Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – BUFFALO, NY – With the COVID-19 pandemic plaguing asphalt Modified racing last season in New York, NASCAR is ready to bring the Whelen Modified Tour back to the Empire State.
Last season saw NASCAR’s oldest division race nine times in 2020, notably in the Empire State, races being canceled at Oswego Speedway and the traditional two dates at Riverhead Raceway in the Long Island area. The entire season, in general, was hit really hard compared to other NASCAR series, as nearly 50% of the original schedule was lost.
This year, The Tour will make three trips to Riverhead, two dates to Oswego, and an inaugural trip to New York International Raceway Park (NYIRP) in Lancaster, NY this July as part of a 14-race schedule, making the most trips to New York State since 1989 when the Modifieds raced seven times.
Jimmy Wilson, series director for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, spoke to the media last Wednesday while in attendance for testing at Martinsville. Wilson talked about Lancaster’s inaugural trip.
“Lancaster is a very nice facility and is a place we’re really looking forward to. It’s been a little bit more than a year before we finally got this put together. It’s a great half-mile racetrack; we’ll be able to make our pit stops on the quarter-mile on the inside of it. I really think the fans are in for a treat when we come up there in July.”
It helps NYIRP make safety improvements as they head into their 2021 Stock Car season, as they announced in January that Whelen signed a multi-year deal to become the official safety lighting supplier of Lancaster. The deal includes eight caution light fixtures around the half-mile track and new safety lights for the pace car and safety vehicle.
“Certainly glad that they were able to work out a deal with Whelen for the caution lights,” Wilson commented. “It always enhances a facility from that standpoint.”
Wilson also discussed on the media call about Oswego getting a second race on the schedule, specifically the June 12th date.
“For several years, we’ve been talking to the folks at Oswego about doing a second race up there again, with trying to grow the footprint a little bit, and get the Modified Tour branched back out into some of these markets, and Oswego is a great racetrack for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. I guess for at least three years now, we’ve had those conversations, and it finally all came full circle where we could do the two races at Oswego.”
Wilson also added that this is not considered a make-up race from last year’s Oswego race being canceled due to the pandemic.
This will also be the first time since 1989 Oswego has had multiple races in a Tour season. That year, “The Steel Palace” had four races. Besides June 12th, The Whelen Modified Tour will race during Classic Week on September 4th like they had since their return in 2016. Defending series champion Justin Bonsignore won the last Tour race at Oswego in 2019.
Finally, Riverhead Raceway in the Long Island region will expand to three Tour events, the first time they’ve hosted three Tour races since 1987. Bonsignore has won the last four races held there.