Dissecting The State Of The Whelen Modified Tour – Part Six 

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 Six Question: 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?  

Matt Hirschman – “I know I’ve said this many times, top to bottom when you look at the different series’, when you average the field as a whole, it definitely makes a strong point where that becomes very obvious. I’m not saying that the best of the best don’t race for wins on the Whelen Modified Tour, but in general the field does not average out to have the competitiveness of other series’. That is definitely something that is becoming a little more obvious to even the fans. … I think that can be concerning. I think there’s some things in the format that could probably be looked at because with the Whelen Modified Tour the fastest cars in practice, they go out last for time trials. They then time trial at the top and they start heads up. … Basically, you already have ranked the field in terms of speed. So the fastest cars at the front and the slowest cars at the back and that in my opinion doesn’t make for good racing. Some of the events can become a little boring that way. The way the format is really from start to finish, from practice to qualifying through the race, there are probably some things that could be looked at to improve the product. Every series I go to I could have an opinion of what could be better. It’s not just that I view the Whelen Modified Tour as the only series that needs to make changes to make the show better. There’s the saying, the rich get richer. It seems like that is how I can view the series. The fastest cars and the most complete teams are constantly rewarded and it makes it more difficult for the teams that are looking to break through and get into that group.”

Joey Dennewitz – “Competition parity will always be another never-ending pursuit for the series. That goes back to our job, in my opinion, as a sanctioning body is to organize these races and give as many people as possible the opportunity to participate fairly and squarely. I think if you look at the car count and you can see the car count variance that maybe that could be determining factor in the variance in speed and performance. But ultimately it’s our job at NASCAR to provide a place where the best Modified teams and drivers in the world come to compete. Doing that is always going to be a challenge and one that we will never give up.”

Justin Bonsignore – “I think that’s really been a concern for a handful of years now. Last year maybe more than anything exposed it. Losing teams like [Baldwin’s] and a few other teams, there was just teams that dropped off through the year that were top-five contending teams. Then you have a guy like Hirschman who is only running a part-time schedule. For as long as I can remember there’s only five to six teams on a yearly basis and those have rotated in and out for a while. As much as we want to win every single race, it’s never great for the series when 2-3 teams win all the races. Fans don’t want to see that and it discourages other race teams from trying to improve their teams. I definitely think it’s a tough balance.”

Doug Coby – “I think there’s always going to be three teams that if they have a perfect season, or four teams, if they have a perfect season where they win multiple events and don’t wreck and finish in the top-five and top-10 in the majority of the races and they’re there at the end to battle. Parity wise, I think Austin Beers having the season he had was probably the biggest positive for our series. I don’t think anybody expected them to be as dominant as they were at times. That gives them excitement coming into the next season to chase a championship. I’ve said for the last fives year that we need these younger guys who dabble in the series, we need them to win races and we need them to run good to keep their crew and their fans excited about coming back. I think Austin’s success this year probably gives some other younger drivers some excitement going into 2024 that they can run good. We didn’t compete full-time because of Tommy’s situation. The series lost [Jon McKennedy] because of a split up on the team. That changes things. [Matt Hirschman] still isn’t committed to full-time even though he was more committed [in 2023]. I think when you really look at it there are still seven to eight teams that legitimately can win when they go to the track, it’s just that all seven or eight of those teams didn’t race full-time with the series.”

Ron Silk – “I think last year especially there was a pretty big fall off from the top several runners to the rest of the teams. … I think there were some other contributing factors to that.”

Ken Massa – “I think that there’s some teams that are almost like right there. I think the cream is always going to rise to the top, but there’s some teams that are right there, maybe just need a little bit more time. And I think there’s some teams that just show that they’ll never get there.”

Rob Fuller – “I think the competition on the tour has taken a dramatic dive. I ran full-time [in 2018] and there were six or seven full-time teams that could win a race at any given time. It was very competitive. You look at the races last year and it’s almost like it’s not even cars racing anymore, it’s teams racing. The guys who have that the budget for full-time crews and the owners who have the open checkbooks are the one’s that win the races. The [former Tim Lepine owned car with driver Jon McKennedy] took an owner who never run a team on the Whelen Modified Tour, teamed up with a driver that had [run one full-time season] on the Whelen Modified Tour and a new crew chief and in their first attempt they won the [driver’s] championship. What does that say about the level of competition on the Whelen Modified Tour? It’s not even my voice saying that, it’s the statistics saying that. … You took a brand new team that never competed on the Whelen Modified Tour and in their first chance they beat these teams that have been around for 8-10 years. The level of competition just isn’t there, which goes back to we have to work on the product. The product is not as good as it was. We’ve got to fix the product.”

Dave Sapienza – “A few of the top crew chiefs have kind of tried to be helpful to other teams. So some of the knowledge and some of the secrets are being shared. I think some of the lower teams are starting to catch up without breaking any rules or using and trick stuff. I think some of the up and coming teams are finding ways to get better. There’s still a lot of passion from these teams and I think things are getting better for them.”

Tommy Baldwin Jr. – “I’m not worried about that. You need cars to pass right? You need action. If everybody is the same it’s going to be a boring race. I’ve been doing this for four years since I’ve gotten back in with the [Whelen] Modified Tour and I really haven’t seen a change. I think the tire change last year, the constant tire change, hurts things a little bit. I think the [top teams] can adapt quicker to making changes. But I think there’s seven or eight guys that can win a race at any given time if they hit it right. And if you look at the Xfinity Series and the [Craftsman] Truck Series … it’s about the same in those series’ too. You’re not going to have 15 or 20 guys that can win a race, it just doesn’t happen.”

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 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. Hey, I thought the SPEC engine was supposed to make racing more affordable and produce parity? Why are we having this conversation???

    I crack myself up!!!!

    They are running the same cookie-cutter chassis, not that it matters, the same tires and the SPEC engine. So where does the competitive advantage come from???

    For now, it’s follow the crew chiefs.

  2. Money hit it on the head – starting the fastest cars up front make it an up hill battle for the lower teams, takes the steam out of the teams confidence. need handicap system, Tri track is the same way – heat races are boring when fastest cars start up front.

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