There will be only one NASCAR-sanctioned Modified Tour in 2017. After months of speculation, RaceDayCT.com first reported on Wednesday afternoon that NASCAR will be merging the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour (Northern circuit) and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour for the 2017 season. After conversations with several people who attended the meetings (via in person or through conference call), the cup of questions surrounding the entire situation is boiling over.
NASCAR held two separate meetings on Wednesday at the R&D Center in Charlotte, NC. NASCAR personnel first discussed the “One Tour” concept with teams from the northern tour (NWMT). After that was complete, with a number of southern teams in attendance, NASCAR held a meeting with that contingent to fill them in on what was described as “very few details” regarding the Tour in 2017.
According to sources involved in the meeting, the majority of the races on the merged tour will be held in the Northeast, but there is the potential for events to be run anywhere east of the Mississippi River.
2016 NWSMT champion Burt Myers was at the meeting on Wednesday.
“Personally, as a southern-based driver, I feel like we’re probably going to get the short-end of the stick. I don’t mean that derogatory towards NASCAR by any means,” he said. “But I just feel like the layout that was presented to us favors the northern Modifieds (teams) more than it does us financially. It’s just going to be tough for us to try to compete on a full schedule.”
Speed51.com has learned that Bowman Gray Stadium, which has hosted a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour event since the its inception, will not be on this unified schedule for 2017. That knowledge, and the fact that BGS races the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modifieds weekly on Saturday nights, could present the determining factor on whether or not a driver such as Burt Myers can compete on next year’s new NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
“From what I’ve gathered from what was told to us today, and I could be wrong, it’s going to be a majority (of) northern races with a handful of southern races sprinkled in. They are not going to schedule races around Bowman Gray Stadium,” said Myers. “I feel like that there’s going to be races where we have to choose to either go up north and run or go to Bowman Gray. Hopefully I’m not forced to choose between the other races and Bowman Gray because I would have to choose Bowman Gray. It’s like I told NASCAR before I left the meeting; I’m an empathetic person. I left the meeting with a positive attitude and I’m going to leave it in NASCAR’s hands. The ball is in NASCAR’s court. I want to run the NASCAR tour, but they have to make it where we can run the NASCAR tour. It’s tough, but when everything comes out and all of the information is dispersed properly, then I’ll make a decision for 2017.”
Two-time NWSMT champion Andy Seuss, a native New Englander, was rather happy with the decision made by NASCAR and believes it will give the Modifieds a breath of fresh air.
“I honestly think this will be a good thing,” Seuss stated. “Having four races at Thompson and six races at Caraway got redundant. A few years ago, when the Tour came to town, it was a big deal. It hasn’t been a big deal in a while. I don’t think we’ll run full time; I don’t think it will be feasible. I don’t know people’s financial issues, but I don’t think many people will run full-time. But, that doesn’t mean I won’t try to win a race or two.”
While Seuss stated that he does not wish to compete with the Southern Modified Racing Series, a first-year touring series in 2016, Bobby Measmer Jr. plans to run the majority of the SMRS schedule in 2017.
“Between me and (car owner) Kevin Hughes, we’d discussed, if this was the case, then we’d run the PASS Modified Tour. We are basically a Saturday night group of guys. We can’t afford to take all this time off to run up north,” explained Measmer. “This is probably NASCAR’s easy way out of doing away with the southern tour. I might be stepping on someone’s toes by saying that, but I only perceive maybe three or four southern races at most based off of the meeting. For us, we won’t be able to do any of the northern stuff. It’s not feasible for us.”
NASCAR offered the following statement on Wednesday when asked by Speed51.com for comment on the reported merger:
“As NASCAR looks at the schedule for 2017 and beyond, we are looking at a number of options to continue growing the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Our goal is to elevate the marque events on the calendar, strengthening the Modified brand along the East Coast. From Farmer and Allison to Evans and Cook, the Modifieds have always forged a unique identity and stoked intense passion among our fanbase. As we shape our future, we are focusing on what has made the Modifieds special and are committed to continuing that rich tradition.”
Jamie Tomaino, the ironman of NASCAR Modified racing, joined a host of Northeast drivers during a conference call with NASCAR on Tuesday when he first heard of the news.
“Only thing we’ve heard so far is that not enough cars were showing up down South for a full field. So, instead of saying that Tour is done, they’re saying they’re combining the tours,” said Tomaino. “That’s what they’re doing; they’re shutting down one Tour and there’s the Whelen Modified Tour. If they want to come race, come race.”
Darren Hackett, the promoter of Caraway Speedway, informed Speed51.com that there will not be a multitude of NASCAR Modified Tour events held at the track next season. In 2016, Caraway Speedway hosted four NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour events. Hackett cited an increased purse as a major roadblock in making an event happen.
“I was informed about it yesterday,” Hackett said. “Yesterday was the first time they started getting the word out to the promoters. Definitely there will not be a major amount of dates at Caraway; we are possibly discussing one date if we can land some sponsor dollars for it. The purse is going to be over three times what it currently is with the Southern Tour.”
Since the inception of the Southern Tour in 2005, Caraway has been one of the most frequent stops on the tour with two, three and even four visits to the track each year. Despite the loss of those shows, Hackett said he could understand why NASCAR made the decision to merge the tours.
“I’m not upset about anything with anybody, but you look at the 11 cars and ask ‘How long you can keep selling that show,” said Hackett, who’s wife Renee is involved with Southern Modified Racing Series. “It wasn’t a bad show, it really wasn’t. It’s 11 great race cars, but every year in the South it just kept dropping. I applaud NASCAR for making the step to put a positive spin on everything.”
When reached by phone on Wednesday afternoon, Josh Vanada, the General Manager of Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT), stated that the track had not started to process the news of the merger and how it might impact the track’s scheduling. In 2016, Thompson has played host to three NWMT events already and will close out the season by hosting the World Series this upcoming weekend.
“Honestly, I’m focused right now on the World Series,” Vanada said. “You’re the second call I’ve gotten on this just wondering what my thoughts were. We’ll start to process it and work through everything after the race and we’ll sort it all out then.”
NASCAR has not made any other comments about the “One Tour” concecpt, but traditionally the schedule for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is announced near or on the date of the series banquet, which will occur on December 10, 2016 at the Charlotte Convention Center adjacent to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
– Story By: Brandon Paul, Bob Dillner, Rob Blount & Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Team
– Photo credit: Speed51.com