The Icebreaker at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park is just days away, and that means so too is a new NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season. This year we have some familiar faces in new places, some completely new faces and even some new race tracks.
With that said, we here at Speed51.com powered by JEGS decided to do the hard work of keeping track of all these changes so that you fans don’t have to.
Drivers Expected to Run Full Time:
01 – Melissa Fifield: Fifield has been crowned the Most Popular Driver of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour the last two years. She is back with her family team for her third year on the Tour.
2 – Doug Coby: The Champ is back with the same MSIII Racing team that he’s won the championship with the last two years. He and crew chief Phil Moran are looking to make Coby the first driver in NWMT history to win three straight championships.
3 – Rowan Pennink: In a move that surprised many, Pennink has left his family-owned No. 93 team to become the new pilot of the famous Boehler Racing Enterprises “Ole Blue.” Pennink was set to make his debut in the car in a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race at Concord Speedway, but rain put a stop to those plans. Pennink is a two-time winner on the Tour with his most recent win coming at the World Series in 2013.
4 – Jimmy Blewett: The Mystic Missile has a new pilot for 2016. “Showtime” Jimmy Blewett was announced as the new driver of Bob Garbarino’s No. 4 Modified just a few days before the Icebreaker in typical Bob Garbarino fashion. The Mystic Missile scored a big win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last season with Todd Szegedy behind the wheel. Blewett’s last NWMT win came in 2009 at Stafford Motor Speedway.
8 – Donny Lia: The two-time champion is returning to the Mark Sypher-owned Modified for his second season with the team. Lia went winless in 2015 with the team. His last win came in 2013 at the Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) Fall Final when he was still driving Bob Garbarino’s Mystic Missile.
9 – Chase Dowling: Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Chase Dowling, will be in his familiar No. 9 Modified, but with a new team. Dowling was working with Jamie Tomaino last season, but this year he’s entered into a partnership with Bob Katon with hopes of running the full season.
16 – Timmy Solomito: The 2014 Rookie of the Year is back with Flamingo Motorsports for his second season with the Massachusetts-based team. Solomito and the team got off to a slow start in 2015, but started to come on strong at the end of the year with two third-place runs to close out the season. Solomito is still in search of his first NWMT victory.
18 – Ken Heagy: Last season Ken Heagy missed just one race and scored one top-10 finish. The Long Island driver usually races full-time and is expected to do so again this year.
36 – Dave Sapienza: The 50-year-old sophomore driver from Long Island is ready for his second full campaign this season. Last year he scored two top-10 finishes, and his best finish came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when he finished ninth.
44 – Bobby Santos III: Santos didn’t change teams this offseason, but he is in a brand new race car. Santos’ Tinio Racing team decided to make the switch to LFR Chassis during the winter time. Santos missed one race in 2015 and finished 11th in the standings with surprisingly no victories and five top-five finishes.
46 – Jeff Goodale: The cousin of Eric Goodale finished 15th in points and scored three top-10 finishes in his rookie season last year.
51 – Justin Bonsignore: The Holtsville, New York wheelman is back with his Kenneth Massa-owned M3 Technology team for another run at their first NWMT championship. Bonsignore swept the two races at Riverhead Raceway, but finished a disappointing 10th in the standings. Bonsignore and his team, led by Bill Michael, are looking to get back into championship contention where they were in 2014.
56 – Craig Lutz: Lutz has made starts on the Tour before, but never has he attempted a full-time season. The former New London-Waterford Speedbowl SK Modified driver is making the leap to full-time competition for this season, and is expected to contend for Rookie of the Year honors.
58 – Eric Goodale: Goodale went winless in 2015 in NWMT competition, but he already has a win under his belt in 2016 with a victory in February at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway. He finished eighth in the standings last year and is hoping to be in the championship hunt at the end of the year.
64 – Rob Summers: The Oswego Speedway (NY) Supermodified driver is moving back to Tour Modified racing this year. Summers will fill the seat vacated by Anthony Nocella in the KLM Motorsports No. 64 entry.
82 – Ron Silk: After a year of running in whatever car he could get in, the 2011 NWMT champion seems to have finally found a home. Silk told Speed51.com a few weeks ago that he and Danny Watts have teamed up with hopes of running the full year. The duo have already combined for a victory this year when they won the Tour-Type Modified opener at New Smyrna Speedway.
89 – Matt Swanson: The 16-year-old Massachusetts native made five appearances last year and even scored a top-10 at the Fall Final at Stafford last year. He won a championship at New Hampshire’s Star Speedway in the Modified division in 2014 when he was just 14 years old.
99 – Jamie Tomaino: Jamie “The Jet” Tomaino has been a fixture on the Tour since its inception in 1985. He’s missed just five NWMT races ever and earned the 1990 NWMT championship. The Jet is expected to be back for another year of NWMT racing.
Drivers Expected to Run Part-Time
6 – Ryan Preece: The 2013 NWMT champion has moved up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series full-time for 2016, but he still has plans to run as many Modified races as he can. He will be at the Icebreaker this weekend, and quite a few more throughout the season.
07 – Patrick Emerling: Emerling has decided to scale back his NWMT effort for 2016. Emerling, from Orchard Park, New York, has said that he and his team are burned out from travelling so far to NWMT races that are mainly held in New England.
20 – Max Zachem: The 23-year-old Connecticut driver said he has plans to run just the Icebreaker at Thompson this weekend, and then “go from there.” Zachem said his tire sponsor sold his business, so “that makes things a little tougher.”
24 – Andrew Krause: Krause is a rookie to the NWMT this season. He’s been a fixture on the high banks of New Jersey’s Wall Stadium Speedway the last few years. After purchasing one of Buzz Chew Racing’s cars, Krause decided now is the time to get his feet wet on the Tour.
29 – Brendon Bock: The former Legends car champion at Riverhead Raceway said he plans on running part-time this year, but he’s unsure of how many races. Bock is currently a freshman at the University of Alabama, and that will pose a big challenge when it comes to racing once school starts again in August.
33 – Wade Cole: Cole ran part-time last season, competing in just 11 of the 15 races.
38 – Troy Talman: Talman is piloting one of Wade Cole’s cars in at least the first three races of the 2016 season.
75 – Shawn Solomito: The older brother of Timmy Solomito ran 14 of the 15 races last season, and he said that he and car owner and 1994 NWMT champion Wayne Anderson plan on running all but four races. They have plans to race at Riverhead Raceway every Saturday night. However, those plans could potentially change if they get off to a hot start on the Tour before the first conflict arrives.
85 – Woody Pitkat: Woody Pitkat finished third in NWMT points last season, but this year he will only be racing a partial schedule. Pitkat ran the last two seasons for Buzz Chew Racing, but his team decided that dirt racing was the place to be and will no longer be fielding a car on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. That left Pitkat in search of a ride, and he found one with Kevin Stuart. Pitkat will race Stuart’s purple No. 85 this year.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo credit: Speed51.com