Justin Bonsignore always knew that he and his No. 51 M3 racing team had the potential to be one of the strongest teams on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Bonsignore of West Islip, New York had displayed that potential on a number of occasions; however, prior to the 2014 season he had not been able to put everything together to prove that the team was a true championship contender.
Engine failures and other uncontrollable mishaps seemed to constantly haunt their progress and get in the way of becoming a team capable of contending for a championship.
Thus far during the 2014 season, Bonsignore and his team have been able to reverse their bad luck and fire on all cylinders as he has found his way to victory lane on two different occasions. He also displayed a high level of consistency and currently trails 2012 NWMT champion Doug Coby by just four points in the championship standings.
“Before the season started, we definitely hoped we were in this spot and thought that we were capable of it,” said Bonsignore. “Realistically, to get to this point of the season and actually be there has taken me personally by a little bit of surprise.
“We’ve taken days when we run tenthand have been able to get a second or third out of it. Last year, we’d run tenth and finish twentieth. We’ve just kind of had a lot of things going right so far and I hope it continues.”
Over the offseason, Bonsignore’s team made a number of significant changes that he believes has attributed to his success so far this season. After dealing with engine issues (most notably at large tracks like New Hampshire) on many different occasions in recent years, the Long Island native made the change to a new engine program over the winter months. He also made another big change by making the move to a new Spafco chassis.
“The engine was a big part of it,” Bonsignore told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We have reliability on a weekly basis now. When we switched cars this year to Spafco, we got a lot of support from Spafco themselves with the feedback they’ve given us. I run the house car on the MRS series for Spafco, so there’s a lot of seat time to be gained running the same chassis everywhere.”
Bonsignore also looks at the addition of his new crew chief, Bill Michael, for the 2014 season as a big step in the right direction for his racing program.
“It feels like Billy and I have gelled really well,” said the 26-year-old New York racer. “When crew chief and driver are on the same page and gelling things seem to go a lot smoother. On top of that, we’ve had racing luck.”
In addition to his success on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Bonsignore is also finding success racing the Valenti Modified Racing Series schedule for championship car owner Art Barry. With eight races remaining on the VMRS schedule, he carries a one-point lead over defending champion and fellow NWMT competitor Rowan Pennink.
“I’m not really sure what our expectations were heading into the year with that team,” said Bonsignore. “I knew we had good equipment and would have a good shot at it, but to be leading the points halfway through is pretty cool. I’d like to just be able to go into the last race with a shot at the championship and let the cards fall where they may.
“I don’t think either series will have a champion decided before the last race. Both series have shown that there are a lot of guys still in the thick of it halfway through and it’s going to come down to that last race.”
Entering the crucial month of August, Bonsignore is excited about what’s in store for both of his teams and hopes that he can come out of the month in the same, if not a better, position than he was in at the start of the month.
“On the NASCAR side of it, we have three races in twelve days,” said Bonsignore. “We’ll have a pretty good idea after Bristol before the next little bit of off stretch of what the points will look like. We’d like to go to Thompson at the end of the year with a shot to clinch both titles.”
Despite being in two championship battles, both currently within a margin of less than four points, Bonsignore won’t let the thought of “points racing” enter his mind. He goes by the theory that the best way to points race is to get maximum points, and the best way to get maximum points is to win races.
“At the end of the day, everybody goes to the track to win races, so we’re not going to necessarily points race at this time of the year,” said Bonsignore. “Maybe at Thompson at the end of the year if it comes down to it, but winning races is the best way to points race. If we can go out and get max points we will try to do that each week. If we can’t do that, we’ll just try to get what we can get.”
Traveling from state-to-state to compete in NWMT and VMRS events, sometimes within a 24-hour span, has been tiring at times for Bonsignore, but so far he’s been able to manage well and gain valuable seat time behind the wheel. He looks at his successful double-duty efforts as a great way to build confidence for upcoming races.
“Anytime you’re in a racecar it helps,” said Bonsignore. “Going back to some of the tracks that the Tour runs with the MRS car has helped us. I feel us winning the Monadnock Tour race, a very big part of that was from us getting a couple races there with the MRS series at Monadnock. Seat time is crucial at almost every place. You look at guys like Ryan and Doug and Teddy, they all run SK’s everywhere else. Rowan runs the MRS series as well, so I think every time you’re in the car it helps you.
“When you’re running good and winning races and competing for wins each week, your confidence level goes through the roof and you feel like you can win every time you strap in. Probably more than anything, it’s your confidence being so high when you’re running so well. I think that overtakes the seat time sometimes.”
In twelve days, starting with the NWMT event at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) this Friday, August 8, Bonsignore will compete in five different events in three different states. On Saturday, he’ll travel to Waterford Speedbowl (CT) for a 100-lap VMRS event before heading back to Connecticut on Wednesday for the Budweiser 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
He’ll make another VMRS start on August 16 at Seekonk Speedway (CT) before traveling to Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) for the NWMT/NWSMT joint event on August 20.
“August is a pretty crucial month for both series. There are a lot of races in a very short amount of time. Hopefully we can continue with some great runs like we’ve had up until this point.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo Credit: Rick Ibsen/Speed51.com