Dissecting The State Of The Whelen Modified Tour From The Biggest Names Of The Series – Part One 

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour celebrates the start of its 40th season with the running of the New Smyrna Beach Area Visitors Bureau 400 at New Smyrna (Fla) Speedway on Feb. 10. 

The series is coming off a 2023 season where they were were plenty of positives and conversely a handful of worrisome negatives in regards to the long term health of the division. 

The 2023 season featured a fierce battle at the top of the standings between eventual series champion Ron Silk and Justin Bonsignore. 

Silk and Bonsignore ended the season having been first or second in the standings following 16 of the 18 events this year. Silk led the standings or was tied for the lead after 15 of 18 events this season. Bonsignore was third in the standings following the second and third races of the season. From the fourth race of the season to the season finale at Martinsville Speedway, Silk and Bonsignore occupied the first and second place spots in the standings.

Silk, who kicked off the season with a victory in the series opener at New Smyrna Speedway in February, ended the season having been first or second in the standings after all 18 events this season. 

The points differential between first and second place was less than 10 points following 14 of 18 events, including the nine point differential between Silk and Bonsignore at the end of the season. The largest lead anyone held in the standings during the season was 14 points, which was the advantage Silk had over Bonsignore following the eighth race of the season at Wall Stadium in Wall, N.J. 

The season was also highlighted by the breakout year for 20-year old Austin Beers and the Mike Murphy owned KLM Motorsports team. Beers brought Murphy his team’s first series victory and finished the season with two wins and a third place finish in the standings. 

The 2023 schedule originally included 19 events before an event at Claremont (NH) Speedway was ultimately cancelled. It was a schedule that included 13 events at Northeast tracks and five events at tracks South of New Jersey. 

The 2023 schedule played out over an eight and half month stretch, with the season kicking off on Feb. 11, 2023 at New Smyrna Speedway and closing on Oct. 26, 2023 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Despite being spread over eight and half months, the series featured an oddly unrhythmic cadence of events. 

There was nearly two months between the first and second event of the season and more than a month between the second and third event of the season. Based on the calendar midpoint of the season (June 19, 2023), the second half of the season saw double (12) the amount of events run versus the first half of the season. That packed second half of the year featured a stretch from Aug. 26 to Oct. 8 in which teams ran six events over a 46-day period. It was a stretch that saw teams run six events with just one weekend off with one event run in Virginia, another in North Carolina and another upstate New York. 

The 2024 schedule has been pared down to 16 events, with only four events being run south of New Jersey. The schedule also features a more rhythmic balance to events. Gone is the late season stretch of six events over seven weeks. 

One of the biggest issues faced by the series in 2023 was participation numbers. 

In 2023 the series had historic lows for full-time series participation and overall series participation. Through the 2023 season there were multiple individual events that were marked by historic low participation numbers, including setting the single event all-time lowest field for a race in the 39-year history of the division.

Eight teams and seven drivers total participated in all 18 series events in 2023, with Boehler Racing Enterprises running the entire schedule with two drivers, Jake Johnson and Bryan Narducci. It marked the fewest amount of teams in series history to run the full schedule. The average starting field of 25.1 cars per race was the lowest in series history. Ten of 18 events had starting fields of 23 cars or less.

There were eight events on the schedule where an all-time low for a starting field at that particular track was set. All-time low starting fields took place at Seekonk Speedway (20), Wall Stadium (23), Lancaster Motorplex (20), Thompson Speedway (23), Langley Speedway (15), Oswego Speedway (18), Monadnock Speedway (19) and Riverhead Raceway (18). The 15-car field at Langley on Aug. 26, 2023 was the smallest starting field ever in series history. 

A four event stretch from Aug. 26 to Sept. 16 (Langley, Oswego, Monadnock, Riverhead) saw the first time in series history where four consecutive events were run with starting fields of less than 20 cars. Before the 2023 season – over a stretch of 38 seasons – there had only been nine instances of a Whelen Modified Tour event run with a starting field of 20 cars or less. In 2023 that happened six times. 

