Tommy Catalano was poised to have a busy this weekend between the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Stafford Speedway on Saturday and the Race of Champions 250 at Lake Erie Speedway on Sunday. The New York driver has split time between the two series in recent years, and with schedules for both series changing rapidly due to the pandemic, conflicts were bound to happen.
However, his team decided to shrink down that busy weekend to just one race – the 70th Annual Race of Champions 250.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to be a little bit easier for us. We’re actually not going to run Stafford this weekend,” Catalano announced on Speed51’s “The Bullring.” “We had some issues at Loudon that put us behind the eight-ball again so we decided to put all of our eggs into one basket. The past few years we’ve done the double, we’ve gone back and forth because they’ve made it to where it wasn’t on the same day.
“It’s been one of them deals where when we leave Sunday every saying said we’ve spread ourselves so thin by the end of the weekend, everyone’s wore down and tired out. The first year we stopped in a truck stop parking lot and had all the cars unloaded, switching them over and getting ready to go. By the time Sunday night came around, nobody wanted to drive home for work Monday.”
The entire Catalano family have been mainstays on the RoC circuit for several years, and Tommy is no different. He first ran with the series back in 2015 and has competed with RoC ever since in many different divisions, even scoring a Race of Champions Late Model championship back in 2017. He won his first-career RoC Modified feature last year north of the border at Jukasa Motor Speedway.
With as much misfortune as Catalano has suffered in 2020 in Whelen Modified Tour competition and elsewhere in the Northeast, now felt like as good of a time as ever to return to the RoC 250 for the first time in three years.
“We figured this was our best shot. I don’t want to say that this means more, but with the position we are with both on the Tour and with RoC we don’t really have anything to lose at either place this year. It’s kind of one of those deals where this year’s been a funny year so we said why not go full 100 percent and try to bring home a few trophies from Lake Erie.”
The Race of Champions 250 has been contested at eight different race tracks since its inaugural event at Langhorne Speedway all the way back in 1951. Since then, the event has taken place at the now-defunct Trenton and Flemington Speedways, Pocono Raceway, Oswego Speedway, and Chemung Speedrome. The race was moved to Lake Erie Speedway in 2017.
Catalano was admittedly unsure about the move to Pennsylvania in 2017, but his mind quickly changed after that first year.
“As a kid, I remembered Oswego and that was it, you couldn’t wait to go to Oswego and everybody’s camping and hanging out. You roll around heat race time into the grandstands and for me it was cheering for my family, but for the amount of people there that was the event.
“When it went to Lake Erie, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Unfortunately for me, I never got the chance in the Modifieds to run at Oswego. Lake Erie, the facility there is far above anything else really right now in this area. To have a facility that pristine, it adds to the race itself. They do a great job of making sure everybody feels comfortable at home.”
He gave fans an idea of what to expect for this weekend’s 250-lap Tour-Type Modified crown jewel. Catalano and his fellow competitors will be looking to end the dominance of Matt Hirschman in that event, who has won five in a row and seven of the last eight RoC 250’s.
“I expect it to be challenging next weekend. There’s always good cars there and there’s going to be more this year. There’s going to be ten, fifteen guys that can win that race as long as things go right and things go their way. Strategy is going to be a big part of it this year with the way tire changing is going to go.
“You can race there side-by-side for all 250 laps as far as I’m concerned. It’s got two good grooves and that’s what the fans want to see. They want to see side-by-side racing and not see everyone get single filed out and make a run to the finish. I think there’s going to be good racing next weekend, but it’ll be one of those deals where you won’t know who’s going to win it until late in the race, if at all.”
Click here to watch a replay of Monday’s episode of “The Bullring.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51/Mojo Photos