Tommy Catalano, driver of the #54 FX Caprara Chevrolet, looks on during the New Smyrna Visitors Bureau 200 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour during night 2 of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna, Florida on February 12, 2022. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
(Photo: Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

A different kind of normal: Tommy Catalano continues decades-long tradition of Modified racing

When Tommy Catalano was a school-aged child, he looked forward to Fridays.

Sure, most of us looked forward to Fridays during our school years, but Tommy had a different reason.

While Tommy was riding the bus home from school, his parents Amy and Dave would be riding in their race car hauler on the way to nearby Spencer Speedway in Williamson, New York.

“It’s a mile and a half, maybe a little less from our house,” Tommy said of Spencer Speedway. “You’d get home from school, and I would wait for my Grandparents. They would take me to the track with them. My parents, you’d be getting off the bus and they’d be passing you with the truck and trailer headed down the road to the track.

“That was kind of the Friday night routine.”

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The Catalano family has been involved in racing — specifically Modified racing — for decades. It may as well be a family tradition.

It all started with Tommy’s great uncle Joe Catalano, who began racing Modifieds in the 1960s in upstate New York. The racing bug was handed down to Dave, Tommy’s father, who drove for Joe years later.

Tommy inherited the bug from his father and mother, both of whom are racers. The third-generation driver is in the midst of his fifth NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season, which continues this Saturday night at New York’s Oswego Speedway.

Tommy Catalano, driver of the #54 FX Caprara, during qualifying the Phoenix Communications 150 for the Whelen Modified Tour at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on August 18, 2022 in Claremont, New Hampshire. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
Tommy Catalano, driver of the No. 54 FX Caprara Modified, during qualifying for the Phoenix Communications 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on August 18, 2022. (Photo: Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

It all adds up to more than 60 years of racing Modifieds for the Catalano family.

“When you look back on it, you see pictures on Facebook or even if you go to the race track and they have the vintage class and you look at some of the cars and you go, ‘Man, I can’t believe people raced these,’” Tommy said. “Then you think, ‘That’s where our family started in Modifieds.’

“It’s definitely crazy to think about how far it’s come and how long we’ve stayed in it.”

Historically speaking, the Catalano family is relatively new to the Tour.

Tommy didn’t make his first Tour start until 2018. His mom Amy made her Tour debut in 2019, his uncle Buck made three starts during the mid-2000s, and his younger brother Timmy has made 23 Tour starts.

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However, when one takes into account all of their local and regional Modified racing through the decades, the Catalanos might be the one of the longest tenured families in all of Modified racing.

“To me they are some of the coolest race cars,” Tommy said. “Growing up in my late teens I ran Late Models, Midgets, obviously the SK and Modified stuff in our family car. The Modifieds have always been, I don’t want to say a challenge, but they’re something that if you work at it, you get better and you see the results.

“Growing up, my uncles, my dad, my mom, the whole family, it was Modifieds. Where we’re from, if you got to the Modifieds, that was the premier division. That was the class everyone came to watch. That was the goal, to get to the Modifieds.”

Despite their short history with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, the Catalano family does have a special place in the Tour history books.

On Aug. 31, 2019, the Catalano family made history when mom Amy raced against her sons Tommy and Timmy at Oswego.

While that may seem like a unique accomplishment, for the Catalano family, it happened nearly every Friday night when they raced at Spencer.

Tommy Catalano driver of the #54 FX Caprara car enter his car during the Duel at the Dog 200 for the Whelen Modified Tour at Monadnock Speedway on June 19, 2022 in Winchester, New Hampshire. (Nick Grace/NASCAR)
Tommy Catalano driver of the No. 54 FX Caprara Modified, enters his car before the Duel at the Dog 200 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Monadnock Speedway on June 19, 2022. (Photo: Nick Grace/NASCAR)

“That was just normal,” Tommy said. “When you got old enough, you just jumped in. Mom was out there. That’s just what we did. Around here, it’s kind of what we do. When we went to the Tour everyone was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’

“We were like, ‘What’s going on, what’s wrong?’ I tell everyone all the time, ‘I wonder what normal people do on weekends?’ And they say, ‘Are you calling yourself not normal?’ And I say, ‘Apparently not,’ because to us that was normal, but so many people are shocked by it.”

The Catalano family will be racing against each other in the lead-up to Saturday’s Tour race at Oswego when they return to Spencer this Friday evening. In all, five members of the Catalano family are expected to be in action Friday. Four of them — mom Amy and brothers Tommy, Timmy and Tyler — will be competing in the headlining Modified division. A fourth brother, Trevor, will also be in action in the SK Modified class.

Oh, and there is a fifth Catalano brother. His name is Troyer, and he currently races Go Karts.

The future of the Catalano family looks bright, especially with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

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While Tommy has yet to win a Tour race, he’s come close. This season he nearly won at Richmond Raceway, leading a race-high 69 laps before Justin Bonsignore passed him for the lead and eventually the victory with 11 laps left.

At 24 years old, Tommy should have plenty of opportunities to break into Victory Lane with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

If all goes as planned, he hopes to continue racing Modifieds for the rest of his life and then hand the tradition down to his own children.

Until then, he plans to continue making memories and adding to the legacy of the Catalano racing family. As long as he’s having fun, he says, he’ll continue racing Modifieds.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to ride home in that truck and still enjoy it, because if you’re not enjoying it, it’s another job,” Tommy said. “At that point, it’s not worth it.”