Every racecar driver in the world has their own dreams of winning some sort of big time race during their racing career. Those dreams range from winning a prestigious short track event held at their home track, to winning the Daytona 500 at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level.
For 19-year-old Kyle Ellwood, his life-long dream consisted of winning a Modified race at his home track of Riverhead Raceway in New York and qualifying for a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event.
This past Saturday, June 21, the Riverhead, New York native lived the first of those two dreams. This upcoming Saturday, June 28, he will attempt to live out the second.
Ellwood started on the pole for the 35-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modified feature this past Saturday and led wire-to-wire during the caution-free event to claim his first career Modified win at Riverhead. The emotions flowing after the win were hard to describe for the young driver.
“It was really emotional, honestly,” Ellwood said of the win. “It was just a good feeling. It’s been my dream all of my life to win a Modified race and to be able to do it is awesome. It took a while to set in, but it’s still pretty wild.”
Prior to getting his chance in the Modified division at Riverhead, Ellwood began his racing career at the age of five racing go-karts at Bradford Speedway in Pennsylvania. He continued racing go-karts until he suffered an injury when he was 12 years old. The injury sidelined him from racing and allowed him to witness his father win the Charger division championship at Riverhead in 2007.
After seeing his father win the championship, Ellwood had the itch to get back into a racecar. His family-owned race team purchased a Legends car for the 2009 season and in 2010 he picked up his first career win at his home track.
In 2012, Ellwood’s father purchased a Modified and the Ellwood family considered shutting down their Legends car program in order to focus on the Modified they had just purchased.
At that time, the Goodale family – a well known racing family at Riverhead Raceway – asked Ellwood if he wanted to join his good friend, Jeffery Goodale, as a teammate driving Legends cars for their race team. Ellwood accepted the offer and went on to win the Legends championship at Riverhead Raceway in 2012.
At the end of the 2013 racing season, Ellwood’s teammate, Jeffery Goodale, decided that he wanted to go Modified racing. A deal was made to get both drivers in the seat of a Modified. With help from the Goodale family, Ellwood was able to assemble a crew in order to make a real attempt a Modified racing.
“I drove for them in 2012 and I won the championship that year in the Legends car,” said Ellwood. “We won, I think, 10 to 12 races throughout the year that year including the Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium (in New Jersey). That kind of set me up with them.
“At the end of last year Jeffrey (Goodale) was like, ‘I want to go Modified racing,’ so we went Modified racing this year and that’s where I’m at now. We took my car over there, put my name on it and we’re Modified racing now.”
Despite making multiple starts in a Modified at Riverhead Raceway while racing his Legends car, it wasn’t until this season that Ellwood considered himself to be competitive in the division. Previously, he had only “start and parked” his family-owned car due to lack of funding.
“I’ve raced the Modified before but we never seriously raced it,” Ellwood told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “In the Modifieds you’ve got to put tires on every week and spend some time on the car if you want to be competitive. We ran some races, but I’d just start in the back and just collect purse money. I wasn’t out there racing, but I was in the car. I start and parked the car for like a year’s worth of races.
“This is the first year we’re actually running with a good crew. We’ve got a fresh crew of guys that came up from the Legends car. We’re all trying to learn as a team, the Modifieds in general, it’s a huge step. We’re just all trying to learn together.”
Through six races thus far in 2014, things haven’t been easy for Ellwood and his team. The transition from maintaining and setting up a Legends car to preparing a competitive Modified has required the team to put in a lot of hard work to learn more about the car.
“It’s been overwhelming,” said Ellwood. “We started off the year this year with a brand new team and we didn’t even really know what stagger was coming into this year. With the Legends car you basically just drove the car. There was very little setup involved. At the beginning of the year, it was very overwhelming and frustrating because you’re learning.”
On Saturday all of the hard work paid off when Ellwood pulled into Riverhead Raceway victory lane for the first time in a Modified. The 19-year-old driver couldn’t believe he was standing in the same victory lane as the Modified legends that he watched growing up as a young kid in the Long Island, New York area.
“It was pretty crazy to be in the same victory lane as all the people I idolized growing up,” said Ellwood. “To be able to stand spot that they did was pretty intense. It’s been my dream all of my life to win a Modified race and to be able to do it is awesome. It took a while to set in but it’s pretty wild.”
One week after having his dream come true and becoming a Modified winner at Riverhead, Ellwood will attempt to make another dream come true this Saturday, June 28 when he attempts to qualify for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Hoosier Tire 200 at Riverhead.
Fresh off of his weekly NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modified win at Riverhead, Ellwood couldn’t be more excited to make his first attempt at qualifying for a NWMT event.
“That was probably the coolest part about the whole thing,” Ellwood said of his win one week before his first career NWMT start. “We were contemplating the whole deal because we weren’t doing so well at the beginning of the year. We were like, ‘Is it really worth going out there and trying to qualify for a Tour race if we can’t even compete on a regular Saturday night?’ Then as soon as we were contemplating all of that we went to the track and the next three weeks we had instant success.
“It’s a great confidence booster. It was a big step. Being able to win the week before the Tour race is a big confidence booster in helping me get into the race on Saturday.”
Although he is riding momentum into Saturday’s NWMT event, Ellwood continues to be realistic with his goals heading into the race. With a talented field expected to attempt to qualify for the event, Ellwood hopes to just get in the race and be able to learn more about how the car handles in a long distance race.
“If I make the race I’m happy and I’m perfectly content. If we make the show then I just want to go out there and learn as much as I can during a long race. I’m going to really get to know how the car progresses throughout the race and they sort of stuff.
“I’m really looking forward to it. Everyone dreams about running the Tour and being able to do it is pretty intense.”
– By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51. Photo credit: Rich Frost/Riverhead Raceway