Column By: KYLE SOUZA / NASCAR – MARTINSVILLE, VA – The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is returning to Martinsville Speedway in 2020. Yes, you read that correctly.
In what will be the first event in 10 years at the ‘Half Mile of Mayhem’, the stars of NASCAR’s Modified ranks will showcase their talent around one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks. The event will take place on Friday, May 8, 2020, under the lights, as part of a weekend that will also include the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Saturday night.
Shortly after Martinsville made the announcement on Facebook live on Tuesday, social media was buzzing with comments from drivers, teams and fans surrounding the marquee event planned for next year.
“It’s a piece of history for the Modifieds and everyone knows that Modified fans and teams are all about our place in history in NASCAR. From a series standpoint, I think it’s awesome that we go back and I really love the timing of it,” five-time series champion Doug Coby, who has four previous Martinsville starts, said.
In his second Martinsville start in 2005, Coby was under the lights driving for Curt Chase, where he finished fifth.
“We packed the stands for that race,” Coby said. “And I think you are going to see a similar response, especially pairing us up with the Cup Series. You could just feel the atmosphere was really lively the whole time. Night racing is always better, especially for the Modifieds. I think everyone wants to see night races. It’s really special to be under the lights.”
“It’s huge for our series, there is a lot of history there from the early days in our series and a lot of our legendary races took place there. A lot of the legends of our series have won there and i think it’s really cool for the next generation of drivers to be able to go to Martinsville,” defending Whelen Modified Tour champion Justin Bonsignore told NASCAR.com. “Hopefully make this is a yearly tradition of going down there and having a shot at a Grandfather Clock.”
That infamous Grandfather Clock is going to be on the line for the winner of the MaxPro Window Films 200. The clock has been given as the winner’s trophy at Martinsville for decades, including when the Whelen Modified Tour visited the track most recently in 2010.
“I would say it is a unique piece that ranks in the top-five of all trophies,” Monster Energy Cup Series champion Kurt Busch said of the trophy last year. “It is something that every driver has on their checklist. They want to win it for their team owner, sponsors. Everybody is trying to get ahold of that clock. The two that I have are bookends in my conference room and are displayed proudly.”
Bonsignore is hoping he can win that clock. In his Sunoco Rookie season, Bonsignore finished second, coming up just short of winning in his first start at the oval. Even though he didn’t race there under the lights, he’s excited to see it play out. A year after winning eight of the 16 tour races and grabbing his first championship, he’s excited to hear the news.
“I’ve heard some stories that it was really cool to see the place lit up and race there at night because it takes it to the next level. I think it just adds to the prestige of everyone wanting to be there. There are big events for our series and we’ve been able to have success at Loudon and Bristol,” Bonsignore said. “It would obviously mean a lot (to win). We were close in 2010 and I think this is going to be right up there with the top events in our series. It’s cool that we are building back up to have these big events, I think the next generation of drivers coming up will do a good job of building on these traditions.”
Coby also wants to add the clock to his trophy case.
“The history of the clock, and how many people do and do not have a clock, it’s probably the most coveted trophy that we would race for in terms of what it means across the board, not just Modifieds, but some of the best Late Model drivers and Cup drivers have it,” Coby said. “To get the opportunity to go back there and chase a win, with a team that I know will be well prepared and capable of winning… I certainly think our Mayhew Tools team will be ready to go under the lights.”
Woody Pitkat, the most recent Whelen Modified Tour winner this season at Wall Stadium Speedway, also has previous experience at Martinsville.
“Last time I was there I didn’t qualify well but I led halfway and got the halfway bonus and ended up finishing seventh. I see that clock in Bobby Santos’ house when we go there for cookouts. It’s a great track,” Pitkat said. “Any time we can go to a track where we are featured with the Monster Energy Cup Series drivers, it’s always fun to go there and try to put on a show for them. You are going to have extra fans there that might not have seen Modifieds in the past.”
Veteran Eric Goodale, who first learned of the news when contacted by NASCAR.com on Tuesday, also has previous laps there, with three prior starts.
“Martinsville on the schedule sounds damn good to me,” Goodale said. “Martinsville is one of my favorite tracks, it was first ever race in a Whelen Modified Tour car. It’s one of my favorite tracks to drive as well — hard on the throttle and hard on the brakes. If you did a poll of a lot of the drivers in the pit area, I’d say drivers would put that track in their top three favorite tracks to drive.”
Much like the rest of the Modified community, Goodale is ready to feel the force of the car as he barrels off into the corner at speed under the crisp shine of Martinsville lights.
“I think it adds another dynamic to it when you race at night,” Goodale said. “That’s one of the things that I love about the Gander Outdoor Truck Series, racing under the lights on Friday night a lot. It makes it even better for the fans to watch. It’s probably one of the coolest trophies in our sport. I have a spot in my house it can go. I wouldn’t be upset if that baby comes home with me.”
In 35 previous Whelen Modified Tour events at Martinsville, multiple former series champions have been to Victory Lane, including Bobby Santos III, who won the most recent event in 2010 en route to the championship in the same season. Former champions Mike Stefanik, Mike McLaughlin, Jeff Fuller, Tony Hirschman, Ted Christopher, Donny Lia and Ryan Preece also have been victorious at the half-mile. Prior to the recent break in competition, Modifieds had competed at Martinsville for six straight years between 2005 and 2010.
Among active tour drivers so far this season, Jimmy Blewett is the only one to previously visit Martinsville’s Victory Lane.
“We are pretty thrilled with the schedule for next year,” Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said during a press conference Tuesday. “It’s going to be a great time bringing the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour back. Everybody asks us all the time, ‘when you are going to bring the modifieds back’? We are really excited about it.”
“When I heard about it, I really wanted to be part of today. This place means a lot, not only to my family, but the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour community,” Tommy Baldwin, a former Daytona 500 winning crew chief and current Modified car owner, said. “I can’t wait to get here in May and I can’t wait to be under the lights. With my dad, we had the pleasure of winning twice hear under the lights with the Modified.”
Ryan Preece, the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion and current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, was another driver happy to see the announcement.
“My first time at Martinsville was under the lights, and I remember when I was 14 or 15-years-old, and my father and I were racing somewhere in Pennsylvania, and we decided to drive through the night to watch the Modifieds there,” Preece told NASCAR.com. “I feel like the Modifieds have a great fanbase, and as long as everything plays out right, I see it being very successful.”
“When you win Martinsville, and get that clock, it’s a big honor. There are a lot of guys who have those clocks. It was special to me to get one. I had a lot of good runs there, and it’s a place I’m looking forward to going to. It’s another race I will able to do, and I’m pretty pumped about it.”