(EDITOR’S NOTE: 51’s X-Factor is a feature on Speed51.com that features opinions from columnists on racing’s hottest topics. Brandon Paul, the author of this editorial, is the Editor for Speed51.com. The views which are expressed in the following column are his own and not necessarily the views of Speed51.com and/or its partners.)
A race car driver doesn’t need to win a single race during his or her lifetime to be considered a real racer. While winning is the ultimate goal for most that strap in behind the wheel of a race car, it is the amount of heart and dedication poured into the sport that creates a real racer.
There are many real racers that display their passion throughout the short track racing world, but we need more of them if our sport is going to thrive.
This past weekend, Massachusetts native Jon McKennedy and the Tommy Baldwin Racing team proved that they’re real racers.
They showed a passion for the sport that goes back to the days of Modified legends Jerry Cook and Richie Evans. Both drivers were racers. They weren’t just race car drivers, but they were racers. They lived to race and they raced to live. Evans and Cook would race four nights a week at different tracks across the Northeast and beyond.
After winning the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener at Myrtle Beach Speedway (SC) Saturday, McKennedy and Baldwin had the desire to race more. Instead of packing up the winning trophy and calling it a weekend, McKennedy and team owner Tommy Baldwin, Jr. decided to make a stop at Caraway Speedway (NC) Sunday afternoon for the Southern Modified Racing Series opener.
They won that race and completed a sweep of Modified races in the Carolinas, but that’s not what makes them real racers. What makes them real racers is the fact that their passion for the sport shined through because of their desire to race.
Despite the two race tracks being less than 200 miles apart, McKennedy was one of only two drivers to race in both races in the Carolinas this past weekend. Burt Myers, a North Carolina resident and regular with the Southern Modified Racing Series was the other driver, and he should be commended as well for his passion.
While McKennedy and Myers raced in Sophia, N.C., 25 of the 27 other Modified teams that competed at Myrtle Beach Saturday afternoon loaded up and headed home.
Maybe those 25 drivers had a good reason to not go to Caraway. Maybe their car was too banged up from Myrtle Beach. Maybe they had go to work early on Monday. Maybe they had a family to get home to.
Those are all legitimate reasons to not show up to a race, but racer’s race when given the opportunity. That’s all there is to it.
The race at Caraway ended up attracting eight race cars. Eight cars circled the .455-mile oval for 99 laps while 25 race cars with a similar rules package sat in race car haulers. That’s disappointing.
In an attempt to make sure I didn’t end up biting my tongue after writing this column, I checked in with both McKennedy and Myers to verify that there wasn’t a drastic difference in rules for these races. There wasn’t.
Their responses were “95-percent the same” and “very, very similar” in reference to the rules. Only a few minor changes were needed in order to make their cars legal for Southern Modified Racing Series competition on Sunday.
Brannon Earnest, who is known as a shock specialist through his business Earnest Performance, told us that SMRS is allowing bumpstops and the NASCAR Tour does not.
Yet, McKennedy and Myers did it. And yes, there was talk that TBR’s group with McKennedy was possibly coil-binding, which essentially accomplishes a similar thing to bump stops.
Our point is, Modified racers had a chance to showcase their brand of racing in a region that isn’t primarily known for Modifieds. Unfortunately, they failed in doing so.
Every single driver on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is extremely passionate about their sport and their brand of racing. They prove that every day and at every race. They’re a rare breed, a rare breed that needs to be seen by race fans more, not less.
The drivers that compete on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour are grassroots racers. For most of them, the potential to race at a higher level no longer exists. They are exactly what short track racing needs more of: veterans who fans can relate to and get behind.
By writing this column, I’m not indicating that those who didn’t go to Caraway aren’t real racers. That couldn’t be further from the truth. However, I can tell you that by going to Caraway on Sunday afternoon, Jon McKennedy and Burt Myers proved that they are in fact real racers, just like Richie Evans and Jerry Cook did during their time.
For our sport to thrive, we need more real racers. We need more racers who will go outside of the box and display their passion for the sport. When racers have passion, it transfers over to the fans. And when fans are passionate, our sport is in a good place.