Facing the challenge of the longest race in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour history on the Tour’s longest and fastest track is daunting enough. But a pair of hotshot Western New York drivers are going the extra mile, or several hundred miles in this case, as they will return home on Sunday for one of the top prizes on the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series schedule, the U.S. Open at Lancaster National Speedway.
Following the inaugural Musket 250 Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Patrick Emerling, Tommy Catalano, and the majority of their Modified teams will journey nearly 450 miles to Lancaster, New York for the penultimate race of the 2018 RoC Modified Series schedule.
Emerling has done the Loudon to Lancaster express twice before. Last year he also ran the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event prior to the Whelen Modified Tour race that same Saturday in 2017. To the surprise of nobody, he’s geared up to tackle the doubleheader again.
“It depends on when we get out of the race, it’s about an eight-and-a-half hour drive back to Lancaster. It will be a little bit of a long weekend, especially with the early morning at Lancaster. But it shouldn’t be too crazy,” Emerling told Speed51.com.
Fresh off his 26th birthday, Emerling hopes to give himself a late birthday present by capitalizing on recent momentum at “The Magic Mile” and becoming the first driver to claim the Musket and the $25,000 prize.
“To try and win at Loudon has been the main goal the last year or two because we’ve been really close,” Emerling stated. “We just need to execute, we’ll go there with what we know, and it’ll be good enough to get the job done. It’d be incredible to win there and go win at Lancaster on Sunday.”
As for the U.S. Open, he knows how to win under these conditions. He took captured the checkered flag in the 2016 edition of the event after finishing sixth the previous day at New Hampshire. Emerling won the 2018 season opener at Lancaster and along with teammate Mike Leaty has been one of the strongest competitors at 5/8-mile oval this year.
“I’ve had a win, a fourth, a second, and another second,” he explained. “Each race, besides the last one, we were in contention and fast enough to win. We’ve been the best or close to the best car there all year long consistently. We have a really good shot at it.”
On the other hand, this weekend will be the first time that Tommy Catalano has ever attempted such an intense trip, but the ever-enthusiastic young gun is looking forward to embracing the challenge.
“It should be a lot of fun and a lot of racing,” Catalano said. “The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the long drive, but other than that it should be a fun weekend.”
Catalano’s primary objective Saturday at New Hampshire is to learn and pick up a finish with the car in one piece, that way they can go into Sunday with a clear mind.
“As long as things go good Saturday at New Hampshire, we should be in pretty good shape as long as we keep the car in one piece, and we’ll have something for Sunday and we can get that first RoC win.”
Despite the tall task of the weekend, Catalano doesn’t see any reason that Sunday can’t be the day he picks up that elusive RoC win.
“We’ve had our fair share of good and bad luck this year, but I think going into these final few races things are looking in the right direction,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep things moving that way. We got a few things we’re going to try on Sunday, a couple of things that we learned through experience on the NASCAR Tour. If it goes well, we might just have a shot at the win.”
Speed51.com will have live Race Day Now coverage from New Hampshire Motor Speedway Friday and Saturday. Sunday’s U.S. Open at Lancaster will be streamed live to Speed51 Network premium subscribers. If you’re not a premium subscriber, click here to sign up today.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/MoJo Photos