The ground-pounding Modifieds have been thrilling fans for decades, providing exciting racing up and down the East Coast, especially in the Northeast. Numerous NASCAR Cup Series competitors over the years have cut their teeth in the open-wheel cars, but those numbers have dwindled in recent years.
As such, Modified representation has been limited at times in the Speed51 Short Track Draft. The highest-ranked Modified driver in the 2019 Short Track Draft was Chase Dowling, who was selected as the 31st pick after a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season that saw his first career win and a second-place finish in points at 20 years old.
There is little questioning the abilities of Modified racers. These drivers manhandle the 2,610-pound, 600-plus horsepower machines around tight bullrings and mile-long speedplants alike. Whether it’s the quarter-mile Riverhead Speedway or the “Magic Mile” at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Modified racers are on the edge in some of the most intense cars in pavement short track racing.
However, those Modifieds have not produced many Cup drivers in recent years, which tends to bring the scene down as a whole in the Short Track Draft. The last time a pavement Modified racer cracked the top 20 in the Short Track Draft was 2015, when Ryan Preece tallied his second consecutive third-place placement in the Draft.
While Preece now competes in the NASCAR Cup Series with JTG Daugherty Racing, finding fellow Modified representation in the NASCAR garage is difficult. Martin Truex, Jr. briefly cut his teeth in the Modified ranks at Wall Stadium before moving south and pursuing wins in the Busch North Series.
It’s been many years since the Modified ranks had a significant influence in the NASCAR Cup Series, when the likes of Jimmy Spencer, Steve Park and the Bodine brothers were in the mix.
There have even been talented Modified racers recognized in the Short Track Draft as highly as Preece in the past, but they have not moved on to NASCAR success. In 2009, Matt Hirschman was the second pick of the draft, behind Brian Ickler. One year later, Bobby Santos, III was also the second selection, behind Chase Elliott.
Outside of a pair of NASCAR Camping World East Series starts (including a fourth-place finish at New Hampshire), Hirschman has remained in the Modified ranks to this day. Santos has six career NASCAR Xfinity Series starts, with his greatest stock car success coming in the form of two top-five finishes in seven ARCA starts in 2007.
Nobody would say they have been disappointments or “busts.” After all, Matt Hirschman is called “Big Money” for a reason, a moniker earned through countless triumphs in the biggest Modified races around.
However, they have not gone on to great NASCAR success, and in many ways the Short Track Draft acts as a predictor of that success. Because drivers such as Hirschman, along with the likes of others such as six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby, have been able to enjoy successful and lengthy careers in the mighty Modifieds, the notion is that many of those drivers will not get that “big break” Preece received.
A future influx of Modified talent joining Preece in the NASCAR Cup Series could influence voters one day. Until then, Short Track Draft voters will likely have a healthy respect for Modified racers while also passing them over for prime spots on their ballot in favor of racers with Stock Car or Late Model experience.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo