Saying Goodbye: Danny Watts Jr. Ending Run As Whelen Modified Tour Owner

(Press Release from NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications)

Team owner Danny Watts Jr. (left) and Craig Lutz (right) celebrate a Whelen Modified tour victory on Aug. 17, 2022 at Thompson Speedway (Photo: Fran Lawlor/RaceDayCT)

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has been an important part of Danny Watts Jr.’s life for a long time.

His involvement in the series started in the late 1980s as a driver, which saw him make 43 starts spread across 11 seasons through 2015. He then shifted to the ownership side of the sport, fielding cars for familiar faces like Ron Silk, Ted Christopher, Woody Pitkat, Anthony Nocella and, most recently, Craig Lutz.

Now, with one race left in the 2023 season, Watts is preparing to say his goodbyes. He is set to retire from full-time team ownership in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour following Thursday’s Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200 at Martinsville Speedway.

“I can’t keep that pace up anymore. I’m 62 years old and it’s a little rough doing that,” said Watts, who has called Long Island home his entire life. “It’s definitely time to back it down a little bit.”

Watts was raised around racing. When he was a child, his father raced figure 8s and bombers, and he would help him prepare his race cars. Once he was old enough, Watts began his own racing career with an old Chevelle that he turned into a Street Stock.

“I raced Street Stocks all over the place,” Watts recalled. “Jersey, Riverhead, Islip, Thompson, Stafford; wherever I could go, I raced. When Bob Park had one of his first Troyer cars for sale, I bought it. I turned it into an SK (Modified) car, me and a friend of mine, and I went SK racing when that first started.

“Making those trips from Long Island to Stafford and Thompson with an old 1960 Chevy pickup truck was kind of rough. I got wrecked a few times, and I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to be spending this kind of money and time going up here and getting wrecked, I may as well just stay home and buy a Modified motor.’ That’s how that happened. That’s where it started.”

Watts spent two seasons as a full-time competitor at Riverhead Raceway, where he earned two wins in a Modified during his career. However, as things changed at Riverhead, Watts decided he wanted to venture out.

That meant hitting the road to race with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour whenever his work schedule allowed.

“I just figured I’d go out there wherever I could go to race,” Watts said. “I liked it because it was organized. Riverhead was a bullring. I will admit I did get tore up there a few times. I finally decided that I can travel whenever my work would allow me to. I grabbed a couple of guys, a couple of my friends, we did whatever we could do.”

As a driver, Watts’ best effort with the Modified Tour came in 1997 at Jennerstown Speedway, when he finished 10th in a field that included drivers like Tom Baldwin, Tony Hirschman, Rick Fuller, Reggie Ruggiero, Junior Miller, Jan Leaty and Jamie Tomaino.

After making a single Modified Tour start in 1998, Watts stepped away from racing to spend more time with his family. However, as it so often does, the alure of racing proved too strong. Watts eventually returned to competition.

He made two Modified Tour starts in 2014. At that point, Watts was in his early 50s, and he quickly realized that maybe it was time to let someone else do the driving.

“I realized I’m not young anymore,” Watts explained. “I had a motorcycle accident while I was racing, and that kind of set me back a lot. I went to New Hampshire and I got caught up in a real bad wreck with Ron Yuhas. His car went up on its nose and I ended up in the hospital, too, just to get checked out because I got my bell rung pretty good.

“After that, I went to Thompson and blew a right-front and hit the wall again, and after that I said, ‘You know what, I can’t keep doing this.’”

He made three more Modified Tour starts one season later. He finished the 2015 season by competing at North Carolina’s Concord Speedway during the annual North-South Shootout, but a near-miss during the event directly led to his decision to stop driving race cars.

“I had gotten around there pretty good and things were working good,” Watts said. “It had rained the night before and there were weepers coming out of the track. They all told me don’t hit the weeper. Well I got up a little high and I hit those weepers. I missed the pit wall by probably two inches.

“I said to myself, ‘You know what, I don’t need to be doing this anymore. I’ve got too many people depending on me.’”

By this point, Watts had lots of new equipment and race cars, and he wasn’t ready to totally leave racing. He decided to hit the ground running in 2016 by going full-time as an owner with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

He hired Ron Silk, who at that point hadn’t won since 2012, to drive his No. 82 for the full Whelen Modified Tour season. In their third race together, Silk won at Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl.

After parting ways with Silk early in 2017, Watts hired Ted Christopher to drive his race cars. He did so until Christopher died in a plane crash on Sept. 16, 2017. Woody Pitkat took over the No. 82 and drove for the team through the 2019 season, which included earning Watts’ second win as a team owner at New Jersey’s Wall Stadium Speedway.

Chase Dowling briefly drove for Watts in late 2019 and early 2020 before Anthony Nocella took over the car for the majority of 2020 and 2021. Craig Lutz became the full-time driver of the No. 82 starting in 2022, a role he has held since. Lutz delivered Watts’ third Modified Tour win last year at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.

Fast forward to 2023, and Watts admitted he’s starting to run out of gas. Between making sure his Modified Tour team makes it to the track each week and managing his businesses, it’s become a lot for Watts to handle.

When Lutz came to him and told him he’d signed a deal to drive for Russell Goodale during the 2024 Modified Tour season, Watts decided now was as good a time as ever to retire.

“I’d been dropping hints all year that I’m probably gonna not be doing it like I’ve been doing it,” Watts said. “I’ve got things I have to finish. I have things I want to do. I thought this would be perfect timing. Craig got hooked back up with the No. 46 team (owned by Goodale), and I said, ‘Here’s my chance.’”

While Watts is retiring from full-time ownership, that doesn’t mean he’s done with racing entirely. He said he plans to keep one car and just enough equipment to field that car just in case the right driver and opportunity present themselves.

“It’s like if you jones for something and you really want it, I have it if I still want to do it,” Watts said. “If somebody comes along with the right offer to run a show here or there, I’ll do it. But I’m giving it one year. Then I’m totally done.”

When the checkered flag waves at Martinsville and the track is silent Thursday night, Watts’ career as a full-time Modified Tour team owner will be over.

Sure, he’ll miss the racing, but what he’ll miss more is all the friends he’s made along the way.

“All my friends are at the race track,” Watts said. “All I know is work and racing. When I go to the race track, it’s a chance to breathe. It’s a chance to talk to people. I’ve grown up doing this. I have some friends outside of racing, but not like at the race track.”


  1. Suitcase Jake says

    Danny, Have a great retirement and if it’s semi- retirement that’s fine too, I’ve been trying to retire to the grandstands for the last 15 years ,,, but i am still turning wrenches & learning the new soft spring big bar set ups… LOL there is always someone looking for race car help with many years of experience to move the program forward… You may find a ” NEW ROLE ” of an advisor to another team who needs a guy who has been in the exhaust circuit many years and you can “ADVISE ” them to improve their program. With your vast knowledge and great attitude you would be a valuable CONSULTANT to a young team coming up the ladder …!!!! Congratulations and best of LUCK in your Retirement , You will be missed,….

  2. Overall, not good news for the Tour. Good car out of the field AGAIN. I don’t see big fields on the tour moving forward

  3. best of luck to Mr Watts on all his future endeavors!

    but, let’s not ever forget that we said goodbye to Richie Evans 38 years ago today!
    the day the music died!

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