Ryan Stone, Ken Massa

Ken Massa and Ryan Stone: 2021 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion team owner/crew chief profile

The latest dynasty in short-track asphalt modified racing is happening at the highest level.

Ken Massa Motorsports, owned by Ken and Janine Massa, rocketed to a third NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in 2021. Their titles have come in the last four years, on the heels of 19 victories on the tour with Justin Bonsignore as their driver.

The Massa family and crew chief Ryan Stone have become the unstoppable bunch with Bonsignore behind the wheel.

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Justin Bonsignore, driver of the #51 Coastal Fiber Chevrolet, after practice during the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Virginia on September 10, 2021. (Ryan M. Kelly/NASCAR)
Justin Bonsignore, right, and Ryan Stone, left, prepare the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 150 at Richmond Raceway on Sept. 10, 2021. (Ryan M. Kelly/NASCAR)

In 2017, Ken Massa and Bonsignore spoke with Stone, who at the time was working with JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. They convinced Stone to move back north less than a decade after he served as the car chief for Ron Silk on his Whelen Modified Tour championship run in 2011.

The move catapulted the team to the top of the series, as they’ve been in contention to win what feels like every single race since. In 2021, they earned two wins, 11 top fives and 12 top 10s.

“We had just moved on from our crew chief, and we were kind of doing it with someone filling in with just some track support,” Massa said of the end of the 2017 season. “Justin and I talked and decided we couldn’t keep doing what we were doing if we wanted to be successful. We looked at the last 10 or 12 years of crew chiefs and there were a few names, but not many.

“Ryan Stone’s name came up. He had moved his entire life down south and had no ties back to Connecticut to come back here. I talked him into coming to work for me, and we got a shop set up, and he moved. I knew Justin could drive; I’ve always felt that way. I never thought he was the problem. I thought what I was giving him to work with was the problem.

“Ryan was the biggest missing piece, and once it came together, the rest is history.”

Stone’s story is one of desire for modified racing.

In the offseason of 2017, Stone had already been there and done that — not as a crew chief, but as car chief. Most crew chiefs at the short-track level would give up so much to reach the NASCAR national series, like Stone had done. Working for JR Motorsports was a dream come true.

But Stone knew the time was right for a return to one of his passions and to chase a title with a team he knew could get the job done.

“I experienced what it was like at the national series level at the end of the year, when they have layoffs and there are unknowns with drivers and sponsors,” Stone said. “Your job at that level depends on one move from a sponsor, driver or car owner. One move could eliminate the team.

“Looking back, when I realized I was 700 miles from home and by myself and away from modified racing with my friends, that got me back home. When Ken called, it was an opportunity for me to keep racing, working on cars and be with my friends.

“Ken allows me to run the day-to-day of his race team. He lets me make the decisions and do what I think is best. Ken lets the players that are on his team play in their own role. He doesn’t micromanage everything. He works hard to make sure we have everything we need to race at this high-level, but he lets everyone do their job.”

Justin Bonsignore, driver of the #51 Phoenix Communications Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NAPA Fall Final for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford, Connecticut on September 25, 2021. (Ryan McBride/NASCAR)
Ryan Stone, far left, Justin Bonsignore, left of trophy, and Ken Massa, right of trophy, celebrate winning the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship after the NAPA Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford, Connecticut, on Sept. 25, 2021. (Ryan McBride/NASCAR)

The Ken Massa Motorsports team is the latest to take control of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Since the tour’s modern era began in 1985, few drivers and teams have been able to accomplish what they have.

Mike Stefanik has seven championships, but he did it with multiple car owners. Tony Hirschman, who has five titles, also accomplished his goals with different car owners. In the middle of those two series greats is six-time champion Doug Coby, who may be older than Bonsignore but has seen similar success in the present era.

Coby, after winning the title with Wayne Darling as car owner in 2012, switched owners and moved to Mike Smeriglio Racing. In 2014, they won their first title together and followed it up with five more titles over the next six years. At the time, they were at the top of the series, and everyone was trying to chase them. With crew chief Phil Moran on his side, Coby was the dominant force, winning races/championships and showcasing why he was going to go down as one of the all-time greats.