Participation numbers in 2023 were hurt by some unexpected issues. Team owner Tommy Baldwin Jr. stopped running full-time with driver Doug Coby in late August due to his own cancer diagnosis. The Tim Lepine owned team with 2022 driver standings champion Jon McKennedy shut down after six events. Driver Eric Goodale, who had run full-time for 14 consecutive seasons, unexpectedly cut back to a part-time schedule. 

Since the conclusion of the 2023 season there have been signs that participation numbers could see an increase for the 2024 season. Multiple teams that hadn’t been running full-time previously have announced intentions to run full-time in 2024 and a handful of new part-time teams have also been announced. 

Another glaring issues for the series in 2023 was a lack of depth with competitive parity. 

There were seven different winners (Ron Silk, Justin Bonsignore, Austin Beers, Doug Coby, Matt Hirschman, Kyle Bonsignore, Ryan Preece) over 18 events, which isn’t an uncommon or worrisome number. What was glaring was that behind the few top level full-time and part-time teams participating, the drop-off in performance level was staggering. 

A group of five drivers – Silk, Justin Bonsignore, Beers, Hirschman and Coby – combined to lead 91 percent of the 3,050 laps run by the series in 2023. Adding in Ryan Preece, who started one event and led 134 laps, a group of six drivers, led 96 percent of the laps run in 2023. 

Drivers that ran all 18 events in 2023 were Silk, Justin Bonsignore, Beers, Tyler Rypkema, Kyle Bonsignore, Ken Heagy and Melissa Fifield. Craig Lutz ran 17 of 18 events. Behind that group of eight, no other driver ran more than 13 events. Rypkema, Kyle Bonsignore, Heagy, Fifield and Lutz combined to lead a total of 11 of the 3,050 laps run during the season, with Rypkema leading six and Kyle Bonsignore leading five. 

Rypkema finished fourth in the series standings and recorded only two top-five finishes over 18 starts. Ken Heagy, who finished eighth in the series standings, had an average finish of 18.4.

RaceDayCT has recently spoken with a number of the biggest names involved with the series to get their opinions on the state and health of the division and specifically look at some of the issue that most especially plagued the series last season.

We asked a specific list of six questions to each of the following people: 

  • NASCAR managing director of weekly and touring series’ Joey Dennewitz
  • Reigning and two-time series champion Ron Silk 
  • Six-time series champion Doug Coby
  • Three-time series champion Justin Bonsignore 
  • 17-year series veteran and eight-time series winner Matt Hirschman
  • 10-year series veteran Dave Sapienza
  • Championship winning car owner Tyler Haydt
  • Championship winning car owner Ken Massa
  • Championship winning car owner Tommy Baldwin Jr. 
  • Former team owner, crew chief and current chassis builder and team consultant Rob Fuller

 Each question asked of the participants is broken up into its own part: 

Part Two – In a general sense, how do you view the health of the series overall?

Part Three – Do the current series participation numbers worry you?

Part Four – Do you think the series needs to look at an even shorter schedule to help participation numbers grow? 

Part Five – Do you think the 2024 schedule is better than the 2023 schedule? 

Part Six- Last year there seemed to be quite a drastic fall off in performance level from the top few teams to the other teams that ultimately ended up in the top-10 of the series standings. What are your thoughts on parity within the series? 

Part Seven – The ladder of Modified racing used to be that if you were a driver who was competitive in something such as an SK Modified the goal was ultimately to get to the Whelen Modified Tour. Now it seems the Modified Tour doesn’t hold that same place on the pedestal for many like it used to for a lot of guys coming up. Why do you think that is and how do you change that, or do you think it’s something that can’t be changed at this point? 


  1. steve jesus says

    NASCAR makes a big deal about modifieds being the roots of NASCAR racing but that is the end of the promotion. I defy anybody to tell me that NASCAR promotes the Tour to the best of there ability. Why you ask? Because the Cup series doesn’t need the competition that’s why. An average modified race is much more exciting to watch than an average Cup race.
    The tour fields would be exponentially larger if the purses we bigger, simple as that.

  2. I agree with steve jesus on this point. I have been saying this for many, many, many years on this site. NASCAR does not promote, it forces the tracks to do the promotion. NASCAR needs to use its name recognition clout to promote. Most importantly, NASCAR needs to promote the undercards, and not just the big 3 touring series (Cup, xfinity, Craftsman). The farm system, the local short tracks, needs care to secure future talent and fans.

