The banner may be new as the fledging EXIT Realty Modified Touring Series prepares for its first full season, but the stars and cars are, for the most part, the same that Modified fans in the Northeast have seen for the past few years. After making its debut at Monadnock Speedway (NH) with the $15,000-to-win Winchester 200 in May 2016, MTS founders Gary and Alichia Knight have worked closely with series staff, drivers, car owners, track owners, race fans and media to create a new platform for Tour-Type Modified racing.
While talk in the past few months has ranged from the first batch of drivers to a unique points championship format, the conversation has shifted to just going out and racing. That process begins this Saturday, April 22 at the place where it started 11 months ago, Monadnock.
For many drivers, including Connecticut’s Les Hinckley who will add his name to a long list of legendary drivers to pilot car owner Art Berry’s No. 21, the MTS will create an opportunity to race more. Hinckley and Berry are committing to the full 10-race schedule.
“It’s a pretty prestigious car, very excited and honored to be one of the names that has sat in Art Berry’s seat,” Hickley told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
While Hinckley has liked what he has seen in the building of series competition and format, he knows that patience will be required at times through 2017 as the MTS establishes its name in the field.
“The competition is going to be good, I think they got a good ground work and basis for what they are trying to achieve. The show they put on last year ran pretty smoothly, I thought for the first time out they did a pretty good job at it. They started slow but have taken time to build up to a ten-race schedule. I think they’re doing a good job of it. I’m sure there will be some growing pains along the way, but it’s to be expected with a series and group of people that is starting off new and doing what they are. I think they have a good plan in place to work through that and it should be a good year.”
Defending Valenti Modified Racing Series champion Jon McKennedy, who also has MTS sponsor EXIT Reality on his car, is planning to run the season’s duration. He too knows there will be edges to smooth along the way, but believes it is a great opportunity for many small operations, including his race team.
“It’s a new series, it might take a little bit to get some of the bugs worked out, but it’s another option for a bunch of guys who can’t afford to run NASCAR. The format is different, 125 laps with a tire change allowed, more money. There’s a lot to it, we’ll have a better idea after a few races. It should be interesting, you have a handful of guys from NASCAR coming over, some guys from Valenti, and a few other names. It should be a competitive field, hopefully we can get a win from them.”
The MTS conducted a test at Monadnock this past weekend with over a dozen teams attending. The series has committed to running races there as well as Stafford Motor Speedway and New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut, Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts, and Riverhead Raceway on Long Island. But Monadnock forms the bulk of the 10-race schedule, with four events planned in 2017. That plays into the hands of some drivers including McKennedy, who is coming off a year of domination in 2016.
“We tested up there, it went pretty well, so I can see us starting where we left off. Want to continue what we did last year into this year,” McKennedy stated. “I’ve had a lot of success there in my own car as well as with Art Berry. It’s a small little track with its own little challenges, how you drive the track is different on each end. It’s fun when the driver has a little more input than most.”
Hinckley is another driver who tested over the weekend and is excited about the series having so many races on the high-banks, with Monadnock becoming his home track for a number of years.
“It was pretty good, the car did what we expected it too. More or less a shakedown for us. I’m looking forward to Monadnock, it’s been a good track for me over the years. Dating back to when Riverside Park closed up until now, we’ve had a lot of good nights there.”
While Monadnock is popular with drivers in southern New England, Long Island native Eric Goodale, who is planning on running the majority of the schedule, is pumped for so many races at a track that he has yet to win at, but has produced solid results.
“I love Monadnock. I’m a little disappointed that the Whelen Modified Tour isn’t going back there,” Goodale said. “It has a lot of different characteristics that allow a driver to manipulate how the car handles, even if you don’t have the best car, you can do things to make it handle a little better. It’s a fun track and I was look forward to racing there. With MTS going four times, I’m hoping to get most of them on my schedule.”
Goodale has become a main fixture on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour during his career, rarely running races outside the Tour, but that has changed in recent year with Goodale embracing the challenge of racing against a different crowd.
“It’s fun to race against people you don’t normally race against all the time. On the Tour, with the exception of rookies, you know attributes of every driver, their history, what you can and can’t do around people, it creates a different style of racing. When you’re racing against people you haven’t learned about, it’s fun to race them.”
Of course there is one race that Goodale is very excited to run on the MTS schedule, the date at his home track in June.
“It’s nice when you have a race close to home, the race at Riverhead is one I circled before I sat down with my team when we decided where we all wanted to go,” Goodale explained. “Riverhead is unlike any other race on the Whelen Modfiied Tour because you get a lot of locals who have the ability to show up and race. I think the MTS race will be no different, you’ll have the regulars from up north and locals who will want to throw their hat in for 125 laps. It’s a fun bonus when you get to race those guys.”
Goodale won’t be the only NASCAR driver throwing his name into the mix, as Ryan Preece, Rowan Pennink, and Woody Pitkat are on the season roster. They will face a number of New England veterans including Richard Savary, Kirk Alexander, Todd Annarummo, Mike Holdridge and Chris Pasteryak; as well as young stars like Tommy Barrett and Dylan Kopec.
Be sure to follow the Modified Touring Series this Saturday and all season long here on Speed51.com.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor - Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Rick Ibsen