The State Of The Tri-Track Open Modified Series: Q&A With Managing Partner Ed Bennett

Tri-Track Open Modified Series operator Ed Bennett (right) talks with Modified driver and crew chief Stephen Kopcik Saturday at Stafford Speedway (Photo: Shawn Courchesne/RaceDayCT)

The Tri-Track Open Modified Series kicks off its 2021 season Saturday at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H.

Like all sporting entities in 2020, the Tri-Track Open Modified Series was forced to make some change on the fly last year. They had originally planned to run six events with two scheduled at Monadnock, two a Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway, one at Star Speedway in Epping, N.H. and one Claremont (N.H.) Speedway.

Because of various COVID restrictions the series lost both events at Seekonk and the event at Claremont. They also added a late October event – the CBYD Modified Classic – at Stafford Motor Speedway. It was the division’s first event at Stafford and drew an entry list of more than 50 cars.

The series returns to a six-event schedule in 2021. The division will run a second event at Monadnock on Aug. 14. They will also visit Star Speedway (May 22, July 24) and Seekonk (June 30, Oct. 23). 

The series has also added a special year end bonus for 2021 in conjunction with Stafford Motor Speedway’s Open Modified 80 events. The Call Before You Dig 811 Modified Bonus creates a points championship between combining both Stafford’s Open events and the Tri-Track Open Modified Series events that will pay an $8,100 bonus to one driver courtesy of Call Before You Dig 811.

We talked with Tri-Track Open Modified Series managing partner Ed Bennett about the state of the series heading into the season opening event.

Question: Obviously 2020 was a year that threw a lot of curveballs at short track operators and series promoters. Looking back on how the Tri-Track Open Modified Series was able to maneuver through 2020 what do you think went well and what do you think hurt you guys? 

Ed Bennett: The pandemic was certainly something to deal with. I think one of the advantages Tri-Track has is that it’s only [managing partner Wayne Darling] and I. We talk every day. So were pretty flexible and we have two [track] operators in Norm Wrenn [at Monadnock] and Bobby Weber [at Star Speedway] who had tracks in New Hampshire that had some capacity and they were willing to take a risk in having the events. Nobody was sure how things were going to work out. We were able to keep a full purse and I think it was really good for us. Those two guys were great about having us and they were great events that drew a lot of cars. I think it really gave us a leg up and started us in the right direction. I don’t think the pandemic hurt us at all. 

Question: Is the management of the series facing any obstacles in 2021 that are carryovers because of all the restrictions faced in 2020? 

Bennett: I don’t know if I would call them obstacles. Obviously COVID is still around. We’re going to be respectful of that and try to keep the crowds down. We fully intend to abide by whatever the regulations are in the state each time we’re there. Seekonk has been all good news, they’ve got some capacity now and it will be increased by the time we get there. So I think we’ll be OK. 

Question: The Tri-Track Open Modified Series seems to be attracting a deeper field of talent now than ever before in its existence. What are the factors that you think have made that happen? 

Bennett: I think the number one thing that put us in the right direction for people in Modified racing that really thought it was kind of a hokey tour with no tech, we have real tech now and it’s good tech. But we do it in such a manner that I don’t think we torture our competitors. I think the series has become really well organized. We run good, tight events. And the main thing is the staff is just unbelievable. Everybody is friendly, everybody is there to help. It’s just created a great atmosphere. It’s kind of turned the clock back 15 or 20 years on how it used to be between officials and competitors. Our guys are there to help everybody. 

Question: The series is at interesting point in its existence. The Whelen Modified Tour is very openly struggling to get New England short tracks on board with their product and the Tri-Track seems perfectly positioned right now for growth because of that. But there are also a lot of competitors who really like the six-race format. How do you look at that right now? 

