For the first time in a long time, the Tour-type Modifieds stole the show at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. From wildly entertaining races to first-time winners, surprise winners and plenty of star power, the Tour-type Modifieds had it all.
That’s a drastic change from the way things have been the past few years. It was normal to expect car counts under 20, sometimes as low as 14. It was normal to expect one or two drivers to go out and win every race.
But that wasn’t the case this year. Car counts were up. Way up, in fact, with close to 30 cars taking the green flag in the John Blewett III Memorial 76 last Thursday night.
Not only were car counts up, but the depth of the field was also strong. The last couple of years has seen about four drivers with a true chance to win each night. This year’s field had multiple champions from multiple series. Ryan Preece (2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion), Ron Silk (2011 NWMT champion), Matt Hirschman (Nine-time RoC Asphalt Modified Tour champion), Chuck Hossfeld (two-time RoC champion) and Jon McKennedy (four-time Modified Racing Series champion) are all champions from their respective series. In addition to the champions in the field, drivers like Timmy Solomito (four NWMT wins in 2016), Justin Bonsignore (four NWMT wins in 2016) and Jimmy Blewett (one NWMT win in 2016) all were in the field as well.
And even with a field full of current-day Modified titans, the first two checkered flags were captured by two underdogs. JR Bertuccio scored his first win at New Smyrna since 2003 and Tyler Rypkema scored his first Tour-type Modified win ever.
In addition to all of what we’ve just mentioned, we can’t forget to add that the racing was just spectacular too. The Blewett Memorial 76 saw Ryan Preece beat Matt Hirschman by just one car length, and the battle between Hirschman and Ron Silk in the Richie Evans Memorial 100 on Friday night instantly became a World Series classics.
So why the sudden shift from obscurity back into the limelight for the Tour-type Modifieds at New Smyrna? How did we go from 14 cars to 27 cars? How did we go from three potential winners to more than 12 potential winners? How did this happen in just a year? What changed?
“I think it’s a mixture of things,” said Kim Brown, the general manager at New Smyrna Speedway. “We compacted the Tour-type Modified schedule a couple of years ago and that seems to have helped. We have a good rules package for these guys too that combines elements of every touring Modified series rules package to give all of them an equal playing field. I’m just very happy with what we saw last week between the number of cars that came and the great racing.”
The Modifieds used to race at New Smyrna Speedway every night during the World Series, just like the Super Late Models and Pro Late Models do. A couple of years ago, Brown and New Smyrna Speedway shortened the Tour-type Modified schedule from eight races to five races. The schedule now sees the Modifieds run Monday through Friday to help the teams that mostly travel from the Northeast. That has helped a lot, but that isn’t the only change that is bringing Modifieds back to Florida.
“A lot of it has to do with Ricky (Brooks, chief technical director),” said Preece, the Tour-Type Modified champion for the third straight year. “He doesn’t favor anybody. He goes by the rule book. It’s black and white. And he tries to get the packages as close as he can for everybody. Everybody can show up knowing they have rules that are capable of winning. We have so many different series and it’s hard to please everybody but he did a good job at making everyone happy.”
The work to make all teams happy doesn’t just take place before the World Series begins, either. According to Preece, Brooks made a gear change in the middle of the week to help out the teams that still run a built engine. Preece’s TS Haulers team is one of many that runs the NASCAR Spec engine. Even though the rule change didn’t benefit him, he said it was a change that he was impressed by because it was done in the interest of making the racing as good as possible throughout the whole field.
“They do all they need to do to make it as fair for everybody as they possibly can,” said Preece, who scored one victory to go along with his championship. “It wasn’t easy to win just one night. We’ve had years where we’ve won four nights. This year wasn’t easy. It was definitely a different type of New Smyrna for us.”
It was a different type of New Smyrna Speedway for all who are involved in Tour-type Modified racing in some way, whether it’s on the competition side of things or on the fan’s side. But it’s a different type of New Smyrna that all Modified fans can get behind.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Bruce Nuttleman/Speed51.com