As with much of short track racing, the landscape of Modified racing was radically different in 2020, whether you drove with wide tires, narrow tires, a wing over your head; north, south, or out west. But, their will still plenty of chances for glory and victory once the world got somewhat back on its feet.
So, after much deliberation and a little frustrated pacing to determine who were the top ground pounders of the past year, here is the list of Speed51’s Top 10 Pavement Modified drivers for 2020.
As implied above, we will be looking at not just the Tour-type Modifieds of the Northeast, but also down south, weekly racers, Supermodifieds, and even the eight-inch tire series to the west and way down south. So, without further ado…
#1) Matt Hirschman – Despite having fewer races to compete in during 2020, it was still a typical “Big Money Matt” season. It started with a second World Series title at New Smyrna Speedway, and victory in the Richie Evans Memorial to start the year.
At home, there were three wins in five starts at Mahoning Valley Speedway, while winning six times at Evergreen Raceway along with his fifth straight track title.
In New England, there was another triumph in the SBM 125 at Star Speedway, a fifth season title on the Tri-Track Open Modified Series, plus a comeback for the ages at Claremont Motorsports Park to win $10,000 after a crash in heat racing.
Finally, Hirschman was a perfect three-for-three in his RoC Modified Series appearances, including a record extending eighth career Race of Champions 250 win at Lake Erie Speedway.
#2) Justin Bonsignore – With a short season and radically altered schedule for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, many believed that the team which could rise to the challenge first would ultimately come out as champion, and that is just what Bonsignore in the No. 51 team would do.
Bonsignore won the first two races back, starting with the Tour’s long awaited return to Jennerstown Speedway, and then the first ever appearance at White Mountain Motorsports Park.
A third victory at Monadnock Speedway would see Bonsignore lead the win column after the nine race slate. Combined with a perfect nine-for-nine in top fives, he would hoist his second career Whelen Modified Tour champion’s trophy in October.
#3) Craig Lutz – Before the world ground to a halt, Lutz would put the sport on notice at New Smyrna passing Anthony Nocella and holding off Matt Hirschman for his first career Speedweeks win.
By the time Modified racing returned to stride in the heat of summer, Lutz went right back at it with his first career Tri-Track Open Modified Series victory in an on-track slugfest over Les Hinckley at Monadnock.
Soon after, the mojo came through on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, winning on the Tour’s second appearance at Jennerstown, and then ending the year in style with victory in the season finale at Thompson Speedway in the prestigious Sunoco World Series.
#4) Keith Rocco – Racing Modifieds weekly in Connecticut is a crucible all its own, and ole “Kid Roc” reaffirmed why he is one of the best of the best in the Constitution State. At Stafford Motor Speedway, he would win 6 of 14 races on the SK Modified® season in route to his fourth Stafford SK title. He’d also add a seventh Stafford 2020 win with an Open Modified trophy.
At the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, Rocco would make just five SK Modified® appearances, but would win three of them, including the 75-lap season finale. At Thompson Speedway, he swept the two Sunoco Modified features contested on the year.
#5) Jon McKennedy – The most heavily impacted Modified racing in 2020 had to be the Supermodifieds, with both ISMA and MSS sanctioning just three races each. While the MSS had three different winners, one driver reigned supreme in ISMA races contested in New England, and that was Jon McKennedy.
While having no luck in Tour-type Mods in 2020, the 2017 ISMA champion made his own luck in his Supermod. Wins in the Ollie Silva Midsummer Classic at Lee USA Speedway, Star Classic Bob Webber Memorial at Star Speedway, and a thriller over Chris Perley in the World Series at Thompson which even saw McKennedy clip the grass. All adding to McKennedy’s already great career.
#6) Tyler King – When racing resumed back in late-spring, there was no single Modified touring series that put together a more packed schedule than the Pro All Stars Series Modifieds. The Maine-based tour, with Mods similar to those of the West and Deep South, saw a new taking the title crown in 2020 amid all the crunch.
King would put together a series leading five PASS Mod wins in 2020 over the 14 races. A pair of wins each at Oxford Plains Speedway and White Mountain, as well as the ever PASS Modified event held at Vermont’s Thunder Road.
#7) Kyle Purvis – Even worse off than the Supermods, Open-Wheel Modified racing in the Midwest was all but wiped out in 2020, leaving Kyle Purvis to wait until 2021 to make it three-straight tour titles in his home region. Hitting the road south, Purvis put his focus on the Modifieds of Mayhem Tour in the Deep South, focusing on race wins after missing the season opener.
Purvis would indeed win, with triumphs at Five Flags Speedway, Montgomery Motor Speedway, and Crisp Motorsports Park. These, coupled with consistency would result in Purvis scoring his first Modifieds of Mayhem season title, and unexpectedly keeping his streak of touring series titles alive through 2020.
#8) Jeremy Doss – After finding success in Pro Late Models in 2019, which led to his winning the year’s KDDP Kulwicki Cup, Doss found his home in the Spears Manufacturing Modified Series in 2020. With his momentum knowing no bounds, Doss won three times at Kern County Raceway and once at Irwindale Speedway and the Bullring at Las Vegas. All culminating in his first career Spears Modified championship.
#9) Patrick Emerling – Being one of the drivers to strike early in 2020, with a win at New Smyrna in February, Emerling would be a model of consistency in the limited RoC Modified schedule. Winning during the summer at Lake Erie, Emerling captured his third RoC title come October. He also became the latest Modified driver to make a NASCAR Xfinity Series appearance, driving for Our Motorsports; something we’ll also see more of 2021.
#10) Brian Loftin – Despite the few races in the Southeast, 2020 was a historic year for Modified racing in the region with the reformation of the SMART Tour. Loftin and the No. 15 Grady team would set the bar high, winning the first SMART race back in August at Caraway Speedway; then winning the last of the year by running down Burt Myers on the white flag at Florence Motor Speedway.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Correspondent – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51