Bennett: To tell you the truth, late last summer Wayne and I had talked seriously about maybe expanding our schedule. We certainly had the opportunity to do so. The Tri-Track is in high demand. We could have easily had 12 or 14 races this year. And some things changed. The Tour is the Tour. Obviously Stafford has its Open Modified 80’s, which are really important to us. And [Thompson Speedway promoting partners] Cris Michaud and Tom Mayberry came aboard with the Thompson Outlaw Modified series and we’re trying to be respectful of that. And we talked about it and we just simply didn’t want to saturate it. There’s a limited amount of cars and competitors and money to do these races and fans. So we thought the best thing for us was that maybe less would be more. Make a better out of not having so many events. Moving forward I think six is a sweet spot. Maybe we’ll be at seven, maybe eight, but I can’t ever see it getting much more than that. I think we’re going to focus on having the best events we can. We’re super respectful of the efforts at Thompson and of course we’re involved with the Stafford people. We want them to succeed. We don’t need to saturate the market with too many races. 

Question: You’re a former Whelen Modified Tour team owner and now you operate a series that – I think it’s fair to say – is a competitor to the Whelen Modified Tour. There’s a lot of people looking at the Whelen Modified Tour right now with a lot of concerns for the direction it is headed. How do you see that product right now? 

Bennett: The Whelen Modified Tour is a very very expensive way to go racing. It’s a lot of initial up-front expense. It requires a lot of travel and it requires a lot of team members. And there’s an element of people that really enjoy that and can afford to do that, but it’s not for everybody. The racing up front with the Modified Tour is as good as it gets. I think by the same token, the Tour has also become a place where if you’re going to race with the Tour you know if you go to the race you’re going to make the race. I think it’s a comfort factor, safety zone for a large element of the competitors that are on that Tour. Whereas if you come do a Tri-Track race you need to bring your lunch. 

Question: When one looks at the landscape of the Tour Type Modified racing right now there’s kind of a vision that it’s the Tri-Track Open Modified Series, the Stafford Open 80’s and the Thompson Outlaw Modified events as a group all versus the Whelen Modified Tour. Is that the way you see it? 

Bennett: No, I don’t see that at all. I think, I’ll take Stafford for an example. They’ve had an Open races and they just chose to do it themselves. Cris Michaud has a vision of doing some stuff by himself. Obviously where we are, I’d hate to think we’re competing with it. Everybody does their best not to get on each other’s schedules and not to get on the Tour schedule. I think it’s just an option for people to not spend so much time traveling and not have the expense of traveling and sleeping in their own bed at night. It’s just an option for them, I don’t think it’s one versus the other. 

Question: One of things a lot of people see that is unique is that the Tri-Track Series management really seems to be trying to foster relationships with track owners and event promoters, many of which aren’t even part of the Tri-Track schedule. How important do you see building those relationships and what do you think it ultimately does for your product? 

Bennett: Wayne and I are business people. We’ve spent a lot of our lives cultivating relationships and I think we understand the value of it. I talk to the Arute’s [Stafford Speedway owners] pretty frequently, once a month or so. We get along really well and they know we’re supporting them and they’ve been really supportive of us. I owe Mark Arute a giant thank you. He’s running the rain date for the [Whelen Modified Tour NAPA Spring Sizzler 150] on Friday night versus what he normally would have done and moved it to Saturday. It was a solid favor and I really appreciate that. Tom Mayberry and Wayne have an old relationship. We’re doing the Haunted Hundred together with him and Cris Michaud. They asked about using our rules [for the Thompson Outlaw Modified series] and we were fine with that. And they’ve hired our tech guys directly and I think they’re pretty happy about our relationship. We’ve talked about in the future trying to even make scheduling better for the competitors and the fans and the whole racing community. We’ve just kind of been able to be the go betweens maybe or the figure it out people and I think it’s really neat. And then we have Derek Brown [from Call Before You Dig 811] who really isn’t involved with us directly this year but he was really happy with the end of the year event last year at Stafford and he’s cooked up this 811 Challenge which somebody is going to be really really happy after the Haunted Hundred is over because they’re getting an extra $8,100. That’s big money. 

Question: A lot of people thought after the very successful season ending event in 2020 at Stafford – which obviously came about because of the crowd restriction issues at Seekonk – that the series would end up on the Stafford schedule for 2021. Obviously that didn’t happen. Where do things sit with that and is that a place you have on your radar where you’d like to be running an event? 