    Whatever happened to the NASCAR Hometracks angle? I thought that was awesome, and needed to go much further.

  3. It is simple math. Why would you drive by Thompson to travel anywhere. They offer the best return on “investment “ than another open / tour type race. You only need 4 tires. No change tire = less crew. You can work the morning, go race the afternoon / evening, and be home in bed by 11:30 for the late show. It’s a no brainer. If Stafford did this same format as far as purse/ tire allowance we would never have to leave Connecticut. So the bottom line is they need to make it make financial sense to the average Joe who is paying the bills.

  4. “Why would you drive by Thompson to travel anywhere, They offer the best return on “investment “ than another open / tour type race”

    Seems that by the participation numbers, teams disagree with you. Same with a lot of Stafford open shows last year.

    You can argue dollars and cents, and I don’t necessarily disagree with you about Thompson being a good deal. But you need a pretty good car to compete at Thompson. Especially the motor. I’m not saying a lot of the tour races don’t either.

    And then there’s stafford. Still need a good car and good power. Probably a little less so than Thompson. but you are racing against basically half of the SK field that races there every week. Going to be hard to overcome all those laps those guys have on you.

    i think both tracks have had issues at times getting some of the smaller time tour modified teams that don’t have the latest and greatest and don’t run any CT track weekly. they tend to choose races at smaller bullrings that they have more laps at. even if it is the NWMT once or twice.

  5. These guys want more owners to join the WMT, how about Masa or Haydt disclose how much money it takes to compete for the Championship? Then compare it to money won after actually winning it?

  6. Zig,

    Since Thompson went to new 4 tire Format it increased the counts almost double. Its still early but I expect full garage at all of those shows this yr. Like Brian said above its the best deal on the Table currently and from all the people that ran those shows it was verry positive feedback from the Teams and Thompson rewarded us with even more of them.

  7. Boy it’s been so quiet in the off season even from the big guy. Then he drops this 7 part information bomb on us and all I can thing is how lucky we are that someone goes to all that effort. Gives it away and doesn’t even draw any conclusions from it lets us make our own judgments. Thank you Mr. Courchesne this is terrific.
    So what’s it all mean race fans? Is all that input from the heavy hitters of modified racing crystallizing anything in your minds as far as the status of the Tour at this point in time? What I see is guys all involved in the same series but most with different agenda’s some of which are in competition with each other.

    Ken Massa
    “I think the [Whelen Modified] Tour is in a pretty good spot right now. There’s a few things that I wish they would stop messing with”

    “They’re tweaking little things. I’ve heard they’re going to do a redraw at [events where there is no tire changes allowed]. And that kind of pissed me off. I hate anything that is based off of luck.”

    My view, this is the last guy anyone should be listening to if you want to improve the series. He’s invested in the status quo. Pours whatever amount of money it takes into his team and ends up having nothing in common with a any other team. Naturally he likes qualifying just like it is, his guy is usually at the front out of harms ways. Even suggested more events benefits his team I’d guess because it’s harder for everyone else to keep up.

    Matt Hirschman
    This guy is much like Massa but instead of being head and shoulders above everyone else in dollars he’s elevated based on pure racing expertise. But he’s the series courtesan. No real loyalty other then to pick races he and Pee Dee can do well at.

    “I think I’m probably the poster child for that the fact that there are options out there and it isn’t just about the Whelen Modified Tour at the peak anymore.”

    But having no loyalty also a truth teller. Saying very clearly the opens are easier for teams to enter and that the qualifying model with the elite cars in front is a real problem. His observation about qualifying in direct conflict with what Massa favors.

    Rob Fuller
    Another guy I absolutely love and respect but I think like Mac Jones with the Patriots he’s broken at this point.

    “I’ve tried to work with younger guys to get their passion light lit. I’ve been in that garage for 45 years and there’s not a lot of people that are coming along that are new. It’s pretty much the same faces that have been there for at least 25 years. That’s nerve-wracking to me.”

    The guy buys everything in site as far as chassis manufacturing and components go dominating the market then years later looks around and sees he’s dominated a shrinking market that’s aging out. Gonna race out of pure muscle memory at this stage but more out of habit then anything.

