wall, Concord, S Boston, New Smyrna or Martinsville why does it matter how many hail from southern states? It doesn’t. Martinsville is a two day Cup weekend. There will be people out and about. Don’t worry about the crowd. The tour is going 200 laps under the lights next May. Try to enjoy it.

  8. Ken Latham says

    Mr Fisher also stated in his post that ” There are so few modified teams in the south” I agree, but I think the tradition of Martinsville will bring teams to the track.

  9. David Fisher says

    I agree that it doesn’t matter to the average fan where the cars are from. I will miss the rivalry, but I simply want to see a full field. Someone said the south prefers supers, and while I do prefer supers to anything other than modifieds (Freddy Query drove a mod at Concord and said it was just a super without fenders), the rest of VA, NC and SC disagrees. This is late model stock country, unfortunately.

    The southern tour was awesome until NASCAR took it over, and the car count dropped from 20 every race down to 10. The teams said the cost was what drove them out.

    Either way, we have a house we rent for the week of the race. Sleeps 10, and you can throw a rock and hit the speedway. Who’s interested?

  10. There has been so much talk about the cost to run the Tour and cost reduction in recent years, then to put distant tracks like Bristol, Myrtle Beach, South Boston, Martinsville, etc. on the schedule that incur very large expenses is gobsmacking contradictory and hypocritical. The SPEC engine is a result of the cost reduction mantra. 😮 Tire rationing is a result of cost controls. The impact of tire rationing on the racing product is profound. They end up racing tires, not cars. So lets serve COSTCO hamburgers with sevruga classic grey caviar at $270/ounce as a side.

    I love the Mods at Bristol, but as I sat in the great coliseum, I wondered how much longer they would run in front of an empty arena, while absorbing the additional cost?

  11. wmass01013 says

    Well the ROOTS of modified racing is the south, I know some don’t care about history but that is the fact, THE WMT cant just be a CT based tour, I for 1 am glad that tracks like Myrtle Beach, Langley and So. Boston have been added, I think Bristol was a nice idea but being on a Wednesday at 6 in Tennessee just didn’t bring the support hoped and yes with weather and TV DEADLINES FOR truck series didn’t help, I was at the Last Martinsville race 9 yrs ago and believe me the place was EMPTY, I never though they would go back, it will be interesting on a Friday Night of cup weekend, The WMST didn’t work because the good ole boys down south did not want to pony up for all the expense in car and crew for the WMST, nobody KNOWS how long NASCAR will continue support the the WMT with all the changes happening in DAYTONA, THEY have upped both Purse and Point Fund and u have seen more teams, Catalano’s and Rypkema and Emerling from ROC, J B Fortin from Riverhead, Burt Myers and Brunhoezle and Kyle Bonsignore from SOUTH and Barney, Krause from NJ, Nocella and Rameau from MRS join the field, i know some despise NASCAR and the WMT but I think its had its best racing since the 90’s and if more track and teams want to join whether NORTH or South I say GREAT!!!

  12. The NWMT needs to thank Riverhead for its existence and survival. The Riverhead folks grow out of the local Tour Type class and want to spread their wings, and run the NWMT. Look at the current NWMT roster… it is filled with Riverhead personnel. Without those Riverhead cars, the NWMT would be very dismal. Riverhead is acting like some sort of breeder or incubator for NWMT racing.

  13. Darealgoodfella,
    Not knocking the value of what Riverhead creates for the Modifed Tour. The great history of the Island teams/drivers to Modified racing can’t be denied.
    But I also do think these things go in cycles. Right now there are definitely quite a few very strong teams from the Island. But it wasn’t that long ago that people were wondering where the Island teams all went. In 2010, of the top-20 in the Whelen Modified Tour standings, three drivers were from Long Island, and one of them drove for a Massachusetts based team. I think it’s fair to say the health Modified racing in general depends on the strengths of Modified racing teams in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Long Island, Southern Jersey, Northeastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Hampshire, Upstate/Western New York and even some from North Carolina.

  14. “Catalano’s and Rypkema and Emerling from ROC, J B Fortin from Riverhead, Burt Myers and Brunhoezle and Kyle Bonsignore from SOUTH and Barney, Krause from NJ, Nocella and Rameau from MRS join the field”
    Pretty good name dropping WMASS did there. Couldn’t agree more that this year with better regional representation from all over as well as new blood makes this a stronger year indeed. Tour modified racing in general for that matter.
    Clearly there is some kind of deep feeling that marginalizing southern NWMT races is somehow offending tradition. Most would agree that the early races down south are a must because of weather considerations in the Northeast. Many wanted a return to Martinsville, said it repeatedly in this forum and now they have it. It’s all good.
    I don’t see how saying that the core of support for the NWMT and modifieds in general is in the Northeast is wrong in any way or why folks that remember the past glories should get riled about what the reality is now.

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