(EDITOR’S NOTE: 51’s X-Factor is a new, weekly feature on Speed51.com that features opinions from 51 columnists on racing’s hottest topics. Rob Blount, the author of this editorial, is the Northeast Editor for Speed51.com. The views which are expressed in the following column are his own and not necessarily the views of Speed51.com and/or its partners.)
The 2015 season for the Valenti Modified Racing Series hasn’t even begun yet, but it’s already off to a better start than how 2014 ended. Whether it was on-track related, like the Tommy Barrett disqualification in last season’s penultimate race, or the series using three different race directors (one of whom being just 19 years old), fans and competitors were often confused and were left to question the stability of the series moving forward.
But with just two announcements this past weekend at The Racer’s Expo show in Massachusetts, things are already looking up for the 2015 campaign. On Saturday, the series announced that Warren Alston, a well-respected race official in the northeast, would be the race director for this season. Later in the day, they also announced that the June race at Lee USA Speedway (NH) will be twin 50-lap features rather than one 100-lap show that the series is accustomed to running at the track.
Alston brings stability to an area that greatly needed it. Whether he’s on the flag stand inside Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, behind the wheel of the pace truck at Wall Stadium Speedway (NJ) or in the pit area of Seekonk Speedway (MA), Alston is a familiar sight. He’s someone that competitors know all throughout the region. The respect that competitors have for Alston will have nothing but a positive influence on the series.
The move to twin-50s is another great call in addition to Alston’s promotion. Lee USA Speedway is a great race track that can produce thrilling action, but it has an extremely abrasive surface. As a result the drivers are often in conservation mode throughout much of the 100 laps in an effort to still have grip in their tires for a final charge at the end.
Last year’s race at Oktobefest was a single-file affair for 90 percent of the 100-lap show. There were two separate lines of 10-12 cars running at about half throttle all race long. The drivers just couldn’t race hard all race and have anything left for the end.
The sandbagging isn’t just a problem at Lee. It just seems to be most prevalent there. Barrett, for example, was known for it. He might be one of the best the VMRS has seen in recent years at conserving his tires to mount a late charge for the win. And he’s not the only one that does it. If you walk through the pit area at any VMRS event before the race and ask drivers what the key is to winning, on any given night they’ll tell you that you have to have tires left at the end.
But with this change we should see more of the great racing that Lee USA Speedway can produce. The drivers may not race hard all race long for both races, but they should race harder for more laps throughout the day. That’s a win-win for both competitors and short track racing fans attending the event.
The only way this announcement could be even better is if it was for every single event on the schedule instead of just one. Imagine having the possibility of seeing the Barrett-Todd Szegedy battle at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) or the Justin Bonsignore/Rowan Pennink/Richard Savary/Norm Wrenn madness at Seekonk twice in one night.
The Valenti Modified Racing Series can and often does produce some of the best racing action in the northeast. 2014 was a rough year for the series, but you have to give credit when credit is due. These decisions are smart ones. 2015 may be young, but the series already seems to be firing on all cylinders.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor -Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com