Since its founding in 1985, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has seen many different faces from up and down the East Coast, and sometimes beyond. Nearly all drivers from that first season of the modern tour have long stepped away from their cars, but continue to support the sport, save one.
Jamie Tomaino, 59, of Howell, New Jersey is the remaining driver of that founding class still running full time on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, which has now entered its fifth decade.
Tomaino has racked up many milestones for his longevity over the years. This Saturday will be the biggest of all as Tomaino will make his 600th career start at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl on the Connecticut shore. The mark has brought attention to the former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion in the last couple weeks.
“It’s out of control with everybody calling,” Tomaino told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Facebook has completely blown up, a lot of press I’m getting and I had no idea that nobody else has ever done this other than in the Sprint Cup Series.”
Tomaino is enjoying the moment, as he has done with many events he has run in recent years. The biggest change for Tomaino has not been with how he drives or how he goes about preparing for a race, but simply basking in the glory of still being involved with the sport.
“It’s nice to be young and you can’t stay young forever,” he said. “I tell a lot of people when you’re young and you go to a stop sign, you don’t stop, you run right through it. When you get older, not only do you get to stop, you look both ways.”
But looking back to the first season in 1985, the particular moment he will experience on Saturday night is one that Tomaino would not have expected more than 30 years later.
“The craziest thing is that in 1985 we were only on the third race of the year and I didn’t even qualify for the race,” said Tomaino. “I had some problems in the heat race and the consi and didn’t make the feature. Right off I had missed a race, but things have changed.”
Things did indeed change after that missed race, as Tomaino found a level of consistency that has lasted throughout the majority of his career. Five years later in 1990, his consistent style payed off as he won the NASCAR Modified Tour championship with just one win on the season. It is a moment that is still the biggest for “The Jet” after all these years, especially after putting in so much time on the road against superior competition.
“The championship is the biggest one, as a guy from New Jersey who never stayed home at his home track. I always traveled,” Tomaino recalled. “When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why these guys just raced at one track, they didn’t go anywhere else. As soon as I got into the Modified division, I took off and went. It didn’t matter if I was getting my doors blown in by Richie (Evans), Geoff (Bodine) or whoever it was it didn’t make any difference to me. But, I was always out there trying to compete with them. As the years progressed, I just kept it up, I still travel today from New Jersey.”
It all comes from a drive that Tomaino first found when attending his very first race at Wall Stadium, his home track located on the Jersey Shore, in the late 60’s.
“For whatever reason, when I was a 12-year-old kid I saw a Modified Stock Car going around Wall Stadium, I told my mom, ‘That’s what I’m going to do,’” said Tomaino. “My family had no racing background at all. There was a free practice one day and I watched the cars go around and I knew what I wanted to do when I got older. I don’t think anyone had a clue that I’d actually pursue it. When I was 17, I was able to scrounge up enough money to build a brand new car. My dad wasn’t even aware of it, and he wasn’t happy. But when we went to my first race, he was right there by my side.”
Many years have gone by since Tomaino’s first years of racing in the early 70’s, and with them have come many changes and new challenges that have come with the sport. Tomaino believes the biggest change of them all is the size of the wallet required to go fast and be competitive.
“Our division is no different than the Sprint Cup Series, it has gotten out of control money wise, but that’s part of life I guess. You see all these football players making some ridiculous amount of money, it’s no wonder racing parts cost a lot of money these days.”
Tomaino has been able to use his time in the sport as an advantage to stay involved. He has used his knowledge to help fellow racers and manufacturers.
“The only reason I’ve been able to stay in it is because I’m a Troyer dealer and I’ve been doing this so long I’ve got deals with most of the companies, so I don’t have to pay the full boat for a part.”
With many solid connections, Tomaino plans to stay in the sport for the foreseeable future. Even when he eventually climbs from the car, he is hoping to keep the family tradition going in the Modifieds.
“We got to get through and finish this year out, I’m hoping in the top 15 in points as usual. We’ll take it one year at a time now,” said Tomaino. “My grandsons are getting older, about six or seven years old now. Down South you can race at 12 years old and you can run the Modified Tour when you’re 15. Before you know it, if they want too, you’ll see one of my grandsons run my car for me.”
As Tomaino prepares for his 600th start at Waterford this weekend, he is also taking the time to say thank you to a lot of people, including his loyal fan base.
“I want to thank them all for all their supporting me all these years and coming out. Without all of them we wouldn’t be able to do this because we may not race for a lot of money, but we still get something.”
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor (CT, MA, LI) – Twitter: Connor51CT