Dissecting The State Of The Whelen Modified Tour – Part Four 

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

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

Joey Dennewitz – “I think the scheduled number of races will always be fluctuating in regard to a number of factors. Before my time at NASCAR I thought that NASCAR just decided to go places. That the places we decided to go were determined by NASCAR and NASCAR alone. Now working for NASCAR I can tell you that that’s not the case. There is a number of factors that go into where we go. Number one is where do we think the teams want to compete. Number two is where are those race tracks located and are the logistics feasible. And then working with either the owner/operator or promoter to find a date that’s suitable. The schedule is this massively complicated three [dimensional] puzzle that, in my opinion, was masterfully put together by [Whelen Modified Tour series directory] Jimmy Wilson this year to take all of those factors and bring them to where now I believe we have an uptick in full season participation commitments. I would give anything if it was just as easy as pick a number and that’s the number we need to do. But the number is the result of so many other factors getting played out that I don’t think just sitting here and spitballing an overall number would be fair to the competitors or the fans.”

Justin Bonsignore – “I think some teams would be a little happier with say 14 or 15 races. I like 16 as a number. Obviously I drive for a really great team that has great funding and a great group behind us. I don’t want to say it’s not tough, but it’s a little easier for a team like us to accommodate 16 races, but there’s other teams that struggle to get crew guys and sponsorship. I think it’s a tough balance for NASCAR. But I do feel 16 is a good number. The champion is a deserving champion, that’s enough races throughout the year. I think it’s spaced out enough this year, starting in February and ending in late October where having a week or two in between almost all the races is huge. I know [my crew chief Ryan Stone] loves that week in between. It just gives us more time to go through the cars and not be thrashing to make it from Virginia to Oswego [NY] on back-to-back weeks. Those are tough on Stone and everybody.”

Doug Coby – “I think our series is still positioned with unique events at big race tracks that make it to still be the series where anybody who wants to race full-time and has the means to do so is going to want to try to run the [Whelen Modified Tour]. But there’s something to be said for the [eight race Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series] schedule at short tracks, the Open events at Stafford [Speedway] and Thompson [Speedway] or the [SMART Tour] and the car counts that they all get. There’s things you can learn from that if you’re the people in charge of any touring series.”

Matt Hirschman – “They may have gone a little too far or too ambitious with the schedule last year and also it wasn’t laid out as well as it probably needed to be and that probably hurt. I think this year with a few less races and a better layout on the calendar, I think that will probably answer that question. I think the proof will be in the numbers this year. I think only time will tell there. I think last year was definitely going to be a challenge.”

Ken Massa – “I think they need to look where we’re going and how many races we run. See what the 16 does for the series. If that helps the series grow with numbers then maybe take another year and lower it by another two and see if that helps the series. If they get low car counts at one of the races, ask a couple questions. Why didn’t the regulars show up? Why didn’t this guy show up. And if he tells you that he doesn’t like that track, then ask some of the people that did show up. Did you like this track or are you just here for the points?”

Tyler Haydt – “If you were looking at helping participation numbers, then probably. Maybe a couple less is better. I know that 19 was too many for sure. As far as it goes for myself, I was away from home too much [last year]. I have three little kids. I couldn’t have done that again. And I talked to them about that. I was like ‘If you guys plan on jamming four or five races again in September, don’t look for us to be there again next year because it’s not going to happen.’ So, I think that 14, 15, 16 is the right number. I think if there was a little bit less you would get more guys apt to try to chase it. They also need to do a better job of showing people the money they pay. They’re terrible at that. I said this to Joey [Dennowitz], I said: ‘We’re racing for this championship and we don’t even know what it pays us. How can that be? Why is it a secret?’ They’re all like ‘There’s contingencies’ and I’m just like ‘What’s the base number?’ Just start with that.”

Ron Silk – “Last year was too much for all of us. I don’t think there’s anyone that you could speak to that would feel differently about that. I know there was a time when they ran over 20 races on the [Whelen Modified Tour], but it seems like that day has come of come and gone. I think 16 is a step in the right direction. It was 16 for a lot of years that I’ve raced the tour. And if it seems like going even shorter is improving things as far as car count, I don’t think it would be the worst thing to think about lowering it more. But I think we should see how getting back to a normal number like 16 works.”

Rob Fuller – “100 percent. If they chopped another four or five races off you and increased the purse, what I mean by that is if you have a $75,000 purse take those four races and use that purse money to pay $20 grand to win these races. At the end of the day Modifieds are a Northeastern division in my mind. We don’t need to be going to South Carolina, we don’t need to be going to Florida. I’ve got back involved with a [Whelen Modified Tour] team this and just the travel alone to go to [the season opening event at New Smyrna Speedway] is $12,000. $12,000 just to get there and turn around and come back. That’s not buying a tire, that’s not buying a gallon of gas, that’s not buying a pit pass, that’s not buying any food. Just $12,000 to get your team down there. And it just doesn’t make sense. It’s very difficult to lay a business model out in front of sponsors and tell them, ‘This is what I’m doing’ because they look at you like you’re a fool. Like, ‘Why would you do this? Why would you drive all the way down there for the chance to win like $10,000?’ The math just doesn’t make sense. That’s the frustrating thing because I think the racing itself – of all the racing I’ve been involved with, I think the Modified racing is the best racing, the best package that NASCAR has to offer to fans as far as entertainment. But what they do with the purses is borderline travesty. It’s fully taking advantage of people involved. But we’ve all been saying this for years and nothing changes so it’s a waste of breath to even say it.”

Dave Sapienza – “Yes. 100 percent yes. If you’ve got 12-14 max, you can separate so much different planning amongst the teams and the tracks. … I think shortening the series will attract more teams to participate. … I think they would definitely improve the health of the Whelen Modified Tour if we could shorten the schedule even more.”

Tommy Baldwin Jr. – “I think we’re good where we’re at. I think there’s enough split in time for everybody to regroup. There’s some races back to back, but I think the way the schedule is right now it’s a fair schedule. You’re going to get some of the complainers about going to New Smyrna, but 75 percent might like it because they use it as a vacation or they like it because they’re going there already for Daytona. … A lot of it is that the cost of doing business is rising. … I think the cost of our engines are getting too high. I think the SPEC engine is getting to a point where they need to revisit things and work on the pricing a little bit. Robert Yates Racing has done an incredible job of getting us to where have gotten to, but I think they need to start working on getting the prices down.”

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 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. “If they chopped another four or five races off you and increased the purse, what I mean by that is if you have a $75,000 purse take those four races and use that purse money to pay $20 grand to win these races. ”

    That’s not really at all how it works, is it? The tracks that keep a date aren’t going to pay more. Sponsors aren’t going to pay more for fewer races. Flo isn’t going to pay more for less.

  2. Not enough races is also not good, have to retain visibility and exposure to retain interest.

    Agree with zig13. What Fuller said made no sense.

    When you make a supplier a sole source, you get high prices. Who is surprised things have worked out this way?

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