The 2017 Speed51.com Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes featured drivers from all disciplines of short track racing. Full fenders, open-wheeled, asphalt, dirt, all walks of life have been represented in this year’s edition. As we go through this year’s Short Track Draft results, we will be breaking down the top picks per discipline, starting off with the top 10 asphalt Modified drivers.
Drivers in the Modified category qualified by competing in any of the following series: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour, Lucas Oil Modified Series, Top Speed Modified Tour, Valenti Modified Racing Series, Tri-Track Open Modified Series, Southern Modified Racing Series, Modified Touring Series and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Keep in mind that not all Modified racers are eligible for the Short Track Draft. Drivers must be under the age of 25 as of Arpil 1, 2017. Additionally, if they lose their rookie status in any of NASCAR’s top-three series by the end of the 2017 season, or if they run more than 10 races in one of NASCAR’s top three series, they are no longer eligible.
#1 – Timmy Solomito (11th pick) – NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
“The Natural” had a big year in 2016, picking up his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win. He added three more wins on the year to finish the season off with four victories. He’s picked up right where he left off this year by winning at Myrtle Beach Speedway (SC) and finishing second in the Icebreaker at Thompson (CT).
Solomito goes off the board at 11th this year, jumping a total of 16 spots from last season. He’s taken at the same spot as the highly-talented cornerback Marshon Lattimore who went to the New Orleans Saints. Experts are giving the Lattimore pick an A- and we think that’s pretty comparable to the Solomito pick in this spot.
#2 – Max Zachem (46th pick) – NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
Max Zachem, aka the “President of the Modifieds” is in the top 51 picks in the Short Track Draft for the first time in his career. Last year, Zachem didn’t even make the “Best of the Rest” list. But that’s what strong runs with a small budget will do for you. Voters will take notice.
Zachem runs for his family-owned team with a limited budget. They certainly don’t have the budget that the Mike Smeriglios, Eric Sandersons and Eddie Partridges of the world have. And yet there they are running up front almost every week on the ultra competitive NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
#3 – Matthew Swanson (48th pick) – NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
Swanson has been hailed as one of the great rising talents by experts and fans in the Northeast. He went from Quarter Midgets to Modifieds in just two years, culminating with a Modified track championship at Star Speedway in 2014. In 2015, he threw his hat up against bigger names, competing at Stafford Motor Speedway and making his debut on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Last season, he impressed with a consistent season that resulted in him earning Rookie of the Year honors.
He is also expanding over to full fenders with limited starts planned for PASS North this season in addition to his slate in the Modifieds. He is backed by two big racing families, the Barry family for Modifieds and the Shaw family in Super Late Models. He has also received the backing from sponsor Starrett Tools for the 2017 season.
#4 – Austin Barnes (50th pick) – Lucas Oil Modified Series
The wins speak for themselves. Seventeen victories in the tough Lucas Oil Modified Series in the last five years is more than any other driver. Along the way, the Golden State warrior has picked off two championships. When Austin Barnes shows up with his candy-apple red No. 51 Modified, everyone else knows he is the man to beat.
Barnes has competed in seven Super Late Model shows on the SRL Spears Southwest Tour during that same span with minimal success. His one, top-10 finish came in 2013 at Madera Speedway (CA). Barnes has also been competing in a Corvette in some Ultimate Street Racing.
#5 – Jimmy Zacharias (Best of the Rest) – RoC Asphalt Modified Tour / NWAAS
Zacharias of Candor, New York has accomplished in a couple years what most drivers will never achieve in a lifetime. He has become one of the greatest drivers in Chemung Speedrome (NY) history with multiple wins and championships while also collecting three NWAAS New York State championships. Also a winner on the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series, Zacharias will do much of the same in 2017 while adding dirt racing to his schedule. He scored his first dirt win just days ago.
#6 – Dylan Cappello (Best of the Rest) – Lucas Oil Modified Series
The 2014 Lucas Oil Modifieds champion is a victim of an East Coast bias by our voters. Cappello might be one of the most talented drivers on the ballot, but racing Modifieds out west doesn’t get a driver the recognition they perhaps deserve.
#7 – Patrick Emerling (Best of the Rest) –RoC Asphalt Modified Tour / NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
Sometimes redirecting focus can yield results, and that was the case last season for the Orchard Park, New York driver. After running full-time on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and part-time with the Race of Champions from 2011 to 2015, Emerling grew and found consistency, while scoring wins in RoC but not finding a championship. In 2016, Emerling switched his full-time effort to RoC, reigning in seven wins and his first championship. He plans the same schedule for this year while beginning to learn the ropes on the Dirt Modified side.
#8 – Taylor Miinch (Best of the Rest) – Lucas Oil Modified Series
Taylor Miinch is an accounting major at San Diego State University and a heckuva racer. Competing in the Lucas Oil Modified Series, the 22 year-old finished second in points in 2016 with a single win to his credit in the 10-race series. This year he has already picked up a victory and is a serious threat for the championship.
#9 – Chase Dowling (Best of the Rest) – NWAAS / NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
Dowling had an amazing rise through the Modified ranks, going from SK Lights to SK Modifieds to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour all in just three years, culminating with the NWMT Rookie of the Year title in 2015. After a solid year in 2016, Dowling lost a full-time ride but teamed with the LFR house team for a limited schedule while returning full-time to the SK Modifieds at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT), already scoring a win this past Sunday.
#10 – Tyler Rypkema (Best of the Rest) – RoC Asphalt Tour
Rypkema has gone from his home of Owego, New York to run all across the state, concentrating on the RoC tour the last three years. He has gained consistency since debuting on the tour, finishing a career-high fifth on the tour in 2016. This past February he scored his first major Modified win at the prestigious World Series of Asphalt Racing at New Smyrna Speedway (FL), holding off many of the best in Modified racing.
-Text by Speed51.com Staff. Photo credit: Rick Ibsen/Speed51.com