The Tour-type Modified roster assembled for the 2021 World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway, may be one of the best examples of the resurgence of short track racing in recent memory, going from just 15 entries in 2016 to the mid-40’s in just five years. It provides a great range of underdogs to living legends, with the Northeast in the majority, but the Southeast having its own heavy hitters.
Many race teams are entering the new year with unspent money left from their 2020 racing budgets and an uncertainty over the Spring 2021 racing calendar in select states, it has provided one of the most unique lineups of drivers and teams seen not only for Florida Speedweeks, but all of Modified racing.
With six states from the Northeast and two states from the Southeast, not to mention every touring series, and plenty of home track drivers appearing on the list; we’re taking the time to go over who are the drivers to watch. Spoiler alert, there are a lot.
It’s going to go something like this, starting with the drivers who go in with chance at their first triumph at New Smyrna. Then, it’s those with past success in February down south who might make waves between Monday and Friday next week. Finally, those who will most likely be leading most of the laps, and doing most of the winning; plus a few predictions.
Got it? Good, let’s get into it.
The Catalano family always goes big when February arrives, in addition to bringing four of their family Modifieds down from Ontario, NY for parents Amy and David, and sons Timmy and Tyler, RoC Series race winner Tommy Catalano is once again joining forces with PSR Racing to drive their No. 17.
Fresh faces will be aplenty too starting Monday night. Pennsylvania’s Bobby Jones comes in after confident seasons at Evergreen Raceway and Mahoning Valley Speedway. Tyler Truex’s plans to run RoC in 2020 were scrapped by the pandemic, but the New Jersey driver is making up for it with a trip down south.
For 2021, the state with the most newcomers to New Smyrna is “The Heart of Modified Racing”, Connecticut. Marcello Rufrano may be young, but he has already accomplished much as a driver, including a Tour-type win at Stafford Motor Speedway last season. Meanwhile, seasoned SK Modified racers Matt Galko and Stephen Kopcik will bring Steve Mendoza’s and John Jensen’s cars to the Sunshine State.
Ronnie Williams is making his return to the World Series of Asphalt for the first time in three years. Since that time, he has upped his game with 2018 and 2019 SK Modified championships at Stafford, the 2019 Tri-Track Open Modified Series title, and plenty of big money wins.
Dave Sapienza is one driver bringing age to the Modified field, but he continues to expand his experience like young gun. The Long Island native has become more and more competitive for wins the past few years, including preparing winning cars for Bobby Santos at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and winning the Turkey Derby as a driver at Wall Stadium Speedway in 2018.
The winningest driver in the last year may just be New Hampshire’s Brian Robie. Sweeping Modified track titles at Claremont, Monadnock, and Hudson Speedway’s in 2020 and finishing fifth in the NASCAR Weekly National standings. He hopes to avenge a disastrous New Smyrna debut last February when he blew his engine before turning a lap in competition.
Southern short-haulers will be on hand, with a strong trio leading the way. 2018 and 2019 Southern Modified Racing Series champion Jeremy Gerstner comes to New Smyrna with a new car, a veteran crew chief in Stash Butova, and a lot of enthusiasm. Bobby Measmer Jr. will take on the big races later in the week, while 10-time Bowman Gray Stadium Burt Myers makes his return after eight years, this time driving his father’s No. 4 car.
Next up, some former New Smyrna winners who are looking to make statement runs over the five nights.
Chuck Hossfeld has 12 career Tour Mod World Series wins and two titles; but his most recent title in 2019 was done on consistency and not race victories. His teammate J.R. Bertuccio has also won twice at New Smyrna, but not since 2017. Both New York State drivers will look to make their triumphant returns to victory lane during the week.
Last year, another New York pilot Tyler Rypkema spent much of his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour campaign learning how to wield new racecars. Now he will be chasing his second Speedweeks win, with father Dean Rypkema also racing alongside.
Long Islander Eric Goodale is heading south with nothing but victory in mind. Struggles in the Northeast the past few seasons have the former World Series race winner looking for that one big win to kickstart that winning momentum, and New Smyrna may just be the place to do it.
Ron Silk has both Tour and SK Mod titles at New Smyrna, but Connecticut driver is making his first start in Florida in three years with help from Pennsylvania. After building chemistry with the No. 16 Tyler Haydt owned team in 2020, Silk is determined to strike that key first major win this coming week.
When the world emerged from the COVID freeze last summer, Jimmy Blewett first hit the road with his Wall Stadium team, winning on debut at Mahoning Valley. Running those two bullrings in 2020, New Smyrna will be his first half-mile track since 2019. Now, the former Tour and SK Modified World Series champ looks to claim his first win at New Smyrna since way back in 2009.