    Joey Dennewitz
    I’ve read every comment from every contributor to this piece twice and what I’m not seeing is comments that NASCAR does not listen not even from the whiner in chief Sapienza. What’s different is Mr. Dennewitz near as I can figure unless Wilson got an empathy transplant.

    “ I think that’s the one thing in my short period of time here that I’ve been really proud to see is that the community really really cares about itself and is willing to work together to fix themselves.”

    That’s what Dennewitz is preaching in a nutshell the Tour community and near I as can see it’s been a rousing success based on all the responses. So he’s got the choir kind of on the same page so how’s he plan to convince the lost sheep that stay away from NWMT races in droves.

    “ I’ve never heard ‘Oh, we don’t want to compete on the Modified Tour because we don’t think it’s the best tour.’ I’ve never heard that once. I’ve heard ‘I’d like to compete on the Modified Tour and here are the barriers that I see in doing that.”

    I’m not showing the rest of the quote but basically it lists a chain of command any change has to go up for anything meaningful to change and in a big organization with all kinds of competing interests that’s a change killer.

    I’m adding Dennewitz to my list of racing guys I love even if he is trying to paddle up stream with a spoon for a paddle. Whether it’s “THE” Ohio State or the “THE” NASCAR Modified Tour he’s kidding himself. Grads of Ohio State kid themselves that there’s something special about their alma mater and he’s kidding himself about the Tour status as well. Read Coby’s comments on how drivers view him vs how he viewed guys like Ruggiero and TC makes that point crystal clear.

    So what fixes will make a difference?
    Nothing in my view the Tour it’s dying and the only thing NASCAR can do is slow it down as much as possible to protect their revenue streams before it fades away completely. Or more accurately competitors migrate to other series as they have been doing. Dennewitz is triage to slow down the process but that community stuff only goes so far. The schedule changed not pro actively but because it had to lest there be a major revolt. Tyler Haydt probably the most credible voice saying in no uncertain terms he wasn’t doing whatever last year was again and they won the championship for Pete’s sake.

    Unabashed trolling…….

    All that talk about expense and not one person mentioned engines in a meaningful way one of the biggest expenses. They’re all conditioned at this point to mosey up to the RYR trough paying ten’s of thousands of dollars a pop. Is the spec engine is a dinosaur that’s holding the series back? All the other series have inclusive rules to allow all sorts of power plants but the Tour’s rules make it mandatory to use an RYR engine to be competitive. Meanwhile ever since the RYR engine was introduced everything has changed. Why not put all the engine alternatives in a pot, re-evaluate and try to get up with the times. Why can’t alternatives like the CT525 – HIGH RPM PERFORMANCE circle track engine be considered? 533 HP, reliable and a fraction of the cost of the RYR engine.
    Send that one up the chain of command and what will likely happen is someone will mention the revenue stream NASCAR gets from the RYR engine ending that conversation.

    The points accumulating, championship model is dead.

    7 teams competed in all the NWMT events in 2023 which is really 5 competitive teams. Fifield and Heady get all the respect in the world spending so much money and being so loyal but they are only in it for participation trophies. Then again the vaunted MMTTS only had 7 teams race in only 6 events. Smart had only 9 teams race all their events and ROC 7.
    See here’s where another idea goes up the chain of command and dies a death by a thousand cuts. Lower the number of events to what the consensus is to get more participation like 12 or 14 or better yet give up on the championship model. Formalize what the Tour is now which is essentially open races with teams deciding by event not by series. Location, money and ease of entry. As far as NASCAR goes both those ideas are DOA since they likely reduce the top line revenue.

    Who should NASCAR be talking to?

    Rocco, Owen, Pasteryak, David Arute, Flynn, Cipriano, Robie, a coupe DiMatteo’s and a couple dozen more. If there is a Tour race at Thompson or Seekonk or Monadnock what’s it gonna take to have you enter then just make the changes to make it worth their while. Sure maybe if someone has a jack hammer to bust NASCAR’s feet out of status quo concrete but otherwise DOA.

