Tommy Baldwin Jr. has a lot to be thankful for this year.
His Tommy Baldwin Racing team found its footing on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, leading to a dominant season that ended Thursday at Martinsville Speedway with the team clinching the owner championship for the first time.
It was years in the making for Baldwin.
“It’s been in the works a long time,” said Baldwin, who clinched the owner championship when the green flag waved for the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200. “It’s something that, growing up, especially before I moved south, it was definitely something you wanted to accomplish. I kind of did it backwards, right? I won a championship after I moved down south and became pretty successful at the Cup level.”
Baldwin grew up in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour pit areas up and down the East Coast with his father, Tom Baldwin Sr. The elder Baldwin raced with the Tour for 20 years, earning six victories before dying in a crash in 2004.
His son carried on the family racing tradition, becoming a successful crew chief at the NASCAR Cup Series level. He later owned his own NASCAR Cup Series team, fielding cars for drivers like Michael McDowell, Geoffrey Bodine, Dave Blaney, Steve Park, Alex Bowman and Bobby Labonte, among others.
However, his heart was always with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
Baldwin returned to the Tour as an owner full-time in 2020, but it wasn’t until this year that his program hit its stride.
With Doug Coby, Jimmy Blewett and Mike Christopher Jr. splitting driving duties of Baldwin’s No. 7, the team emerged as the top program on the Tour this year.
“Obviously all three of them have very, very good talent,” Baldwin said of his drivers. “They’re all capable of winning races no matter what car they get into. I got lucky enough to get all three of them into mine.”
It started with Coby, who wasn’t originally scheduled to drive the No. 7 this year, when he drove to victory in the third event of the season at New York’s Riverhead Raceway.
Coby added two more victories in the No. 7 for Baldwin at New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway and Virginia’s Langley Speedway. In all, Coby made nine starts in the No. 7 and never finished worse than 10th.
“What I told Tommy from the beginning was if it’s just this race, or just these two races, then that’s awesome,” Coby said. “It turned into a few more over the course of the season and ultimately ended with a true team effort to capture the championship amongst all of us.”
Originally the plan for the season was for Blewett to pilot Baldwin’s No. 7 for most of the season, with Christopher making a handful of starts at events Blewett couldn’t make. However, when Blewett’s daughter got sick, Baldwin needed to find someone to drive his car while Blewett focused on his family.
Baldwin called Coby, who admits he was a bit surprised when Baldwin reached out about the opportunity.
“He just texted me, this is the situation, do you want to drive the car?,” Coby recalled. “He had, I want to say, a lot of easier options. He’s from Long Island, we were racing at Riverhead, obviously anyone out on Long Island could have driven Tommy’s car. I don’t know if it was Jimmy or Tommy or who, but they decided to call me.”
Despite missing several races to care for his ailing daughter, Blewett made the most of the events he did get to compete in this year for Baldwin.
He made five starts for the team, including Thursday’s finale at Martinsville. The highlight of those events was a victory at his home track, New Jersey’s Wall Stadium Speedway, on July 9.
“I know I was a part of it, but all the credit really needs to go to Tommy,” Blewett said. “I think all the drivers that drove the car this year can agree on that. Tommy and the team. Us as drivers, he made our part easy. The hard part is preparing the race car, having the crew, having the crew execute and having the car run every time you unload out of the trailer.
“Tommy and his team did that.”
The opportunity to be part of a championship-winning program is something Blewett admits he never thought he’d get to experience, making the 2022 season even more special.
“Obviously I’ve never won a Tour championship, nor do I ever think I will,” Blewett said. “I’ve never really run for points. I very rarely have. I always try to run to win and really never got the opportunity to run all the races. With Tommy this year and the other drivers, that gave me that opportunity to be part of something, be a part of a championship run.”
The final driver to take the wheel of the No. 7 this year was by far the youngest, 23-year-old Christopher. The nephew of 2008 Tour champion Ted Christopher, the young man from Wolcott, Connecticut, proved he has the talent to compete with the best the Tour has to offer.
In three starts aboard the No. 7, he finished no worse than third. He joined Coby and Blewett as Tour winners thanks to an impressive victory at Pennsylvania’s Jennerstown Speedway on May 28.
“It’s just been a huge opportunity that I tried to make the most of,” Christopher said. “All those guys know exactly what they’re doing. I knew that my job as a driver was pretty simple, to go out there and drive, because the car was always good and the team always had my back too.”
When you add everything together, the 2022 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season was a dream year for Baldwin, Coby, Blewett and Christopher.
Perhaps most importantly, Baldwin secured the legacy of the No. 7, which always carries the initials NY like the cars his father drove for so long on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
“To secure the legacy of the 7NY number and my dad is probably the biggest accomplishment of it all,” Baldwin said. “Growing up at a very young age, 8, 9, 10 years old with the Modifieds, and then you start working on them at that young age, then all of a sudden you’re crew chiefing at 14 or 15 years old with your dad and working on them.
“To come back and have all the pieces fall into place this year, it’s pretty special.”