The Tour-type Modified entry list for the 2019 World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing features a good mix of familiar faces along with drivers making their Speedweeks debut or returning to New Smyrna Speedway (FL) after some time away. One ground pounder who is making his return to the Sunshine State is NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour regular and 2018 Turkey Derby winner Dave Sapienza.
A big figure in the auto repair business on Long Island, Sapienza has a great passion for motorsports, particularly Modified racing, starting at his home track of Riverhead Raceway (NY) before moving to the tour in 2015.
He has been to the World Series on a few occasions, both for a full week and also for just the big races. With it being five years since his last visit, “Sap” figured it was a good time to go back.
“I was down there years ago when there wasn’t a lot of competition; there were the dominant cars, and we didn’t have one them,” Sapienza told Speed51.com. “Then the last time was when we had that Battle at the Beach back in 2014 we went on over to New Smyrna, so it’s been some time. We were only there one or two nights and I think we had a problem with the car.”
Fans can expect to see Sapienza both mid and late week, with he and his team putting their focus on the two long distance events: the John Blewett III Memorial on Wednesday, February 13 and the Richie Evans Memorial on Friday, February 15. One of their goals is to also use the time as warmup for the 2019 Whelen Modified Tour, but he also admits that plans might open up.
“Plan is to do the big races. I don’t want to beat up on the car too much,” he stated. “I’m just going to go there, try a few things that we were planning on trying with Rob Fuller. I don’t get down there until late Monday night, so I won’t really be there until Tuesday; we might shake the car down and practice. Maybe run Tuesday night; we’re going to play it by ear.”
For the most part, “Sap” wants to find success and have fun at the same time, looking at activities such as a trip to Disney World, plus reconnecting with racing friends who are competing elsewhere in Florida.
“I want to go see Buzz Chew. I’m real good friends with him, go see him over at the dirt track at Volusia. I want to make a mini-vacation out of it before we start racing again full-time this year on the tour.”
Speaking of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Sapienza heads to New Smyrna with a tried and tested LFR chassis, which got track time during the 2018 season finale at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT). He’s also looking to collect notes for a brand-new No. 36 that the team plans on debuting in the spring.
“This isn’t the brand new, brand new car I got, this is the car I finished the season out with at Thompson, the LFR car, which had been raced before we got it,” he explained. “I do have the brand-new car, but we’re not bringing it out yet, probably for the Icebreaker or something like that.”
Another reason why Sapienza is making the trip south this month is that he has the confidence of a major Modified race win after years of trying. It’s also a win that is still quite fresh, coming last November on the high-banks of Wall Stadium Speedway (NJ) in one of Modified racing’s crown jewels, the Turkey Derby.
“I’m really psyched about it, because now I’m comfortable. I finally was able to get that monkey off my back at the Turkey Derby. So many years we had been front runners and then something stupid would happen, I’d get taken out or something would break, one thing after another.”
The final reason to go: Sapienza feels that the competition and the playing field at New Smyrna has never been better; echoing the sentiments of many drivers praising the work of World Series chief tech inspector Ricky Brooks over the past few years. Between the climate at the race track and positivity in the No. 36 camp, Sap believes he has pretty good shot at victory.
“I think so, with everything on a level playing field nobody’s really got a chance to pull something. We’re all going to have rear sealed transmissions, carburetors; it’s going to be interesting because it’s going to almost be like the tour. I know guys have run there a lot more than me in the past, but I can adapt pretty good, just like when we go to Myrtle Beach. I think New Smyrna is a place where we can adapt well, as long as the car is ready to go.”
Despite his absence from Speedweeks, Sapienza is well aware of the final key to winning either the 76-lap JB III Memorial or Richie Evans 100. Simply surviving the marathon and getting in position to make a run at the checkered flag.
“Not that I’m skeptical of what’s going to happen, we just got to be on our A-game in avoiding where the accidents are. That’s the only thing during the race that we should be concentrating on, stay out of the mess. But you can’t blame anybody for that, it’s a fast place, anything can happen, a mechanical failure could take somebody out. If we can stay out of it, I don’t see why we can’t win.”
While the Tour-type Modifieds will make their first World Series 2019 appearance on Monday, February 11, the nine straight nights of action at New Smyrna began Friday, February 8 with Super Late Models, Pro Late Models, Florida Modifieds, American Auto Sportsman, and Bombers.
Be sure to follow on Speed51.com’s Trackside Now coverage and watch for in-depth driver interviews on the Speed51 Network.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com