In the past 10 years, Andy Seuss has become a fan favorite in both the North and South. But, before he was a NASCAR Southern Modified Tour champion, Seuss claimed a Tour-type title at New Smyrna, in 2006. Here’s another but, he did it without a race win, in fact he is still looking to bring home his first race winner’s trophy from the World Series.
Jon McKennedy’s first World Series win in 2018 had many thinking he would go on to win that year’s title, at least before he crashed hard on Tuesday night. After many close calls on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour the past two seasons, the Massachusetts native and car owner Tommy Baldwin are looking to start 2021 in the best way possible.
Finally, it’s those few who are arriving in the Sunshine State with recent momentum, star power, or a combination of the two.
While he will be unable to add a fourth Tour-type title as he chases a win in the Daytona 500, Ryan Preece is not cutting any corners to adding to his already 11 race wins in the Tour Mods at New Smyrna. In addition to checking all the usual boxes, his determination is or even greater than ever, even sporting some momentum after his win at Riverhead Raceway in the Islip 300 last November.
Fellow Connecticut statesman and six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby is also out of the title hunt, as he gives Florida’s own Austin Pickens a shot in the No. 10 for the week’s first two races. With his first season as an owner/driver behind him, Coby is making his second trip to New Smyrna for fun this time, but don’t be surprised if a win or two in February leads to a seventh Whelen Modified Tour title.
Last year, Craig Lutz broke through at New Smyrna with his first World Series win. What followed was the winningest season in the career for the Long Island driver. He also ended 2020 strong, winning at Thompson Speedway in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour finale, he may might just have the most momentum out of any driver.
Patrick Emerling has transformed into a perennial contender at New Smyrna in the past three years. Always hanging near the front, the now three-time RoC Series champion has shown consistency, while collecting two race wins. It’s the kind of consistency that might just net him a World Series title.
The performance of Anthony Nocella at New Smyrna in 2020 was truly dazzling, his first two wins, including on by half-an-inch in the John Blewett III Memorial 76. Some hard knocks in the final two nights cost him a shot at the week’s title, but the week has cemented the Massachusetts native as a 2021 favorite.
But, the man with the biggest target on his back once again has to be Matt Hirschman. A victory in the Richie Evans Memorial 100 and a second Tour-type title at New Smyrna in 2020 led into another profitable season for ‘Big Money Matt’. There is no little to say against him being the top dog once again heading into five nights of racing.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Correspondent – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo
Tour-type Modifieds World Series Pre-entry List
0 Randall Richard. Titusville, PA
0 Zane Zeiner. Bath PA
1 Bobby Jones. Palmerton, PA
1NY Chris Ridsdale. Rochester, NY
2 Chuck Hossfeld. Ransomville, NY
4 Burt Myers. Walnut Cove, NC
6 Ryan Preece. Berlin, CT
7 Jon McKennedy. Chelmsford, MA
8 Chris Finocchario.Macedon, NY
9 Tom Martino Jr. Farmingdale, NJ
10 Doug Coby. Marion, CT
10 Austin Pickens. Orlando, FL
11 Paulie Hartwig III. Galloway, NJ
14 Bobby Measmer Jr. Concord, NC
16 Ron Silk. Norwalk, CT
17 Tommy Catalano. Ontario, NY
17K Danny Knoll Jr. Amherst, NY
20 Eddie McCarthy. Brick, NJ
21 J.R Bertuccio. Statesville, NC
21 Jim Gavek. Effort, PA
25 Brian Robie. Sunapee, NH
28 Paul Charette. Woodstock, CT
32 Tyler Rypkema. Owego, NY
32X Dean Rypkema. Owego, NY
36 David Sapienza. Riverhead, NY
45 Timmy Catalano. Ontario, NY
46 Craig Lutz. Miller Place, NY
48 Marcello Rufrano. Northhaven CT
50 Ronnie Williams. Tolland, CT
51 Jimmy Blewett. Howell, NJ
54 David Catalano. Ontario, NY
55 Jeremy Gerstner. Wesley Chapel, FL
56 Amy Catalano. Ontario, NY
58 Eric Goodale. River Head, NY
59 Matthew Galko. Moodus, CT
60 Matt Hirschman. Northhampton, PA
64 Tyler Catalano. Ontario, NY
70 Andy Seuss. Hampstead, NH
73 Paul Hartwig Jr. Galloway, NJ
79 John Jensen. Ormond Beach, FL
92 Anthony Nocella. Woburn, MA
02 Joe Bertuccio. Centereach, NY
07 Patrick Emerling. Holland, NY
99 Tyler Truex. Manahawkin, NJ
158 Michael Curtis. Riverhead, NY
179 Stephen Kopcik. Newtown, CT