RPW Column: The Champ Trail: NASCAR Whelen Mod Tour, Thompson, Stafford & More…

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – With the New Smyrna World Series now history and in the rear view mirror it’s time to look forward to the upcoming 2021 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series and other events on the schedule.

As of this coming Friday, Feb 25, only seven weeks remain before the green flag drops at Martinsville on Thursday March 8. Round two of the WMT will be the annual Spring Sizzler at Stafford.

Many of those in competition at Martinsville are planning on being at the Thompson Motorsports Park IceBreaker on Saturday and Sunday, April 10 and 11. Following the IceBreaker every Sunday in April will be busy as ACT and the open modifieds will be at New Hampshire International on the 18th and the Stafford Sizzler on the 25th.

The management team of the Stafford Motor Speedway continues to beat the bushes to secure sponsorship for its weekly competitors. The latest to come on board is Paradiso Insurance, located in Stafford Springs. They will serve as the official race sponsor for the Paradiso Insurance Late Model 50 and will also provide a $75 weekly contingency to the 3rd place finisher in the Late Model feature.

“We’re very excited to have an organization like Paradiso Insurance involved at Stafford Speedway,” explained Stafford Speedway CEO Mark Arute. “Chris and his team at Paradiso Insurance are a cornerstone here in Stafford Springs and are very involved in the local community. We are looking forward to the multi-year partnership with our Late Model division.”

Over the last few seasons Stafford’s Late Model division has continued its resurgence becoming one of the most competitive weekly divisions in the region. In just 14 events in 2020, 7 different drivers made it to Stafford victory lane with eventual champion Adam Gray leading the way with an impressive 6 win season. Shockingly absent from victory lane were two of the best in Stafford Late Model racing, Tom Fearn and Michael Bennett who have 56 and 20 career Late Model wins respectively.

The Paradiso Insurance Late Model 50 is the highlight of the calendar for the Late Models division marking the longest race of the year. Tyler Leary, Ryan Fearn, and Paul Arute are the last 3 winners of the extra distance event continuing a surprising trend of younger, less experienced drivers winning the only extra distance event of the season. Ryan Fearn and Arute both return to the Late Model division in 2021 and will look to grab their 2nd career 50 lap victory in the Paradiso Insurance Late Model 50 scheduled for Friday, September 3rd.

While New Smyrna competitors headed for the snowy north there was action aplenty in Florida for NASCAR’s top divisions. Because of the fact that the track at Fontana, California was being reconfigured an extra week was added to racing at the Daytona International Speedway but instead of racing on the 2-1/2 mile oval competition was on the infield road course.

On Friday night, the NASCAR Truck Series went into triple overtime on the Daytona Road Course. Ben Rhodes claimed the win to the frustration of Sheldon Creed. On numerous occasions, Creed and Rhodes were side by side for the lead. At one point, Rhodes pulled alongside into turn six, Creed then pinched him so much that it pushed Rhodes’ right side wheels into the grass. All night long, trucks were struggling to get into turn one on restarts. Late in the race, Creed wheel hopped into the corner. Rhodes then amplified the situation by getting into his rear bumper, slightly. Ben Rhodes won last week and now he has back to back wins at Daytona. 2 for 2 on the season.

Christopher Bell chased down Joey Logano on the winding Daytona road course Sunday for his first career Cup victory and a coveted spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. Bell won in his second race driving for Joe Gibbs Racing to give the team a pair of surprising victories at Daytona International Speedway. Preece finished ninth in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 on the road course Ty Gibbs, the 18-year-old grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, won the Xfinity Series race Saturday night in his first career national series start.

NASCAR’s top divisions will remain in Florida for another week as they head for Homestead this week.

During the mid seventies Jack Arute saw that costs were beginning to get out of hand for competitors and proposed that narrower tires be used on the modifieds. He felt with a narrow tire excessive horsepower was not needed. Modified racing was becoming a rich mans sport but the competitors didn’t wasn’t to hear it. In a few weeks the idea was abandoned, and it was back to the big tires and the professionally built engines.

The all-new book, The Modified Years At Stafford, by the Grace of God and 600 hp, is gaining interest and has become a must have in race fans and competitors library. Race by Race, Year by Year, it’s all there. Read all about it! Books are now available on Amazon.com and Coastal 181 (877-907-8181 toll free) and are available thru Stafford’s web site in their store. Order yours now. Makes a great gift!