Story By: KYLE SOUZA / NASCAR – ONTARIO, NY – Can he avoid the sophomore slump? Time will tell, but Tommy Catalano is certainly hoping he can.
The Ontario, New York, native won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour last year on the strength of two top-10 finishes, and he is hoping to take his family-owned operation to the next level in 2019.
“That was pretty huge for us, especially going into it, we were the underdogs. We were just the small local guys,” Catalano said. “To have our moments that we ran with the big guys, it was really huge. At the end of the year, I was thinking to myself that my goal was to go to the races and finish inside the top-15 and make all the laps — and we did that 95% of the time.”
He’s no stranger to success in racing. He won countless NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track championships before taking his talents to the Whelen Modified Tour, and in just his first Tour season, he won the Rookie of the Year in convincing fashion.
Now the goals are going to be even more difficult for him to complete going forward. He will be back on the Whelen Modified Tour for the entire 17-race slate in 2019, but now, he’s going after wins, and he has a veteran helping him chase the goal.
“Hopefully we can build on it,” he said of last year. “We will see exactly what we have and what we don’t have. We have Tommy (Baldwin) helping us, so hopefully between all that, we should be able to start the year off on a good note.”
Catalano purchased a brand new Troyer TA3 chassis over the offseason and is looking forward to letting it hit the track in Whelen Modified Tour competition. However, that car won’t hit the pavement for the opener at Myrtle Beach Speedway on March 16.
Instead, he will bring a car back to South Carolina that has already been to Victory Lane at the .538-mile oval last year — in November — as part of a Modified race at the Myrtle Beach 400.
“That’s going to be huge for us to go back there,” Catalano said. “The car that we won with at Myrtle Beach is shelved, up in the air, and sitting pretty, because we are going to take it back there just where we left with it.”
But, before the Whelen Modified Tour season gets underway, Catalano is competing in some Tour Type Modified action at New Smyrna Speedway as part of the 53rd annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing.
He finished towards the back of the field on night one after a mechanical issue, but rebound to a fifth-place finish on Tuesday after starting from the outside pole and leading laps.
“We’ve been struggling a bit with mainly some gremlins, but I don’t think it’s the car, it’s just those gremlins you get. That’s why we come down here,” he said. “It’s a little family vacation and we can test and get all of the gremlins out of the cars. We don’t have to go to Myrtle Beach and be at that first race and waste it chasing gremlins. It’s about getting everything set and ready to go.”
Ask him what he feels like are realistic goals are for this year and the answer won’t surprise you. He is hoping to contend for wins and leave each race with more and more confidence.
“I think we are ready to go. We are going to hammer down hard. We have a lot of good guys behind us, with Tommy helping, between all of it, I’m sure we will have our moments where we will be hanging our heads, but the second year on the Tour, everyone is going to have those days. If we can just move past those days, there are going to be better days ahead,” Catalano said.
“At the end of last year I wasn’t sure we were ready for wins, but after the showing at Myrtle Beach, I am really hoping to go there and have a strong run. Everyone keeps saying the Whelen Modified Tour guys weren’t there (at Myrtle Beach) but we out-did Matt Hirschman the second night and he is one of the ones to beat when the Tour goes there. That was the biggest confidence booster out of all of it so far.”