    How many times have people mentioned you have to get Stafford back on the schedule over the last couple years? More importantly what on earth would make you think they’d be inclined to consider it? They’ve got their new format Sizzler that is a hit and the MMTTS Fall final that’s a hit as well for bookends. They’re stated mission is to promote house divisions…..period. To that end they eliminated an outside Super Late Model touring event and even one tour type modified event. What they are doing that’s new is inviting in a freak show mid season not doubt experimenting with a new genre of auto racing entertainment kind of the opposite of whatever NASCAR is. Not to mention the original deal killer FloRacing a revenue stream they’re still not going to want to split with anyone let alone NASCAR. Nope they won’t be inviting a dinosaur back to Stafford anytime soon in my estimation but if day dreaming is your thing knock yourself out.

    It is what is what it is a dying Tour. A blip up this year maybe but a longer term down trend that will not reverse. Which is not to say tour modified racing is dead it’s just taking a different shape that’s been going on for years, all changes dinosaurs seem to be blind to.

  8. There are many elephants in the room no one has the balls to question. First is tires. $225+ for a tire I throw away in 50 laps when I can buy a tri axle tire for $300 that will last me 75000 miles and carry 80000 pounds is something to question. My guess we the racers are paying point fund prices for races that don’t have a points fund and we are paying for some great vacations. Second is fuel. Great Sunoco is a race “sponsor “ but at what cost. I can order fuel and have it delivered to me for $4 less a gallon. If we were aloud to run another fuel VP, Dragon, power mist, etc maybe we could save some there or hell maybe even get a sponsor from a distributor. Maybe bring other sponsors to the sport that are now locked out. Car owners and drivers shouldn’t have to pay to get in the pits. When do you think Garth Brooks paid for a ticket to his own concert or the people that work back stage. You think they pay their way to the show, come on we as racers are paying our own purse thru the back gate. Do some simple math, the back gate, fuel and tire markup is our purse. There are some series that help with this with a little cheaper tire but the travel voids any savings out. Stafford is a great track ran by great people but we don’t need 6 tires for a 80 lap race. The ACT guys have it right. Like Rich said earlier car counts nearly doubled when the went to 50 laps 4 tires. That’s the proof right there the blue collar working man racer doesn’t have the crew or money to have change tires or an experienced pit crew. It’s great that Shawn is opening this can of worms but what really needs to happen is a round table discussion between ALL the racers and track / series owner to figure this out. All of use in one room/ hall what ever and hash this out. Make all the rules the same. Make all the tire compounds the same etc. If they start working together this sport we are all so passionate about is going to continue to die.

  9. It would be nice to know why Art Barry stopped running NASCAR so many, many years ago. 🤔 That was when the crack in the dam started, then other places/series to race modifieds started to pop up.

    There are many cars out there, but the owners choose/don’t run because of many reasons, COST 💲 being #1. Perhaps champagne taste, beer money issues. Perhaps many of these guys had no idea what they were getting into, or their business softened up, reducing cash flow. Look at the Tinio operation.

    Brian, a racing tire needs grip and has a different compound than a commercial truck tire. Put a hard compound tire a modified and it will be like running on a track covered in grease.

  10. Drunkinirishman says

    A great article that I really enjoyed reading several times… I respect the amount, and the quality of work that is clearly shown in this piece…
    Though it does not effect the quality of the article or any of the comments on the subject…
    To my knowledge, 8 wmt teams ran all 18 races last season…not 7… The BRE racing team ran the entire schedule with 2 different drivers..
    Their efforts and commitment to the wmt tour should be recognized…

  11. What an elegant way to make the correction. I keep looking at drivers and these days with all the ride sharing it’s the owners that are the one’s to search.
    Had to be a disappointing year for BRE. Pretty good drivers but only one top 5 and a 6th place finish which unfortunately is last of the full time competitive cars.
    I know it worked for Tommy Baldwin spectacularly a couple years ago but not every car is the 7ny. I’m thinking one driver is better so hopefully BRE will make big strides this year with the very talented Jake Johnson on full time.

  12. Drunkinirishman,
    Good catch, noted and fixed. Appreciate the comment.

  13. Doreen DeFontes Taylor says

    A simple comment to support the promotion department. In the immortal words of Wally Saleeba the original and only voice of Seekonk Speedway, PROMOTE PROMOTE PROMOTE…….Do it to it !!! There is never enough.

Leave a Reply

Copyright 2018 E-Media Sports

Website Designed by Thirty Marketing