Chilly Return: Whelen Modified Tour Icebreaker Numbers Continue Worrisome Trend For Series 

(The article below is a RaceDayCT column – The views expressed in this column are solely the opinion of the writer)

Ron Silk takes the checkered flag in the Whelen Modified Tour Icebreaker 150 Sunday at Thompson Speedway (Photo: Fran Lawlor/RaceDayCT)

When it was announced last fall that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour would return to being part of the Icebreaker card at Thompson Speedway, it was circled by many as one of the major improvements to the series schedule. 

Optimism for what returning to the Icebreaker could mean for the the series overall was flying high. It was one of those kinds of announcements that many around the community of Modified racing saw as something that could be a turning point away from recent negative trending for the series. 

What ended up being the reality of Sunday’s Whelen Modified Tour Icebreaker 150 was a slap in the face wakeup call that finding the traction needed to lift the series back to glory in Southern New England isn’t as easy as just throwing it on the schedule for a historic event. 

The Whelen Modified Tour brought a 24-car field for the Icebreaker 150 Sunday at Thompson. To say that number was a disappointment is an understatement. 

When it comes to Connecticut short track racing history, Thompson Speedway and the Whelen Modified Tour go hand-in-hand. Thompson Speedway has hosted the Whelen Modified Tour more times than any other track since the division’s inception in 1985. 

The 2021 season marked the first year since the inception of the Whelen Modified Tour in 1985 that the series did not visit the iconic .625-mile Thompson Speedway oval. 

The series returned to the schedule at Thompson in 2022, but the types of car counts for the series that Thompson Speedway fans had become used to did not return. 

After a season away from the track the series returned to Thompson on Aug. 17, 2022 with a 24-car field. It marked only the second time in 149 series events at Thompson that a Whelen Modified Tour event took place at the track with less than 25 cars. And then there were only 24 cars for the Sunoco World Series 150 at Thompson in 2022. The story got worse in 2023 with only 23 cars in the field when the series returned for its Aug. 16 event. The August event in 2023 set a record for the smallest starting field for a Whelen Modified Tour event at Thompson in series history. Improvement was slight for the series for the Sunoco World Series 150 on Oct. 8, 2023 with 25 cars in the field. 

It didn’t seem to make a lot of sense why the series could somehow get 35 teams for an event in New Smyrna, Florida in 2023, or 30 teams to a race at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H. in May 2023, but one of the division’s most storied and iconic venues struggled to attract interest from competitors. 

When it came to dissecting the numbers for the series in 2022 and 2023, defenders of the Whelen Modified Tour regularly offered up what could be termed as understandable reasoning. They’d say the August event was a mid-week show and mid-week shows are just harder for many teams to get to. When it came to the scant numbers at the World Series they would say it was the time of year when some teams had run out of money or just given up on chasing points. 

From 1985 to 2020 the Whelen Modified Tour was part of the Icebreaker schedule at Thompson (the 2020 event was cancelled due to COVID restrictions). So when it was announced last fall that the Whelen Modified Tour would return to the Icebreaker card in 2024, it was expected by many to be the event where the field would see increase from the lower than expected numbers from 2022 and 2023 at Thompson. This was supposed to be the event that sparked life back into the longtime relationship between Thompson and the Whelen Modified Tour. The built-in excuses were gone. It wasn’t a mid-week show. It wasn’t an end of the season October event. 

And there it was on Sunday, 24 cars. Two months prior, on Feb. 10, the series attracted 35 teams to New Smyrna Speedway. 

What made that 24 number on Sunday at Thompson look uglier was the lack of depth in the small field. Any objective viewer of the series could see that of the 24 cars at Thompson Sunday, at least 25 percent of the teams hit the track on Sunday knowing they had no realistic chance at winning the event or likely even competing for a top-five finish. 

Be sure of this, Thompson Speedway promoters Cris Michaud and Tom Mayberry are most definitely looking for NASCAR to show up at the track producing a bigger field than 24 cars. The Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series, which saw its event scheduled for Saturday at Thompson rained out, showed up at the track with 33 cars. The Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series may not have got to run their feature Saturday, but they won the weekend when it came to the head-to-head battle against the Whelen Modified Tour by showing up with a much larger field which also offered up a far deeper talent pool. 

Simply put, when a race promoter books a touring division for an event at the track they’re expecting big numbers and a deep field. 

