Justin Bonsignore started the 2020 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season with a win at Jennerstown Speedway (PA) Sunday, just like he ended the 2019 season with a win at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT). The winning feeling was an unorthodox one on this occasion, in front of silent grandstands, but it's a win that brought him one step closer to one of his Long Island heroes.
Bonsignore discussed the emotions of returning to racing Monday morning on Speed51’s “The Bullring,” sharing what it was like to get back to the track after more than eight months without a Whelen Modified Tour event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think, from the whole garage area, everyone was excited to get back to the racetrack,” said Bonsignore. “It’s been a long time since October when we last raced, I haven’t even seen most of the crew guys through this. It was good to get back. The Modified Tour garage is a close-knit group of guys, we all get along pretty well.”
While it was the first race back for the series, fans were not permitted for the event at Jennerstown Speedway.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t have fans, which is tough right now. Our next race, which is going to be at White Mountain on Fourth of July, will have fans, and that will be good for our series.”
That created a strange moment when Bonsignore climbed out of his car in victory lane, expecting the roar of a passionate crowd only to be greeted by empty grandstands.
Bonsignore compared the feeling to the reaction he saw from Kevin Harvick after he won the first NASCAR Cup Series race since the pandemic at Darlington Raceway.
“When Harvick got out of the car after the first race at Darlington, he did the same thing and I thought, ‘That was weird.’ But now I can understand, you get out, look up, and there’s nobody. It’s dead silent. It’s something I will remember for a long time, but it’s cool to get back racing and get back to winning.”
Fans or no fans, Bonsignore added another impressive trophy to his Modified career. The Holtsville, New York driver now has 27 career Whelen Modified Tour wins, placing him just behind a fellow Long Island native, Mike Ewanitsko, on the career wins list.
“We’re one win away from tying my hero, Mike Ewanitsko. I would love to do that. I talked to Mike yesterday, and he’s excited for us. It’s crazy to think I have that many wins, and hopefully I have a long career ahead of me.
“He’s actually a neighbor to my car owner, so he’s always chiming in and letting us know what he thinks and that he’s proud of us. ‘Total domination’ with a fire emoji was his response yesterday, so [it’s cool] when you can talk to Mike and be friends with him.”
Bonsignore’s rise to becoming one of the top Modified racers in the series and a former champion has created a unique dynamic. A competitor at heart, he believes he should rightfully be competing for wins and championships, but he is still hesitant to compare himself to past greats of the sport even as he nears their career benchmarks.
“It’s funny because Modified racing, we all have a chip on our shoulder. We all see what Ryan Preece does and we think we could all do that because we know we race against the best guys each week.
“At the same time, when we talk about the past and the guys who raced back then, we have that much more appreciation and respect for what they accomplished. I even raced against Teddy [Christopher] and Mike [Stefanik], Todd Szegedy and a lot of those guys from the past generation, and they were whooping our butts when we came in. To us, they were the guys we had to beat and we had to respect them.
“You know how hard it is to win one race in this series, let alone a championship. I don’t like to compare generations, with the different rule sets and everything like that. I just have an appreciation and respect for their accomplishments.”
Fans can watch more of Bonsignore’s interview on Speed51’s “The Bullring” by clicking here.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo