Billy Whittaker has explored many disciplines of racing in the state of New York during his racing career. This Thursday night, the 44-year-old Dirt Modified racer will embark on another adventure when he straps in behind the wheel of a Tour-type Modified for the Race of Champions (RoC) Asphalt Modified Series race at Lancaster National Speedway (NY).
While Whittaker is unfamiliar with the RoC Modified Series scene, his race car for the 50-lap Thursday Night Thunder by the Thruway is not.
“I’m running Ricky Kluth’s No. 27. I ran the last Race of Champions 250 at Oswego two years ago, when it got rain delayed. Ricky has also helped me out with my own car on the Super DIRT Series last year,” Whittaker told Speed51.com.
Whittaker piloted Kluth’s No. 27 to a 12th-place finish during the 2016 Race of Champions 250 at Oswego.
Since that race, the driver and car owner have been eager for a reunion but Whittaker’s busy dirt schedule has gotten in the way. This Thursday marks the first opportunity for Whittaker to make his return to the 27, and he hopes it won’t be the last. He’s also targeting the RoC Modified race at Spencer Speedway on August 31 as a possibility.
“My dirt racing schedule makes it tough to run on the asphalt, but with the race this Thursday, I have a chance. The one I really want to run is the one at Spencer where I used to run weekly and be track champion.”
The Empire State has a rich Modified tradition on the asphalt, but despite Whittaker putting time in a menagerie of cars on the hardtop, he has not had the opportunities to mix it up with the New York Mod Squad.
“This will only be my second time driving an asphalt Modified,” Whittaker said. “My other previous experience on pavement was the NASCAR Late Models, I ran some Supermods, winged Supers, I ran USAC Silver Crown cars, and I ran ASA for myself. But Modifieds are a little bit different, so it’ll be cool.”
Thursday will also mark Whittaker’s second start at the 5/8-mile Lancaster oval, but a lot of time has passed since his last start at the historic race track.
“I’ve been there once with my Late Model for the U.S. Open about 20 years ago,” he stated. “1998 was the last year I ran Late Models at Spencer and won the track championship.”
After a few decades in the business, Whittaker has established his own flag firmly in the New York racing industry. He is using his resources to create the racing opportunities that he wished he had in his younger days.
“The thing that I look at now is that I can halfway afford this racing thing now. When I was a kid I was really good at racing, I couldn’t afford it. We just scrounged around and made it. I wish I had the youthful enthusiasm and stuff like when I was a kid now because now I can afford it.”
As for what he expects on Thursday, Whittaker is not ruling out anything, especially with the competitive car he expects to pilot.
“Emerling, Hossfeld and all these guys are tough. It’s a tough bunch of cars entered for this week. But when we were at Oswego two years ago, the first or second practice I was quickest on the board. I know I can at least put a couple of quick laps down. I don’t know if I can race with these guys, but I think I can jump in and be competitive. We went to Allentown last January with a TQ Midget and I adapted pretty well, got a couple of top tens. We’ll see. Ricky’s got a good car and if I can get comfortable in it, I think we can be quick.”
Race fans unable to make the trip to Lancaster National Speedway Thursday night can watch the action live on Speed51’s Summer Thunder TV for free with a Speed51 Network premium subscription. Click here to join today.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos