Dissecting The State Of The Whelen Modified Tour – Part Seven 

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 Seven Question: 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? 

Doug Coby – “I think it’s technology and evolution and things that people are interested in. I think that having more places to race a Tour Type Modified like Stafford [Speedway] or the [Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series], I think that’s taken a little bit of the desire away. I was that SK [Modified] driver that wanted to be Todd Szegedy on the Tour and move up. That was the goal. Certainly the racers on the Tour at that time I think were seen more by the racing community as God-like almost. If you’re racing against Reggie [Ruggiero] and Mike Stefanik and Ted Christopher and Tony Hirschman and Rick Fuller and Jan Leaty and all these historic names, that’s what made you something. I would say that I don’t feel that those of us who are the veterans of the series now, I don’t think that we carry the same weight amongst the fanbase as those guys that I mentioned. And I think that kind of trickles down where I don’t think people beating me on the track is the same equivalent on the track of beating Ted [Christopher] or Mike [Stefanik]. And I’m fine with that. I think that’s reality of why maybe the prestige has slipped away a little bit. I think NASCAR still could help that. I think they could help their cause more than any other opportunity to race Modifieds, I think NASCAR is in a position to clean house on car count and participation with some tweaks and changes. I think Joey Dennewitz being involved now has a little bit of new ideas and he’s listened to a lot of our concerns. We’ll see if they start to implement some of the changes. I think as much as people want to knock the Tour and knock NASCAR, they’re really the only one’s in the position, if they want to, make a big swing at things to shake things up, I think they’re capable of doing that, it’s just a matter of whether it actually happens or not.”

Joey Dennewitz – “I’m not totally sure that it’s not still, but that being said, I don’t really look at what everyone else is doing. I come from a racing background, I focus on my own race cars. … I’m more focused on our product and our race cars and listening to our teams and listening to teams that aren’t our teams, listening to other Modified teams that have shown interest in wanting to be with the [Whelen] Modified Tour. In my short time, 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.’ And then I take that feedback and Jimmy Wilson takes that feedback and Tony Glover [technical director for NASCAR Touring series’] has taken that feedback and we’ve tried to understand what we can do to allow as many teams to participate as possible. I’m an Ohio State guy. I look at the Modified Tour as THE Modified Tour like it’s THE Ohio State University. It’s NASCAR’s oldest division. I can tell you from my time with [NASCAR CEO Jim France], [NASCAR vice-chairman Mike Helton], [NASCAR senior vice-president Ben Kennedy], [NASCAR COO Steve O’Donnell] and [NASCAR president Steve Phelps] that [the Whelen Modified Tour] is a very big priority for them. And they are vested and interested in it all times.”

Tommy Baldwin Jr. – “I think most of the people that race at Stafford and Waterford and Thompson, they’re comfortable with what they do and if they’re going to do something they’re going to stay comfortable racing those race tracks. … I think it’s easier for those teams and those drivers to be able to go to the Monaco [Modified Tri-Track] Series or the Stafford Open races or the Thompson Open races to get their start. I’m not saying it’s a difference in talent. Mike Christopher Jr. came and ran with our car and finished first, second and third in three races that he ran with our primary car and was a major factor in us winning the [Whelen Modified Tour owner’s championship in 2022].”

Rob Fuller – “I think that goes all the way from Late Models all the way up to the Cup Series in racing in general. It’s become such a money driven sport. Back in the day, 15 or 20 years ago, you needed talent. You could succeed off of your ability. Now that is like 10 percent of the puzzle. You have to bring money, you have to bring engines, you have to bring cars and something of monetary value to a race team in order to get a chance. When I was a teenager you’d start an SK Modified and then you’d sneak into a Modified at Riverside Park and you’d run there and then somebody would knock on your door or call you up and say ‘Do you want to drive my [Whelen Modified Tour] car. That’s not what’s going only anymore. Now it’s like ‘What can you bring to the plate? Can you bring $100,000. Can you bring a sponsor? Can you bring tires? You’ve got a [six-time Whelen Modified Tour] champion [Doug Coby], who doesn’t have a full-time ride. He doesn’t have a ride because he doesn’t have $250,000 to bring to the table. You’ve got guys that have a quarter of the talent of Doug Coby that have a full-time Whelen Modified Tour ride because their dad is writing the checks. It’s frustrating from my standpoint, but at the end of the day that’s what the whole industry has evolved into. That’s not just a Modified based issue, that’s racing in general. And that’s why I think the sport in general has been on a decline since the early 2000’s. But it’s not a talent driven industry anymore. Even on the NASCAR Cup Series, the top-20 or top-30 guys there, I can tell you exactly why they have their ride. Who their dad is, what business they own. … Somebody wrote a check so you could get an opportunity. I think it waters down the product, but it’s all of racing in general, not just Modifieds.”

Tyler Haydt – “I don’t know if that’s true to be fair. I think [the Whelen Modified Tour] is where everybody still wants to race at. I think every kid that is run an SK Light still wants to run the [Whelen Modified Tour]. I believe that. I think there’s just so few opportunities now. There’s eight [Whelen Modified Tour] teams that run all of these races. But I don’t believe that it’s not the premier division anymore. I like the [Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series], I like their races, I like [the Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series operators Ed Bennett and Wayne Darling]. I like the NASCAR races too. I don’t necessarily know if one is better than the other. Like I don’t like running heat races. I like time trials and I like live pit stops. That’s me though. So I’m not [knocking] what the [Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series] is doing. I just like doing time trials. I like being rewarded for being fast. When you have somebody like Ron [Silk] driving for you and have [Phil Moran] as your crew chief and you have the great equipment that we have, I don’t want to start besides [some bad driver] in a heat race. That’s just me and how I look at things.”

Ken Massa – “I think we can get it back. I’ve said this in the past, I think the Tour lost a little bit of its prestige. Don’t ask me how it lost it. It could have been a product of COVID, it could be a car count thing, it could be missing a couple of awards banquets. Whatever it is, I think it lost a little of that prestige. But I think if you ask any [Modified] driver, ultimately where they want to be besides the [top three NASCAR national divisions], they want to drive on the Whelen Modified Tour and they want to win on the tour. Some might say that’s not true, but I think it’s true.”

Ron Silk – “I think a lot of it has to do with economics. I just think it’s not in a lot of team’s budgets to run the [Whelen Modified Tour]. I think if you got an honest out of most people they will tell you this is still the division they want to run. That’s not a knock on the other ones. This is the division I wanted to run because this is the series that I raced against Mike Stefanik and Ted Christopher and Tony Hirschman and those guys. This is the series they raced. I think it’s easy to knock on the tour but I’ve raced pretty much every Open series and I try to be a part of all of and the [Whelen Modified Tour] still holds the most weight to me.”

Matt Hirschman – “I think the transition is much easier that it’s much easier to transition to the Open Modifieds. If you look at what Stafford Speedway has done, you have Open events at Thompson as well. And then you have the [Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series]. I think it’s just an easier transition to those things. With NASCAR, it’s very regimented in certain ways. … You used to have a lot of weekly Tour Type Modified tracks. Now your weekly tracks are more of the SK Modifieds, the Crate Modifids, the 602 or 604 or Sportsman they’re called in different places, that is more your weekly class now. And I think the transition is much easier for a lot of those teams to go to what is now the Open Modified classes. You have more options there in terms of equipment and motors and I think it’s also easier to take your team from Saturday night racers or Friday night racers and go to those events than is to go the Whelen Modified Tour where you have pit stops, you need the over the wall equipment, I think it’s just a harder transition to make and I think it’s just a limiting factor. The travel is also a factor. A lot the things I think I’m repeating, but I think it’s all relevant to each question in terms of the overall health. It can also be a sign of the times. It’s just harder and harder to get help in general and as you travel further away it’s harder to get that help to travel and miss the things that they also have commitments to in life outside of racing. I think it’s easier for a team that races an SK Modified weekly, I think it’s just easier for them to transition to Open races or [Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series] races.”

Justin Bonsignore – “I think a lot that goes back to in the 90’s and 2000’s there was a lot of car owners. Since I’ve started in 2010 the amount of actual car owners that just own a team like Ken Massa or Tommy Baldwin are becoming less and less. You’re seeing more family owned teams than anything. I just think that makes it harder. Unless you have wealthy parents to go do this, there’s not an abundance of Ken Massa’s out there that are saying ‘Hey, Justin Bonsignore, you won like two races at Riverhead Raceway, I want to take you tour racing.’ I think that just makes it really tough. Obviously the expense of thing in all forms of racing and life in general have gotten really tough for people to break that door down. Racing on the [Whelen] Modified Tour is a very expensive hobby for most. It’s not easy to get into. It would be great if we could bring more car owners to the series, but it’s tough to even get crew guys to volunteer for these races. I think everything just keeps evolving and it’s not always for the better. But I don’t know that that’s really NASCAR’s fault, I think it’s just life in general.”