The question is, if the numbers just remain stagnant or drop further, when do the Thompson promoters give up on the Whelen Modified Tour? Why pay the high-end expenses that come with hosting a NASCAR sanctioned event if the return on the investment isn’t there and interest from competitors is spotty at best? 

When people talk about bringing the Whelen Modified Tour back to its glory, most often recited as one of the keys to doing that is to get Stafford Speedway back on the schedule. 

After hosting the Whelen Modified Tour for multiple events annually for more than three and half decades, Stafford Speedway dropped the series from its schedule following the 2021 season. This much is certain, if Stafford Speedway management is looking 50 miles down the road to what’s happening with the series at Thompson Speedway, you have to imagine they’d be hardly motivated to pick up the phone to begin any sort of negotiations with NASCAR concerning bringing the Whelen Modified Tour back to their track. 

For three decades the Whelen Modified Tour anchored the Spring Sizzler and Fall Final weekend racing cards at Stafford. But why would Stafford want the Whelen Modified Tour in April when their own Open style Spring Sizzler attracts double the cars the Modified Tour would would likely bring there? Why would they want the Whelen Modified Tour at the Fall Final when the Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series has averaged just over 42 cars at the Fall Final the last two years? Why would they want to host a Friday night Whelen Modified Tour event at their track when the series can only attract 24 cars to a historic racing weekend like the Icebreaker? 

For the majority of the series’ history since 1985 Connecticut short tracks have essentially been the center point of Whelen Modified Tour competition. Thompson has hosted more series events than any other track. Stafford is second on that list, having hosted the series 135 times since 1985. Sunday’s Icebreaker at Thompson Speedway begs some real questions. Has the success of the Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series made the Whelen Modified Tour a non-player in Connecticut? Has the Whelen Modified Tour run its course at Connecticut venues? Does the Whelen Modified Tour need Connecticut venues on its schedule to survive?

The Whelen Modified Tour Icebreaker 150 on Sunday at Thompson certainly didn’t do much at all in steering any attention away from some of the negative trends that have plagued the Whelen Modified Tour in recent years. The Icebreaker was supposed to produce some hope of better days to come for the series. The only thing that happened Sunday was hope melting away even further.


  1. When you have Ron silk and Justin bond ignore dominating the sport, why waste your time and money.

  2. I think the NASCAR tour is in trouble. Just a few years ago I had no idea what Tri Track even was and felt weird going to their touring mod race instead of a NASCAR touring mod race. It didn’t take me long to realize the Tri Track product was simply better. The more I’ve branched out the more I’ve realized most other mod divisions have better racing than NASCAR. Stafford opens are great. The Racing Guys and MRS do great races. Probably most worrisome for NASCAR is SMART, which has a big schedule, attracts more cars, has a couple rookie phenoms, and has essentially resurrected southern modified racing after NASCAR absorbed and killed it a decade ago. Quite frankly it seems that NASCAR’s oldest division is kinda irrelevant. It’s not a stepping stone on the ladder to the cup series, and the best modified drivers are being pulled elsewhere. The only exclusive top driver they seem to have is Justin Bonsignore.

  3. Fast Eddie says

    I thought more NY and NJ teams might show up, but the weather certainly didn’t help. If the weather is good maybe Monadnock might be a better indicator.

  4. Nascar has to many rules. When I worked on some of the cars the officiating was inconsistent. The high funded teams could almost do what they wanted. Clearly breaking rules without penalty. Tri track evens out the field with weight. More teams are capable to compete for the win, and better prize money.

  5. Fast Eddie,
    I’m perplexed with as many people saying teams didn’t show up because of the weather. The forecast for Sunday was good all week. Yes, the weather was bad on Saturday, but the Whelen Modified Tour event was a one-day show, everything was on Sunday. Sunday was chilly, but hardly unbearable. I can’t rememeber ever hearing a team owner or driver say they didn’t want to participate in an event because it was going to be 45 degrees and cloudy. I’ve covered the Icebreaker in the past when there was literally snow falling and there was still close to 40 Whelen Modified Tour cars there.

  6. I don’t think it’s fair to say a weather forecast doesn’t affect things, even if Sunday was never that bad. Those races Saturday have to go somewhere if it rains.

    And there were 0 backup plans communicated, which isn’t a shot at management, as It’s not really possible to communicate those things ahead of time. I don’t think It’s unfair to expect Sunday to be a long day if Saturday was bad.

