Not many rookie race car drivers already have a nickname, let alone two, but Timmy Solomito has done his best to live up to both.
The moniker applied depends on which side of Long Island Sound you’re on. On the south side at New York’s Riverhead Raceway, you’ll hear Timmy “The Natural” Solomito, a tag that was coined by former street stock driver Frankie Cole and carried on by track publicist and announcer Bob Finan. On the north side at the three Connecticut short tracks, longtime announcer and wordsmith Matt Buckler refers to the 22-year-old driver as Timmy “The Torpedo” Solomito.
It turns out each are applicable. Solomito has taken to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in such a natural and quick fashion that he’s clinched the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award with one race left on the schedule.
Solomito has posted five top-10 finishes through 12 of 13 events with six Sunoco Rookie of the Race Awards. With a 13-point lead on Tommy Barrett Jr. in the rookie standings, the tour’s first-year-driver honor returns to Long Island for the first time since 2010 when Holtsville native and fellow Riverhead alumnus Justin Bonsignore captured the award.The maximum points a driver can earn in a race is 10 for being the highest finishing rookie.
In its 30th season of competition, the Whelen Modified Tour began recognizing top rookie competitors in 1999. Solomito’s cousin, Eric Goodale, is among the 15 previous Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award winners (1999).
Solomito’s story starts in his hometown of Islip on New York’s Long Island, where the famed Islip Speedway operated for the better part of four decades. The .2-mile oval’s claim to fame is that it was the smallest track to ever play host to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (then Grand National), but it was the modifieds piloted on a weekly basis by the likes of Charlie Jarzombek and Richie Evans that attracted Solomito’s father, Jerry, to the sport.
Jerry raced mini modifieds at Islip until it was shuttered in 1984, then migrated to Riverhead to continue competition. He eventually moved from the role of driver to that of owner and crew chief role for his three sons: Jerry Jr., Shawn and Timmy. Shawn won the modified track title at Riverhead in 2012.
A standout in the legends division coming up at Riverhead, the youngest Solomito found immediate success when he eventually made the leap to the venerable modified division. With favorable results in cars very similar to those of the Whelen Modified Tour, and against a similar make-up of experienced veteran racers, Solomito jumped the opportunity to branch out.
Wayne Anderson, the 1994 Whelen Modified Tour champion as a driver, decided to return to the tour as a car owner with Solomito in the seat and his father turning the wrenches. The original intent was to run about half of the schedule, but the team’s success right out of the box turned the previous plan into a pursuit for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award.
Solomito credits Anderson’s laid back philosophy as a key to the success of the first-year team, which ranks ninth in the overall championship standings.
“It was always a no-pressure deal. It’s kind of been to just go out and have fun and do the best you can,” Solomito said. “He wants us to finish the best that we can, but he really didn’t have any expectations for this year, which made it easier on me when I strap into the seat. He took the pressure off of me and just told me to go have a good time.
“For a car owner to do that, that’s huge for me, and I think that’s allowed the season to go the way it has so far.”
Solomito’s best run this year came in the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, a fourth-place effort. The Connecticut oval is also the site for the season finale, where he hopes to contend for a first trip to Victory Lane.
“I’m pretty happy with the performance so far this year. There are always things you can look back on and think that you could have done better, but I’m really feeling strong about Thompson,” Solomito said. “We had our best finish of the year there in the opener, and we were running pretty strong in the Thursday night race, so I think we can have a pretty good run there to finish off the year.
“I think we’ll be within striking distance, and hopefully we can pull one off before the end of the year.”
Solomito will be recognized as the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year for the Whelen Modified Tour at the NASCAR Touring Series Awards on Dec. 13 in the Charlotte (North Carolina) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The 2014 Whelen Modified Tour season will conclude at Thompson on Oct. 19 as Doug Coby and Ted Christopher vie for the championship in the Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart.
– NASCAR IMC press release. Photo credit: Speed51.com