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? 


  1. 💥 🚨

    Justin Bonsignore nailed it.

    I was hanging out with Mike Stefanik and a team owner many, many years ago, and we were discussing these very same issues, and Mike said the Tour needs more owners. That is it. Modified Tour racing needs more owners that want to play in this hobby.

    Racing for these owners is a hobby, not a profit center. Much of the “sponsorship” on their cars are their businesses, or the business of someone they know.

    Old school high roller owners like Art Barry, Bob Garbarino, Eddie Partridge and many more are out of it, and they have not been replaced. That leaves many teams that run a shoe-string budget, and those cars are not as exciting.

    And then travel… there has been cost containment strife going on for decades, and then NASCAR comes up with these mind bending schedules with more travel than ever!!!!! Come on people!!!! There was a big push for one day shows, and now all these long distance travel events. I travel to many of these events, and I see the lack of interest. Bristol is a great track for Modifieds, but nobody ever showed up, the place was empty.

    It is also evident on the televised races that the NWMT does not attract great crowds at these faraway tracks.

    I was at another long distance track and chatted up some locals and they had no idea or interest in the Modifieds. They were at the track for their regular weekly races.

    It is baffling to see NASCAR turn their back on the well established northern based Tour Modified tracks and fan base to continue to try to grow modified racing in the south, where it failed. There is no demand. Bowman Grey is an anomalous freak show. It’s been said and proven, the southern teams won’t drive further than across the street to a race.

    But the stands at Thompson and Stafford were packed. What the hell is going on?

    Need to get (back) to a majority number of races at Thompson and Stafford (one day shows) and then a few travel dates for a little added spice.

    There is so much more, but enough for now.

  2. “It is also evident on the televised races that the NWMT does not attract great crowds at these faraway tracks.”

    evident to who?

    New Smyrna was packed both years. Langley had a good crowd both years. wilkesboro was good. Martinsville has been good. Richmond has been fine.

  3. steve jesus says

    If NASCAR really cared about the tour they would increase the purses. End of story no brainer.

  4. 😷 😷 😷 darealgoodfella 😷 😷 😷 says

    zig13, enough with the smoke and mirrors…

    New Smyrna has Speedweeks, a great event with good crowds. Smart move by the NWMT to put a race there, crowds are automatic.

    Langley… meh.

    Wilkesboro… people went there to go to a historic track. Could’ve raced tortoises.

    Martinsville and Richmond… meh.

    steve jesus, maybe you can pull all the funds you want out of your anal sphincter at will. Please show the NWMT how to do that.

  5. “It is baffling to see NASCAR turn their back on the well established northern based Tour Modified tracks and fan base to continue to try to grow modified racing in the south, where it failed. There is no demand.”

    Tell that to the SMART tour. They’ve got 15 races planned after 13 last year. The smallest field they had was 21 cars.

  6. Shawn, thank-you for this amazing in-depth survey! It was really cool to get some insight into the WMT from multiple angles! Very informative reading, for sure!

  7. Losing marquee events at Stafford (which resulted in competition from the Stafford Opens) and, to a lesser degree, Thompson, has really hurt the NWMT. And, the Tri-Track Series (with fewer races than the NWMT) has become a bona fide alternative for New England modified teams and drivers. Ten years ago, the NWMT’s main competition was the MRS (which has never approached the status of NWMT or Tri-Track).

    If I was NASCAR, I would do just about anything to schedule multiple NWMT races at Stafford each year.

  8. @Rafter fan I don’t think the folks at Stafford care about getting NASCAR back. They seem to be doing just fine on their own.

  9. When you look at the costs and personnel needed to run the WMT compared to the options available in New England, If you don’t have a top level team with bottomless pockets, why would you run the WMT? If I’m counting correctly there are 27 tour-type modified events in New England this year between the Tritrack, MRS, Thompson Opens, Stafford Opens, and the Racing Guys. I would think less travel, tires, and other expenses would make it more fun and enjoyable for a race team.

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