Justin Bonsignore, driver of the #51 Phoenix Communications Inc. Chevrolet, talks with a member of his crew during practice before the GAF Roofing 150 presented by Riverhead Building Supply for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Connecticut on August 6, 2021. (Adam Richins/NASCAR)
Justin Bonsignore and crew chief Ryan Stone talk during practice before the GAF Roofing 150 presented by Riverhead Building Supply at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, on Aug. 6, 2021. (Adam Richins/NASCAR)

When Bonsignore, Massa and Stone got together in 2018, they found immediate success, winning eight races and the title. However, a year later, Coby showed he wasn’t done, capturing a title in the final year of Smeriglio Racing, before Mike Smeriglio retired.

That left Coby on an island, so he started his own team — Doug Coby Racing — with which he has captured three wins over the last two years. In a weird way, Coby is now chasing Bonsignore, much like Bonsignore was chasing Coby in the middle of the last decade.

It’s all part of the flow of racing at the modified level, but from a fan’s perspective, it’s all about historic numbers and historic drivers.

Crew members of Justin Bonsignore, driver of the #51 Phoenix Communications, Inc. Chevrolet, push the car to weigh-ins prior to the Nu Way Auto Parts 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at New York International Raceway Park in Lancaster, New York on July 31, 2021. (Bryan Bennett/NASCAR)
Crew members push Justin Bonsignore’s No. 51 Phoenix Communications, Inc. Chevrolet to weigh-ins prior to the Nu Way Auto Parts 150 at New York International Raceway Park in Lancaster, New York, on July 31, 2021. (Bryan Bennett/NASCAR)

“It’s cool to be part of history, and it’s really all you can hope for is to have someone trying to chase you down while you’re at the top,” Coby said. “Their journey was a lot different than mine. Justin’s journey to be a three-time champion is with one car owner. Ryan Stone is super smart, and he made a winning combination for them with the team they already had in place.

“You have to have the whole team, and that’s what Stone is good at. His guys are invested in the group, and they have the whole package. It’s fun, but frustrating to be on both sides of history. You chase for so long, and that’s what makes winning it so exciting. Between different crew chiefs, car chassis, some crew members leaving, they found the right combination, and they want to keep it going.”

Joe Skippon has been part of Ken Massa Motorsports for many years, serving as a jackman during pit stops and a crew member in the garage. Not only does the team have fast cars that contend for wins, but it also has what many consider the top crew on pit road.

“Ryan came into our team and kind of gave us that push we needed to all be better,” Skippon said. “We had the talent and the equipment, and he came in with a great mindset, and his leadership skills, and that took us to that next level. I’m just grateful to be part of the team.

“Ken and Janine Massa give us everything we need for success. Our team has been together for so long, and we are more of a family than just a team. The history we’re creating is something unreal to think about, but when Monday comes, all of us crew guys are regular guys that go back to our full-time jobs.”

In 2022, Bonsignore has a chance to make even more history. He could become just the second driver in series history (Coby) to win three consecutive titles. His fourth championship overall would put him just three away from Stefanik on the all-time list.

Bonsignore shows no signs of slowing down, and neither does the team.

Justin Bonsignore, driver of the #51 Coastal Fiber LLC Chevrolet, during the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 200 for the Whelen Modified Tour at Martinsville Raceway in Martinsville, Virginia on April 8, 2021. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
Justin Bonsignore, driver of the No. 51 Coastal Fiber LLC Chevrolet, in action during the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 200 at Martinsville Raceway on April 8, 2021. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

“I push my guys to stay focused and realize that there are other teams that are coming after us — just like we did in 2018,” Stone said. “We put what we thought we needed together to try and beat Coby and their group, and now we are the group everyone is shooting for. What Ron Silk, Tyler Haydt and his team are doing, they are going to be strong next year. Who would have thought Patrick Emerling was going to push us to the brink in the title battle?

“There are so many other cars that could be there. We can’t focus on just one or two cars. We have to beat everyone. I think the schedule for next year is diverse, and it’s going to show the depth of our team.

“That’s the hardest part of all of this; all of us in the garage have the same cars, tires, fuel, parts. We follow the same rulebook. The people on the team make the difference, and we have the people.”

Ken Massa agrees, and he is driven more than ever to keep it going.

“Justin is pretty young in comparison to someone like Coby, but whatever the number is where he races until, the biggest hold-up would be the team in stopping this run,” Massa said. “The team is aging along with Justin. If we keep adding one or two people to help, as long as we can keep it together, there is no reason why Justin can’t race until he’s 50. It’s amazing what we have done, and what we can do going forward is there.

“This is not about me. It’s about the team — Justin’s success, Ryan, and all of my guys. I want the team to go down in history. If it all continues like this, I’ll do it until I’m in the grave.”