Wall Stadium Speedway’s Turkey Derby has become one of the great marquee events in Modified racing over its first 45 runnings, bringing many of the sport’s best to the Jersey Shore. The 46th running slated for this Saturday, November 30 already has potential for another classic.
Drivers from all over the eastern seaboard are set to take on the high-banked menace, from locals like Jimmy Blewett, a six-time winner in the Tour-type Modified portion, to out-of-town drivers like three-time winner Matt Hirschman and last year’s top dog Dave Sapienza.
There are also a pair of names who are making a return to New Jersey in November after a short time away, one going for his second Turkey Derby trophy and the other his very first. The one going for his first: the 2018 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Justin Bonsignore.
Over time, Bonsignore and car owner Ken Massa have always been picky about what races, if any, to run off the Tour schedule. But following a season ending win at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and a discussion with crew chief Ryan Stone, the gang is packing up for one last show in 2019.
“We decided a couple of weeks ago as a team we wanted to go down there and race. Want to have some fun with all the guys, but be able to contend for the win of course. Get one more trophy before winter. Typically, we’ve never run too many races outside the Whelen Tour, but this is one we all talked about,” Bonsignore told Speed51.
This weekend marks Bonsignore’s first Turkey Derby since 2016, but it will be his second time at the Stadium in 2019, following the visit in May by the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. After that particular evening was all said and done, Bonsignore went back to Long Island with what he felt like was some unfinished business.
“We kind of had a rough showing in the Tour race back in May," he stated. "We were really fast, a driver spun himself out early in the race, we got back to the front, and managed to get caught up in a couple of more wrecks. Personally, I’m looking for a little redemption to put that Tour race behind us. Maybe learn something new when we go back to Wall in 2020 for the Tour race.”
Naturally though, Bonsignore would very much like to add the Turkey Derby to his list of accomplishments in his racing career. This particular mark is also one with an uncertain future, following questions that have been raised back in the summer about the long-term future of Wall Stadium.
“It’s a nice challenge to go to a tough track like Wall and try to run with all those guys. An historic event too, with all the rumblings of what might or might not happen with Wall in the future, it would be nice to if possible to put a Turkey Derby win on our resume. We’ll go in prepared as ever, Ryan Stone has been working on the car before and after we went to the NASCAR banquet. Go bundle up and have fun.”
In order to reach that goal, Bonsignore will have to fight off the sturdy field which will again boast a number of accomplished drivers. This also includes the other star making his Turkey Derby return: 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion and now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pilot, Ryan Preece.
“The open style events always bring in a good mix of guys from different areas, plus whoever’s local. Turkey Derby is one of the best," Bonsignore said. "You've got Jimmy Blewett as a heavy favorite, along with a couple other locals who know that place really well. Matt Hirschman has a lot of wins there, Ron Silk is another name that comes off the top of my head. Ryan (Preece) is another with a win there, it’s cool that he’s coming out; Turkey Derby never has a problem packing the stands, but when Ryan shows up, it helps our fanbase get to the races and be extra supportive. It’s great when he comes back to race with us. Now, we've got to go beat him.”
For Preece, the preparation for the Turkey Derby has been somewhat of a scramble, following his return to his home state of Connecticut over the past weekend. In a race to get the No. 6 Eddie and Connie Partridge owned ride back into fighting shape, Preece has had the cooperation of many friends, even those who have been in different pit boxes over the years, like Phil Moran, who appeared in Preece’s shop on Monday.
“We’re all set and ready to go to Wall, just finished up everything. Had a lot of work to do over about two days, had some helpers come in. Mike, Phil, Stephen Kopcik he helped out a lot, it was a real team effort,” Preece said. “It’s fun and I enjoy it, but I don’t miss the crunch hour push, that type of thing. But I love the tinkering, Phil and I were talking about how he loved Speedweeks, you race at night, wake up, and get right to the race track; that was also my favorite part, too.”
Preece’s first year with JTG Daugherty Racing in the Cup Series has further propelled his name on the national stage, while still boasting the passion for Modified racing, with Preece still managing some scattered starts. But that last Modified start came all the way back in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and despite the Turkey Derby being two weeks into the Cup Series offseason, the decision to run was very much a late one.
“The car is done, we feel really good about it, we’ll see. This was really something I didn’t really think about until last week, more spur of the moment. I just woke up last week and thought it seemed possible, and did the best to make it happen.”
The chance to take on an ace field is always appealing to "Preece Lightnining," especially with some of his old friends up to their usual shenanigans on social media. One such friend being Justin Bonsignore.
“I’m always excited to get back and take on the Modified guys, good to see guys like Justin going down. Him and Doug (Coby) like to poke fun on Twitter. Hopefully we can have the speed to race hard and mess with him a little.”
A win on Saturday would be Preece’s second in the legendary race, the first coming in 2015 after an epic duel with Matt Hirschman. But he is fully aware, that doing it again will require plenty of attention to detail before and during the 150-lap show itself.
“It’d be good to win another, for sure. It’s such a tough track, it also changes from the start of the race to the end of the race with how cold it gets with the sun going down so early. So getting forward drive late on a run is definitely an issue. But, I feel like I know what we have to work on, and I have a game plan for that. Hopefully we can unload good from the start, just make little adjustments and win the thing.”
Stay with Speed51.com this Friday and Saturday, November 29 and 30, with Race Day Now coverage from Wall Stadium Speedway of Turkey Derby XLVI. You will also be able to watch race highlights, plus post-race interviews this Sunday on the Speed51 Network.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51