Story By: KYLE SOUZA / NASCAR – CENTER MORICHES, NY – Three years ago it looked like Timmy Solomito was first in line to take down champion Doug Coby on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
Solomito won four races in 2016, and followed it up with five in 2017 — coming just a mere six points from ending Coby’s reign as champion of the Whelen Modified Tour. When the season ended, Solomito and his Eric Sanderson-owned team were ready to pounce heading into the 2018 season, looking to build on momentum and come out of the gates strong en route to what he hoped would be a title run.
Things didn’t go as planned.
Solomito failed to visit Victory Lane in 16 Whelen Modified Tour races last year and even though he finished fourth in the championship standings, the campaign didn’t live up to his, or his teams, standards.
“It’s a humbling sport — there are days you are going to be on top and days you are going to be at the bottom — but that’s all part of it,” Solomito said.
Can Solomito draw to any specific reason why the team didn’t have the success they wanted last year? Maybe.
Originally, he took over for current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Preece, in 2015, and even though the first few years went well, he hit a rough patch last year, possibly because the team didn’t capitalize on a chance to get ahead of the game in the offseason.
“I thought to myself that I had some really big shoes to fill (when I took over for Preece). We started winning races, everyone was jelling well and we almost thought to ourselves that we had it figured out, so over the winter, we didn’t really try different things,” he said. “We went back to our same notes and thought everything was going to be the same, but everyone steps up and you’re still on your old technology and you get behind the eight-ball. It’s almost where we were. We had some races where we ran well, but we didn’t run where we were the last two years.”
As Solomito mentions, since racing is a difficult sport to accomplish your goals constantly, the Islip, New York, driver is ready to take last year and put it in the rear-view mirror. But, before the season gets underway at Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina on March 16, Solomito has already taken a leap into a new venture in racing — just not behind the wheel.
After years working for the Goodale family company, the 27-year-old is taking what started as some work he had been doing on his own and making it a full-time reality. Solomito officially embarked on a new challenge by opening Natural Design Concepts and Apparel full-time, where he specializes in wrapping all types of race cars and creating apparel for race teams across various different divisions. And that’s only the start of it all.
“My mom runs around hours endlessly that isn’t documented, she works for free. She has been behind 110 percent,” Solomito said of the help he had getting it off the ground running.
“I worked for the Goodale family, and it was a pleasure working for them for eight and a half years. I started a side company to make a little bit of extra money, and with the support of friends and family, I took a leap into my own company as of January 1. It’s really driven by friends and family. There have definitely been some sleepless nights but it’s a good feeling to know that you built something. I’m going to keep working on that, and keep focusing on the racing.”
So, with his schedule now stacked up right through to the season-opener, it wasn’t the easiest decision for Solomito to make when he planned a trip to Florida in February. But it wasn’t for leisure — as the No. 16 team went south to New Smyrna Speedway to compete in the 53rd annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, hoping to gain some momentum and find some new tricks on the setup under the hood. Before that, he also competed in two Indoor TQ Midget events during the winter months.
“Sly Szaban (crew chief) and the guys did a bunch of work over the winter. We are just working on the car trying to learn something to prepare for Myrtle Beach and the rest of the Tour schedule,” he said at New Smyrna. “You think an hour of time in a Whelen Modified Tour practice is a lot of time, but honestly you show up at the track with what you know is going to work. You don’t go there with something thing outside the box because you don’t wanna be so far off the pace.”
“You come down here for a week and you have some time to try some different stuff. As a driver, it builds that focus and builds the momentum going into the season. I also ran the Indoor car this year and I feel like that helped me. I felt like my reaction time is better and I’m sharper. It’s a lot of money and a lot of preparation and you can wear a car out in a week, but you almost have to do it now. Just when you think these guys can’t get any better, they get better.”
No matter what, as he enters his fifth season driving for Sanderson and the team, Solomito is jelling better than ever with his crew members. And he wants to prove on the track that those two years filled with winning were no fluke.
“That’s one thing I have to say about this team — we’ve had good years and we’ve had bad years, finishing fourth in points last year, for someone to say that it was a bad year, most guys would kill to finish fourth in points. These guys are great,” Solomito said. “They are very loyal people. They stick behind you. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys. The first day I sat down with Eric Sanderson, I could tell everything was done with a handshake, it’s not a contract, you don’t have to sign. It’s show up to the track and give me 150 percent and you’re in it for the year. Whether you are winning races or not winning races, people are going to talk. My guys stayed positive through it all.”
With the season just over two weeks away, Solomito is ready to get the ball rolling as he hopes to chase his first championship. The season will be a tough test for the New York native, but, he’s ready for the challenge. It begins at Myrtle Beach Speedway, a place where Solomito went to Victory Lane in 2017.
“I like when they throw new things at you,” he said of the 2019 schedule, which includes the addition of South Boston Speedway and Wall Stadium. “It gives everyone an even playing field when you show up to the track. I feel like we are already better off than we were last year.”