One-day shows, more southern races, and a new contingency sponsor are all on the way in the 2021 Whelen Modified Tour season.
And it all finally gets started two weeks from Thursday, when the ground-pounders head south to Martinsville Speedway.
This season’s schedule consists of 14 races, beginning at Martinsville and ending in September at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway. Stafford will also host the tour two other times.
There are return trips to New York’s Riverhead Raceway and Oswego Speedway after a one-year hiatus from each track, and the tour heads to Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Maine for the first time since 2005. Lancaster Speedway in upstate New York hosts a race for the first time.
In addition to Martinsville, there are two other national series combination weekends: New Hampshire Motor Speedway will again be home to a race in July, and in September, the Tour goes back down to Virginia to Richmond Raceway.
Getting both Martinsville and Richmond on this year’s schedule was enormous for Tour director Jimmy Wilson.
“Ever since I became the series director for the Whelen Modified Tour back in 2013, all I’ve heard from our competitors is ‘we’ve gotta get to Martinsville, we’ve gotta get to Richmond’ ”
“A big win for us was going to be at least getting one of those tracks. To get both of them back on the schedule in the same year, it’s huge,” Wilson said. “I think it’s going to be a huge shot in the arm to Modified racing down in the South.”
It’s no secret that racing is expensive both in dollars and time. With that in mind, the decision was made this year for all Tour events to be one-day shows. That’s been done with the race teams in mind.
“The vast majority of our teams are made up of volunteer crew members and people that work a day job, Monday to Friday, nine to five,” Wilson said. “You just can’t bring them in and go to a race track and sit there for a couple free days, so between that and the travel to some of these races, we needed to make sure we did everything that we possibly could to make it easier for these teams to get to the track.”
Just because teams are only at the track for one day, however, does not mean the end of practice and qualifying. Both remain in the plans for the Tour to carry out at every race in 2021.
“We have to have a mechanism to set the field in as consistent a procedure as you can,” Wilson said. “With the different tracks that we go to, you have to have a way to set the field. We could have 35 cars show up for a 28-car starting field and 31 cars show up for a 32-car starting field. That’s why we’ve tried to cut the time back to the race track but still keep that qualifying mechanism in there so the competitors’ destiny is determined on the race track by their performance.”
The list of sponsors returning to the Tour in 2021 is even stronger than a year prior.
The Whelen Winner of the Race award maintains its $3,500 prize from the prior three years, awarding the winner at most races more than $10,000.
Mayhew Tools returns to sponsor the Tour Pole Award for the third straight season. The Tour even added a new contingency sponsor this year in E3 Spark Plugs.
“To come off of the 2020 Tour season with what it was and have strong car counts, to post and pay the awards that we did last year, it’s a great thing to have and continue to build year after year after year and show the strength in Modified racing,” Wilson said. “The impact that various companies took across the board, the fact that they see the value of the exposure they get through the platform that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has to offer is huge.”
Despite an abbreviated schedule, 52 different competitors ran in 2020 — with 15 competing in all nine events. There were five different winners and 18 drivers recorded a top-five finish.
In eight seasons as Whelen Modified Tour director, 2020 brought challenges unlike any Jimmy Wilson had ever faced. Now that the year is in the rearview mirror, he and the Tour field can look forward to what will be a more normal 2021.
“It’s what all of us collectively do with getting to the other side of COVID-19, getting as many fans back into the grandstands again, competitors back to the race track,” said Wilson. “Just getting back to what we’re accustomed to seeing, and that’s full grandstands, spectators screaming and hollering, having a great time, and that’s what I hope to see by the time we get to the end of the 2021 season.”
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season gets underway April 8 with the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 200 at Martinsville.