Bennett: I want to really address what the Modified Classic [at Stafford in October 2020] really was. Yes it was a Tri-Track event, but it was really two entities combining their series’ together. Mark clearly has the Open Modified 80’s and it was really more than just a Tri-Track event. It was really a mutual effort, we had 51 or 52 cars entered in that event. It was terrific. This year, there was scheduling issues and that’s how that goes. We’re in contact. We do things and I certainly see there’s a really good chance we’ll be back at Stafford at some point. 

Question: There have been rumors that White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire and Thunder Road Speedbowl in Vermont are interested in series events. Are those places you’d like to see the series try to establish a presence? 

Bennett: I think absolutely some time – not this year because we’re locked into our six-race schedule – but I certainly see the Tri-Track at either one or both of those tracks in the very near future. 

Comments

  1. Fast Eddie says

    A big thank-you to Shawn and Ed Bennett for that interview! A huge amount of great info with some cool tidbits on possible future events. Hopefully TriTrack has continued success!

  2. What about MRS???? Not even mentioned as a consideration.

  3. Stick a fork in MRS, they’re done in my estimation.

  4. Possible questions for future interviews with Tri Track officials?

    -Over the last year we’ve seen a rabid expansion of live streamed races. Currently Tri Track leaves the decision on TV access to each track. Can you see a role for Tri Track at some point in the future to establish a common policy on live streaming with a relationship to one service provider?

    -Because of Covid19 restrictions last year live streaming was important for Tri Track events and particularly the big season finally at Stafford. Going forward do you see the service as an important part of the racing income stream? Can you say if live streaming was a success from an income standpoint in the 2020 season?

    -Currently NASCAR prohibits NASCAR sanctioned tracks from allowing track support division from being part of the live stream telecast that creates gaps in the event being shown. Have you had any discussions with NASCAR about an arrangement to eliminate the gaps that may benefit all parties involved. If live streaming races does continue to grow can you see a time when the fact the track is NASCAR sanctioned or not will impact your decision to have an event there?

  5. Doug,
    Unlike NASCAR, the Tri-Track Open Modified Series does not force tracks to give up broadcast rights to events. With NASCAR the broadcast rights to all racing events – whether they’re touring series events or weekly divisions at a NASCAR sanctioned event – are controlled by NASCAR and that track itself does not have the right to arrange streaming independently of NASCAR. The Tri-Track Open Modified Series leaves the broadcast rights in the hands of the track operator, so it’s up to the track operator as far as what direction they want to go as far streaming a Tri-Track event. And as far as seeing a time where there’s cooperation as far as NASCAR allowing a NASCAR sanctioned product being part of a non-NASCAR arranged broadcast platform, I wouldn’t hold your breath. NASCAR basically threw away one of the biggest tracks in their Weekly Racing Series portfolio over broadcast rights, so that should tell you where their level of cooperation stands.

  6. “The racing up front with the Modified Tour is as good as it gets. I think by the same token, the Tour has also become a place where if you’re going to race with the Tour you know if you go to the race you’re going to make the race. I think it’s a comfort factor, safety zone for a large element of the competitors that are on that Tour. Whereas if you come do a Tri-Track race you need to bring your lunch.”

    I think this statement tells an interesting perspective about the difference between competing on the WMT & TTOMS.

  7. Earl babbled, “I think this statement tells an interesting perspective about the difference between competing on the WMT & TTOMS.”

    What perspective would that be? You are intentionally vague, ambiguous and evasive.

    Earl, if the TTOMS regulars showed for a NWMT event, those TTOMS cars would be lucky to get near the top 10. Even worse if on a horsepower track.

    TTOMS is a bullring series, NOT a horsepower series. I know you don’t understand the differences. TTOMS regulars can not compete with the NWMT, especially on larger than bullring tracks. And you need to watch TTOMS races, because when NWMT regulars show up, they are the cream of the crop.

    Bennet’s statement has nothing to do with the competition differences between the NWMT and TTOMS, it has to do with car counts and car limits. If lots of cars show up for a TTOMS event, the NWMT cars will displace TTOMS regulars.

