Tommy Baldwin Jr. remembers exactly when he fell in love with Modified racing.
A teenager at the time, the younger Baldwin was traveling with his father Tom Baldwin Sr. to a race at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway.
Age restrictions sometimes prevented young teenagers from entering the pit area. That wasn’t the case this time at Hickory, which meant the younger Baldwin was able to get a first-hand look at what Modified racing was all about.
“Back then you weren’t allowed in the pits until you were 16 or 18 in certain states,” Baldwin said. “We went down to, believe it or not, Hickory, North Carolina, to run a NASCAR race. It wasn’t a Tour race; back then it was 100 races a year for points. I was allowed in the pits, and that’s really when I got the bug.
“I still remember it to this day. That was kind of the turning point on me getting hooked.”
Fast-forward to 2022, and Baldwin remains infatuated with Modified racing.
His No. 7NY Modified has quickly become a fixture in Victory Lane with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour this year, with Doug Coby and Mike Christopher Jr. both earning victories in Baldwin’s equipment.
It’s just a continuation of the success Baldwin enjoyed on the Tour before he eventually moved on to the NASCAR Cup Series.
“People forget that the year I left (the Tour), Steve Park and I won seven out the last 13 races and just missed the championship by three points over Tony Hirschman Sr.,” Baldwin recalled, referencing the 1995 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season. “I keep telling everybody I’ve got over 20 Tour wins in my career, but I was gone for 20-something years, so it’s kind of hard for everybody to remember.
“It’s a great, great series. It’s so competitive. It’s no different than the Cup level as far as the competition goes.”
After making a name for himself on the Tour as a crew chief, Baldwin eventually made it to the NASCAR Cup Series. He spent more than 20 years at NASCAR’s top level, where he won five races as a crew chief with drivers Ward Burton and Kasey Kahne.
Included in those victories were triumphs in the 2001 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway and the 2002 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, both with Burton.
He eventually entered the ownership ranks in the NASCAR Cup Series, fielding his own entries for a variety of drivers including Michael McDowell, Geoffrey Bodine, Dave Blaney, Danica Patrick, David Reutimann, Michael Annett and J.J. Yeley, among others.
Success in the NASCAR Cup Series was limited for Baldwin, whose operation managed a best finish of third on two occasions.
Once Baldwin decided to walk away from the NASCAR Cup Series, he felt it was natural that he return to his family roots in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
“I wanted to keep racing. I didn’t want to stop racing altogether,” Baldwin said. “I just wanted to go have some fun. I didn’t really pay attention much (to the Tour). It was a 22-, 23-year span of racing Modifieds. So I really I didn’t really pay attention that much except for when my dad was racing.
“I got the bug again with these things, and now I’m full bore.”
As is the case for so many others, Modified racing is a family tradition for the Baldwins.
The late Tom Baldwin Sr., known by many as “Tiger Tom,” was a fixture in the Modified division. Before the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour was created in 1985, Baldwin raced Modifieds up and down the East Coast in pursuit of championship points in what was then known as the NASCAR Modified Division.
He would go on to win six NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events, with his last victory coming in 1996 at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway. He continued to race with the Tour until his death in 2004 following a crash at another Connecticut track, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
To this day, the Modifieds fielded by the younger Baldwin carry the No. 7NY, the same number carried by his father for so many years.
“My dad built the base for all of this,” Baldwin said. “He instilled the work ethic in me. It’s my responsibility to, eventually, instill that in my kids to keep this going.”
Baldwin looks at the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour as NASCAR’s working-class series, where drivers and team owners who work nine-to-five jobs can go racing against the best Modified competitors in the country.
He thinks that is why there are so many familiar names and race cars competing with the Tour each season, including his own.
“You’ve got to consider the NASCAR Modifieds as the working-class folk,” Baldwin said. “There are probably only two or three teams that have one guy full-time on it. All the car owners and crew members, they have real jobs, and they sacrifice a lot of time to come to these races and race.
“You grow up working on the car in your family’s garage or family shop, and that shop and that business and that garage stay with you your whole life. As your kids get older, they take over, and as their kids get older, they take over from them. It turns out into a long history of cars and car numbers and people.”
So what does the future hold for the Baldwin family and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour? That’s a great question.
For now, Baldwin will continue to field his own No. 7NY Modified for a variety of drivers. However, two of Baldwin’s children are currently dipping their toes in the racing world competing in Legend Cars during Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“We’re having fun with that, getting them acclimated and doing some racing,” Baldwin said of his two youngest sons, Jack, 18, and Luke, 15. “They’re learning how to drive those cars. They’re really hard to drive. The next step would be getting them into a Crate Modified or an SK Modified.
“I don’t know about going any further, but we’re having fun with that. We’ll see where they progress.”