    That being said, I cant imagine it keeping away more than a car or two.

    Tour modified fans continue to have the most unrealistic expectations on car counts as any other fan groups.

    World of outlaws have had short fields this year. Cars tour has had short fields. No other fan group freaks out about mid 20 car counts than modified fans. its just the way things are these days.

    the 2 tour modified series had the best car counts of the weekend. Everything else was sub 20. Some were even sub 10. I don’t get why we are freaking out over the tour.

  7. David Camarra says

    It might have helped if the people running tri track on Saturday were allowed to run on Sunday. But nascar said if you even went into the pits on Saturday you were not allowed to run Sunday. If this is true it was a stupid rule.

  8. Fast Eddie says

    Sorry Shawn, I was trying to be optimistic. And you’re absolutely right, I’ve been at more than a few races with worse weather and better car counts as well. Although if I had a Modified team without an endless supply of $$ and could run with a hugely smaller tire budget, need less people for a race crew, and have less travel expenses, I’d be running Tri-Track along with as many Open and MRS races instead of chasing the WMT. I’m sure I’d still spend a similar fortune in the long run but at a slower pace, enabling more racing overall.

  9. Fast Eddie,
    No apology necessary.

  10. Thanks for the article Shawn. I imagine it was not the easiest one you have ever put together. I have many thoughts regarding this topic but since I type so slowly and don’t want to rile up the real good feller I will be as brief as possible.
    New normal is making it’s mark on racing worse than it has some other things in society. Promoters, racers, tech officials, and fans are not being replenished by competent younger folk and the seasoned ones are burnt out, wore out or not as enthusiastic as they were twenty years ago. Race tracks are disappearing with few if any new ones being built. Peach State and Concord come to mind for me. Thompson shares a similarity with these two tracks; that is size/speed. For fans the bigger tracks are more compelling with the sheer speed but for the racer especially in the support divisions an encounter with the wall usually means building a new car. Eventually this takes it’s toll on car count. This happened at Concord and Peach State. Dwindling car count breeds dwindling car count till it finally affects the top divisions; then comes the dwindling fan interest.
    I’m hoping for a good car count for the Northeast Classic. Is there an entry list you could publish? Such potential but the Magic Mile is certainly more taxing on equipment than Thunder Road. The promoters while not perfect, to me have proven they are savvy and in the top 10-15% in the country today. Even from 1000 miles away I appreciate their labor of love. If Thompson and the NE Classic don’t work out under their watch maybe it just ain’t possible given the new normal we are all faced with.

  11. The forecast for Saturday was bad, the forecast for Sunday was good, long before the weekend arrived.

    I doubt the weather was a factor on Sunday’s car count.

    Clearly weather was not a factor for Saturday’s car count, there were plenty. Could there have been more if weather was better?

  12. seekonk fan says

    I think the crowd size was worrisome. Definitely not the usual number of “campers”. And the stands were far from full on Sunday. Weather ? lets hope so. I think you can still have a good race with 24 cars. Thompson divisions with less than 10 cars not so much.

  13. Is it Nascar or Thompson? May be a little of both. It’s an expensive tour to run. Thompson doesn’t have a Modified division, or hasn’t in a while or runs SK’s like Stafford does. Nascar seems to pick tracks now, that can pull cars from local divisions, like some of the new tracks on the schedule or old ones like Stafford and Riverhead. I am sure Riverheads a tough destination for teams to go to and what saves them is they have the locals. It’s a long way to go, it’s a bull ring so getting caught in a wreck is possible, so that doesn’t help the car count either.

    I was disappionted they didn’t go to Wall. It’s a great track, even though it’s beat up. Always packed.

    Tour Mods are expensive to run. One wreck and it can be done for the season. I think that is one reason why dirt track racing is making a comeback. Tour Mods, you get an hour practice, then qualify, and run a 100 to 200 lap race. Tires, gas, people, pit fees etc. Getting $500 for 24th isn’t worth it for some tracks.

    I thinks that’s why there’s a resurgence in dirt racing. You get 2 or three hot laps, qualify, run an 8-12 lap heat race, and maybe an LCQ of 12 laps, then a 30-40 lap feature. Williams Grove National Open this year for 410 sprints is 75k to win, $2k to start! There will be at least 50 cars, maybe 100 for that one depending on the weather.