  8. Actually MRS released a better than I expected schedule a couple of weeks ago. They have 8 events starting in June. I was surprised nothing at the Bowl. While they are certainly down they arent quite dead yet, This is probably a crucial year for them. They need a better car count to get tracks interested in working with them going forward. Anyway the schedule is below.

    2021 – Modified Racing Series Schedule

    6/5/2021 Monadnock Speedway – Winchester, NH Milton CAT 100

    6/19/2021 Beech Ridge Motor Speedway – West Scarborough, ME The Welcome to the Beech 100

    7/3/2021 Riverside Speedway & Adventure Park – Groveton, NH America Freedom 100

    7/31/2021 Wiscasset Speedway – Wiscassett, ME Vactionland 100

    8/29/2021 Monadnock Speedway – Winchester, NH The Whitcomb 125 Present by Milton Cat

    9/5/2021 Claremont Motorsports Park – Claremont, NH Claremont 75

    9/19/2021 Star Speedway – Epping, NH Star Classic 100

    10/2/2021 Lee USA Speedway – Lee, NH 1M TWINS

  9. Underscoring the fact that tracks hosting TTOMS events call their own shots regarding throwing the events up on the tube is always helpful. Star and Monadnock already on the Speed51 schedule, Seekonk nothing so far. Also revisiting the simmering adversarial relationship NASCAR and Tri Track have that makes the idea of coordinating coverage of events in which both appear very unlikely. Those two realities are the conditions that exist now that my proposed questions were based on.
    I’m looking for some kind of information from insiders on how they view the surge in live streaming races especially over the last year and how it’s viewed going forward. We see more resources invested but unlike viewing crowd size there is no way to judge if it’s gaining momentum or not. The questions I proposed were ill conceived asking Mr. Bennett questions as if he has a crystal ball about something that at best is on the horizon and that is unfair.
    My view is that the situation as it exists now is unlikely to continue indefinitely. A little over a year ago the notion of streaming regional races was noodled and there was extensive commentary that is was very unlikely. Including a list of reasons unique to regional racing like it being a visceral experience and the social aspect among others. Then the pandemic, crowd limitations and all of a sudden streaming local track events was not only possible it became necessary to make the sport viable in a socially distanced world. Now as the pandemic recedes to some degree streaming has embedded itself as a part of regional racing in race fans expectations in my view. The pandemic speeding what seemed to be unlikely but it was going to happen anyway.
    It may have been unfair of me to use RaceDayCt to glean information about the direction of streaming via Mr. Bennett. It is not unfair to consider the prospect that whatever the relationship cannot change going forward. You can site Stafford as being evidence of NASCAR’s abstinence to bending on streaming rights. I am sighting it as evidence of the direction that racing is going in which NASCAR is out of step with tracks at the grass roots level.
    I believe streaming is now embedded in fans expectations. Race car owners and sponsors as well. The evidence is everywhere. On RaceDayCt the Stafford banner highlighting FloRacing. The huge up front commitment to Stafford’s and Thunder Road’s 2021 events,. The Flo Racing billboard at Stafford, drivers referring to FloRacing in interviews not to mention the chatter on social media. Speed51’s new and improved interface and expanded list of regional races. If you think back to just after New Smyrna in 2020 and suggested that what was shown there would become common in our little part of the racing world it’s unlikely you’d be taken seriously.
    Tomorrow I will be watching the Tri Track race on Speed51 becoming a season subscriber for the sole reason Tri Track and MRS races are carried on the service. If they continue that nonsense where Tri Track heats are shown with a gap until the feature like last year I don’t believe I’ll be the only one wondering why NASCAR is being such a pain in the ass about support divisions. Moreover if live streaming accessibility is now an expectation of fans teams and sponsors, a condition that I believe is now well established, NASCAR can afford to continue their current practices. That include blocking fans sitting and fuming about trying to figure out when the feature will start at Monadnock while looking at a frozen screen. As well as the archaic business model that allows NASCAR to block a local race track from tapping into a much needed revenue stream in the manner they believe serves their best interests.

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