Dissecting The State Of The Whelen Modified Tour – Part Two 

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

Joey Dennewitz – “In a general sense I would say the heath of the [Whelen] Modified Tour is stronger today than it’s been in some time. I feel like as a community, the Modified Tour has worked on ways that it can improve itself. And that takes everybody. That takes teams, drivers, sponsor, race track promoters, race track owners and NASCAR. 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.”

Justin Bonsignore – “It’s in an interesting spot. Last year was tough with the schedule being 19 races and we lost a few key teams along the way for different reasons. Tommy [Baldwin Jr.] had health issues. A couple of teams just I think it was a big commitment and they couldn’t make it. I think they’re going in the right direction by shortening the season. I think they have still have some big marquee events, but there’s less travel, there’s nice gaps in between the races this year. I think it’s just overall a better schedule for this year. But I do go into it with maybe some concerns or unknowns. Is the car count going to trend up. We hear some things on social media that there are more teams planning to run, but will the schedule allow them to make that full-time commitment. There’s a lot of unknowns at this point, as I think there is every season. I do feel like [NASCAR] has listened to us, as a garage area they listened to the concerns we had last year. More than anything it was the schedule I feel. I think there’s other things the series is working on with rules and tires. There’s a lot of things that always need to be worked on and adjusted and I do think they’re trying to listen. I think last year was a bit of a wakeup call. I do think Joey Dennowitz coming in has helped in some ways, but there’s still a long way to go with improvements. But I think that’s the case with any series. I think they’re trying and listening and hopefully can continued the open dialogue as a series with NASCAR.”

Doug Coby – “I see it as a work in progress, as it’s always been I guess. I think that we need to adapt to the realities that are facing the people who compete in this series and the fans who go to the races. I think that since COVID I think a lot has changed for a lot of people. I think everybody who is involved in the promotional side of racing needs to be proactive about that and not necessarily reactive. … You know a lot of people who compete in the series own small business. Mortgage rates and interest rates generally for businesses to borrow money. And just the general cost of racing vs. other opportunities that people have as you get older or as technology evolves and there’s newer things for people and kids to do. I just think that generally speaking, I think anybody who is involved in promoting short track racing, whether it’s our tour or a local short track or the [the Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series] or anybody, you just have to think about and have options for the people who want to compete. Maybe sometimes think outside the box. How do you get more teams? How do you get more fans? How do you get more sponsors involved?”

Ron Silk – “I would say it seems to be that it’s looking like it’s going to be a little bit better than last year. It seems like there’s going to be some more teams trying to make a full-time effort. I would say, we’ve got to see how the year plays out, but it looks to me like things are trending in the right direction.”

Matt Hirschman – “I think for 2024 they’ve balanced the schedule a little bit better. I think in recent years I’ve actually preferred to see the series at different venues, which does come with the travel involved. But I do like that. I think what they realized though is that with the extra travel I think you need to better lay out the schedule for the teams. There’s things that I like that have trended in a direction that I think is more preferable for me, but there still are some other challenges that exist. I think one of the biggest things is that it’s tough to get help in general and it’s really hard to have guys that are capable of doing the over the wall pit stop duties and doing them well. I think the teams that run the full schedule and compete for the championship, I think those teams are better positioned from that standpoint and it’s a little tougher for the teams that don’t run full-time or aren’t able to put together that kind of a team. Pit stops are very critical. In NASCAR, the Whelen Modified Tour, they still have a lot of events with live pits stops and multiple tire pit stops. I see that as a challenge. I think that in the future I still think needs to be looked because I think that is a limiting factor. There’s other things that the series has done that has made it more welcoming to bringing new teams and cars, but I see the pits stops as a limiting factor in the car counts.”

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. But I think with the schedule changes that they made for this year I think that was a huge help to all of us. … They’re just bothering people with little things. 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.”

Tyler Haydt – “I think it’s doing OK. I think there are certainly track where it struggles. Some tracks haven’t had the car count that they wanted, but there’s other places – like New Smyrna – where we can still get the numbers. It just seems to me like the people go where they want to race. The teams show where they want to race by showing up where they want to go.”

Rob Fuller – “I would say it’s fair. My concern are its lack of growth and the expense to operate. It’s not getting any less expensive to operate a race team. It’s actually getting increasingly more expensive. The way that the compensation goes doesn’t offset the increasing expenses, which is probably my biggest concern. That probably rolls into the lack of growth. You probably don’t have a lot of new teams coming on because the people that can afford to do this are intelligent people and they’re not going to spend their money in ridiculous ways. Sometimes when you look at the business model of the [Whelen] Modified Tour, it qualifies as a ridiculous way to spend money. … You look at the garage area now and it’s all family and friends race teams. There’s no major sponsors anymore and it’s frustrating. And when there’s no major sponsors that to me tells me that people that own companies or people that are put in marketing positions don’t choose the Whelen Modified Tour as a marketing option. There’s a reason for that. And I think as a group we have to look at that and figure it out. Why is it not attractive for a company to sponsor a Whelen Modified Tour race team? If we can figure out and fix it could help a lot of the issues.”

Dave Sapienza – “Comparing it to last year, you’re only looking at a handful of teams that are running it full-time. What could change that? The scheduling, I think the scheduling has a lot to do with it and the amount of races has a lot to do with it. It could be better. And a lot of it has to do with planning. The economy now sucks. I’m busier than ever, but the cost of living and race cars has quadrupled. … The price of tires, travel, all that. The health of the Whelen Modified Tour is in a slow, dying decline. They’re putting too much on the plate. I don’t know if they’re trying to outdo other series’ but they’re trying to do too much. I know they shortened the series this year a few races. I’ll try to make them all. But the factor is, travel. Travel expenses and everything else. They’re telling us we’re going to one-day shows. Well a one-day show is really a three-day show. For us to travel down south four times this year, do I mind? No because it’s like a little vacation. But the scheduling last year, it was a horror show. I guess we’ve got to play it by ear this year. … There’s still a lot of passion and a lot of talent that comes with the Whelen Modified Tour. Some of the other series’, they run great series’, when you’re there you can’t say enough about how they treat you and how great things are to be there. The only thing that really sucks with the [Whelen] Modified Tour is money. For me to go to [New Smyrna] Speedway … before I even leave [my shop] I’ve spent $10,000 before I buy tires or fuel or anything like that. … I try not to look at like that with money because if I started really looking at how much money I spend I would have got out years ago.”

Tommy Baldwin Jr. – “I think it took a year to reset. I think a couple of races of less traveling kind of changed people’s minds to do a little bit more. And you know how the economy goes, some people have a good year and then they can go racing again. … You can go from 15-17 cars to 23 or 24 regulars because of that. I know [Whelen Modified Tour series directory Jimmy Wilson] and NASCAR have worked really hard to help us with the tires for this year and I know they’re trying to save us some money. I don’t think we’re all the way there yet, but I think they’re getting closer. … I think overall the series is strong.”

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. Thanks for this series Shawn, look forward to reading it all.. appreciate the full tackle on the topics with excellent representation!

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