Tommy Catalano’s family has been racing since the early 1960s.
Some 60 years later, that tradition will continue as Tommy Catalano brings the family’s No. 54 car back to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for a full-season effort in 2022.
Catalano is no stranger to the tour, running the majority of the year in each of the last four seasons, including the complete schedule in 2019 and all but one race in 2018. Last year, Catalano wheeled the No. 54 to five top-10 finishes, a career-high total, but luck turned sour in the second half of the season.
After scoring five top 15s in the first six races of 2021, Catalano suffered four DNFs in the next five races — three from incidents and one from an engine failure at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“We tried to be as prepared as we could, and sometimes, some of the stuff that was happening (is) just completely out of our control, which, you know, nothing you’re gonna do about that,” Catalano said. “But obviously, we just kept pushing forward and doing the best we could.”
The 23-year-old enters the new year with a mindset similar to the one he carried through last season: Be ready for anything and maximize the opportunities at hand.
“Going into 2022, knowing how 2021 went, it doesn’t change much,” the third-generation driver said. “Just do everything we can to make sure that the issues, failures, etc. on our end is well maintained and that kind of stuff and do our best. Obviously, you can only control what you can control, but as long as you take initiative on that stuff, that obviously will help no matter what you can regain control of going forward and be able to set ourselves up to hopefully get all the way through the season.”
Catalano was born to be a racer. His great uncle, Joe Catalano, started what became the family tradition in 1960s as a modified racer in Upstate New York before letting Dave, Tommy’s father, drive for him years later.
“Through his career, my parents met at the racetrack, and it kind of just evolved,” Catalano said. “My dad’s brothers, they raced growing up, so it started, obviously, a long time ago (in the) early ’60s, and just kind of been something that everyone’s stuck with and followed through with and continued along the way.”
Amy Catalano, Tommy’s mom, will make numerous open modified starts throughout the course of 2022 alongside Tommy’s younger brother, Tyler, who also competed full-time on the tour in 2019. Being around the sport from such a young age, little else was ever on Tommy’s mind outside of racing.
“Growing up, going to school, that kind of stuff, it was, ‘I can’t wait to get home, work in the shop, go racing,’ all that good stuff,” he said. “Friends, other kids or whatever, they’re looking to go to parties, go swim in the pool or whatever. And for me, it was, I can’t wait to go do something that I called racing, whether it was sweeping the shop floor or racing the car.”
The family hails from Ontario, New York, and frequented Spencer Speedway, Holland Speedway and Lancaster Speedway’s New York Raceway Park on the weekly circuits. Being able to compete on the tour full-time in 2019 alongside his brother, especially carrying his great uncle’s No. 54 on the door of his race car, was a significant moment for Tommy Catalano.
“Especially being based out of Upstate New York, kind of away from everything else, up here, we’re oftentimes considered a little bit of a bigger team because we had a lot of cars and stuff,” Catalano said. “But you go to the tour, and honestly, we’re one of the smaller teams when it comes to funding and that kind of stuff. So to be able to say that we went, we did it, we made the whole year, that kind of deal, it definitely is something to be proud of.”
The season starts when the tour heads to New Smyrna Speedway in Florida on Feb. 12. The family began preparing their cars and equipment early so they aren’t rushing at the wire when the 2022 season actually begins. And while the competitive intensity is there, Catalano also carries a humble attitude into the driver’s seat, noting the goal right now is just to enjoy himself at the track and have fun.
“When we (went) to the tour last year, we got a few top 10s. Ultimately, my goal is still a top 10,” said Catalano, who finished 12th in the 2021 points standings. “I get people all the time, ‘Oh, your goal’s not a top five yet?’ Well, it’s one of them deals where if you can consistently finish in the top 10, you’ll eventually start finishing in the top five, just out of pure right-place-right-time type of deal.
“And the quickest way to suck the fun out of it is to have unrealistic expectations or expectations that can’t easily be backed. And not that you don’t want a challenge and whatever, but for us, to get a season where say 90 percent of the finishes are in the top 10, that would definitely be a step in the right direction for us.”