    I will say car counts have dwindled across the board in many forms of auto racing. It’s an expensive hobby. It’s definitely not like when I was a kid in the 70 and 80s. But again, Mods then where junk/scrap yard put-togethers, versus the thoroubreds they are today.

  14. It’s all about the cost these days… The Mod Tour is big $$. The racers spent 1/3 of their budget racing and vacationing in Fla in Feb. by the 3rd race of season some of the lower $$ teams are running short on funds so they choose to wait for a shorter track or one closer to home. How many teams are planning on running the whole series? 10 maybe and that changes every race depending on wrecks or engine failures. There is no going back for the tour – the cost just keeps going higher every year less cars will show up because there are other tours that are less expensive. Just think if the Catalono’s stay home….

  15. 😷 😷 😷 darealgoodfella 😷 😷 😷 says

    But the SPEC engine was a HUGE cost reduction.


    So why is the cost to run NASCAR that much more that owners prefer to run Tri-Track instead?

    Correct answers only.

  16. The article is about car reason is lack of quality car owners. Garbarino barry bohler Mario cloce the list goes on.they where loyal to nascar right or wrong. Also lack of strong mid pack teams Ralph solhiem Baldwin leaty the asterisks more quality cars. Your correct today only 5 guys have legitimate shot to win back then 15 teams.

  17. Meant pasteryak brothers forgot about the fuller bros.

  18. Former Team Owner says

    Say it before and I’ll say it again. NASCAR chased away too many owners by making everything about the series a miserable experience. Remember, nobody is making money doing this. The best teams are losing money. People do this for fun, for a hobby, because they love racing. When NASCAR doesn’t pay enough to cover your tire bills and hotel rooms, and then they make the experience of being at the track awful, owners either stop doing it or go somewhere else to do it. Bob Garbarino, Chris Our, Eric Sanderson, Mike Smeriglio, Kevin Stuart, Ed Bennett, Tim Lepine, Danny Watts, Wayne Darling, Doug Coby, Eddie Harvey, Mark Pennink, the Pasteryak family, the Nocella family, the Blewett Family, the Carroll family. All quality team owners that have disappeared from the series in recent years. Look at that list and it’s easy to realize why there’s no cars left and no competition on the track.

  19. I’m a follower of ROC from around PA NY area. Yeah a step down somewhat but talent and history are there still. The Tour just thinks it’s king bee. But really losing Owego to gravel hurts our area. The biggest show I saw in last ten years is a ROC show at Chemung during cup time at The Glen. What I don’t like and others too don’t like is to many mod types. TOUR or SK or lower level termed mods.

  20. On top of it the race was terrible which was I’m my opinion due to the poor car count. Getting too redundant same 2-4 guys winning and look at the back of the field it’s ridiculous guys can show up be almost 2 SECONDS off the pace, still make the show.

  21. Former Team Owner, your resonse may not be the whole answer but is most certainly true. I know this for a fact, and a prime example is Buzz Chew. They left at a time when they were regulaly challanging for wins and titles, and went dirt racing….why….because the overall experience is much better. For starters NASCAR is all about NASCAR and that’s it. They are no longer about the teams or fans and it shows and has been showing for many years now. Example….the Busch North Series was an excellant and popular series in the North East then NASCAR thought they could drain more $ out of it and started having the teams travel further (Iowa???? Really????) and more often to the point that the series doesn’t even exist anymore, same thing happening to the tour. Don’t get me wrong I love the mods at New Smyrna, Bristol back in the day, Martinsville, Richmond, but at what point is it too much. Why are they not on the schedule more often for NH (retorical question….better racing than anything else NASCAR has on the track those weekends)?

  22. Fast Eddie says

    To answer Dareal’s question, let me throw this back out:
    If I had a Modified team without an endless supply of $$ and could run with a hugely smaller tire budget, need less people for a race crew, and have less travel expenses, I’d be running Tri-Track along with as many Open and MRS races instead of chasing the WMT. I’m sure I’d still spend a similar fortune in the long run but at a slower pace, enabling more racing overall.

  23. Art Barry. All y’all forgot to mention Art Barry. He was the earliest to walk away from the NWMT. Back when he left, the tremors of starting another touring series as an alternate to the NWMT got louder. It was then the MRS was born. Through a tortuous path, and add in TTOMS, Open Mod events, PASS/ACT getting in the fray, here we are.

    Many years ago, the pits were a huge party atmosphere, people hung out and socialized. Today, haulers are loaded, doors slammed shut and they leave as soon as they can. What happened????

    What Former Team Owner said sums it up. I’ve been telling all y’all for years, trying to get it through the thick skulls. 💀 ☠️

    Right now, the travel is absurd and a huge cost to the teams. Owners complained for years about the travel, multi-day events back when there was little travel. Now there is little racing in the home region and MASSIVE TRAVEL. And you wonder why high potential owners are walking away??? The SPEC engine is a disaster, forced down their throats. The built engine environment was so much better for the field. And the owner’s said, “We can’t afford these cost improvements anymore.”

    TTOMS gets good car counts because of minimal travel, one day shows. Is this too obvious????

    NASCAR pissed off Thompson and Stafford, and that was about 8-9 races of the season. Good, horsepower tracks. Now that Thompson and Stafford are no longer options, the NWMT has to fill those 8-9 race slots, and they have to travel to do that. COSTLY travel that made teams choose to stay close to home and forego the NWMT. NASCAR says they are trying to grow the series. Yeah, right.

  24. Suitcase Jake says


  25. Dying fan says

    Great article Shawn. The NASCAR tour is like watching the mother lion eat her cubs. Fuller said it best in one of your articles over the winter. There is no competition on the tour. If you can beat 2 cars you will win the championship. 2 cars!! If you can beat the 16 and 52 each week you will win the championship. It’s a shame and a joke. Thank you Shawn for having the kahunas to put the obvious in print.

  26. Camerissa says

    Good thought provoking article. When the tour had those good car counts they were the only modified series. If someone had a modified and wanted to race it was either the NASCAR tour or stay home. Now there are alternatives. And some of those alternatives are cheaper to run with less travel and more fun.
    I do think it’s not just the mod tour that has 25% of the field with no shot at winning. Everything from cup to dirt to late models to your local support classes have a quarter of the field knowing they aren’t going to win but are just happy to participate.

  27. Hillary 2024 says

    The ice breaker really isn’t the ice breaker anymore. Not when the tour season has already started elsewhere. The stands on Sunday were not packed like past icebreakers. Neither was the camping. Gas prices, food prices, everything is so expensive now. I’d assume more people are staying home watching on the streaming providers more than ever. It’s the “new normal”.

  28. Suitcase Jake is right about the Iron fist of Daytona. The first time that Bert Bodeen, Little Chad, and to a lesser degree Wes Lesterfield made a footprint at a Whelen Modified race an incurable infection began that has just about run it’s course. Everything besides the Modifieds that the aforementioned got near (Busch North, Winston West, Goody’s Dash, and the four Auto-Zone elite classes) is gone now. Not sure if they were acting on their own or just doing the bidding of Oz behind the curtain. If the intent was to destroy they did good didn’t they. If the intent was to help or bolster then they were under qualified idiots taking bad advice from snake oil salesmen like Carl Wegner and Gary Nelson. Either way the ship has sailed and the only thing left to do other than re-taking up tennis is try to find a nugget of interesting value in whatever is left. I can’t help but mention the ARCA series that is now just a shell of what it once was now that NU$CAR took over it some years ago. Snake oil ILKMOR engines hastened that demise.
    It was mentioned in an earlier post that the spack engine was shoved down everyone’s (owners, drivers, fans. sponsors) throats and it was. When it was first implemented complainers like myself were told 80% of people don’t know the difference and it would save the car owners sooo much money. That may or may not have been true but the 80% is a much smaller number of people now than it was around 07 for the Busch North and 2012 or so for the Whelen Mods. Complainer’s were also told “hey if you want to build an engine then just buy a kit from Wegner for $19,000 and assemble yourself”. When is the last time an engine builder and their family/employees showed up at a Whelen race? Yates people that get in free don’t count. It was also mentioned in an earlier post about the “party atmosphere” missing from the Whelen Tour. I’ve been racin since 1973 and firmly believe you cannot have a party atmosphere without the presence of at least two (four or more is better) spirited rivalries among engine builders. Do they still have the family picnics at New Hampshire every year?

  29. A guy who remembers. says

    What’s changed is you are No longer watching Stefanik, The Reg, Fuller, Fuller, Tony Hirschman, Magic shoes Mike, Hevron, Kent and many other Mod legends. We now watch well funded kids who’ve rarely heard the word No in life. Gee I can’t imagine why those of us that are 40+ have slowed our attendance.

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