By: Kyle Souza / Photo: Tom Morris/MyRacenews

It was all about to live up to the hype.

In February, when NASCAR’s Speedweeks concluded in Florida, including the Modified portion at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams turned their attention towards the 2020 season. A 17-race calendar, filled with prestigious events including a return to Martinsville Speedway and Jennerstown Speedway, and a debut at Iowa Speedway, had teams, fans, drivers and more ready to roll. It was preparing to be one of the best years in Whelen Modified Tour history. Then it all came to a screeching halt.

Enter COVID-19.

Stopped. Dead in the water. Delayed.

Races were postponed, some were cancelled, and ultimately, six months later, the Whelen Modified Tour season is still not fully back on track — but by the nature of a few decisions by one man — Cris Michaud — the Whelen Modified Tour season in the COVID era has been saved.

White Mountain Motorsports Park wasn’t on the original tour schedule for 2020, as a non-NASCAR sanctioned track in the mountains of New Hampshire. And with the dismal look at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park over the winter, it looked like racing at the Connecticut high-banks might never happen again.

Enter: Cris Michaud for both.

The owner and promoter of the American Canadian Tour, who took over the Late Model division following the death of the late Tom Curley, owns and promotes White Mountain Motorsports Park as well. He wasn’t planning on hosting a Whelen Modified Tour race at that bullring, but post-COVID, those plans changed quickly.

Michaud and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series Director Jimmy Wilson made a deal on the financials of it, and the tour season now has three of six races at tracks Michaud is promoting. Without those three races, the season might have never got off the ground.

Two at White Mountain, on July 4 and August 1, and Thursday’s at Thompson Speedway have all been run by Michaud.

He reached a deal with the Hoenig family, the owners of Thompson, to lease the track along with Pro All Star Series Director Tom Mayberry to keep racing alive at the Connecticut oval, just when it looked like the track might stay dark for 2020, and maybe for good.

“Hats off to them for sticking with it,” 2018 Whelen Modified Tour champion Justin Bonsignore said. “Hats off. We really appreciate everything Cris has done for our series. We want to show him how appreciative we are. We’re thankful.”

Ron Silk, who won Thursday’s Thompson 150, the first oval race at the track since October of last year, echoes Bonsignore’s sentiments. As a veteran of Whelen Modified Tour competition for more than 15 years, Silk has 199 starts at multiple tracks.

“I really appreciate everything Cris has done for us getting us some races,” Silk said. “It’s just the craziest year ever. It didn’t look like Thompson was trending in the right direction in the winter, so it’s definitely a bonus that Cris has taken the charge here and gotten us these races.”

Doug Coby, who has been supportive of NASCAR before with their scheduling decisions, said Thursday that Michaud picking up races is a huge risk. And that’s true.

In order to bring the Whelen Modified Tour into a track, it normally costs over $65,000 for the promoter. Due to COVID, those costs are a bit less in order to help the tracks navigate the pandemic, but it still isn’t cheap.

At White Mountain, per guidance from the state of New Hampshire, fan capacity is just 50% of the grandstand seating. At Thompson, per guidance from the state of Connecticut, grandstand seating is capped at just 25% — a small number when you’re talking about a night where Michaud and Mayberry also had to pay a fee to lease the facility, and pay the local Thompson divisions a purse.

The posted local purse was over $22,000 for the five divisions combined — based on a full field. Car counts were small, so it’s Michaud only paid out just over $12,000 of that, which helps his cause.

But running any sporting event at a reduced capacity, especially one where more people equals more revenue at the concession stands and gates, is tough. And in some cases, nearly impossible.

He’s found a way to do it.

“He’s a business man and it’s working for his business to take these risks,” six-time Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby said. “My concern for anyone with limited fans is how well do they do. Cris has definitely stepped up to the plate and that’s pretty cool. We weren’t supposed to race at any of his tracks or really be involved with him at all in 2020. He’s come in and been the promoter that’s willing to take the chance on us. I hope he’s happy with the product and with what the fans are saying. It’s a big risk.”

Right now, the only planned race Michaud has left to promote on the Whelen Modified Tour schedule is back at Thompson for the Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing, October 9-11. The Whelen Modified Tour traditionally runs on Sunday afternoon, and that tradition is expected to continue in 2020.

Don’t be surprised if the Whelen Modified Tour ends up back at White Mountain, though. Anything is possible.

And expect Michaud to continue to work with Wilson and the entire NASCAR team about having the tour at his tracks in 2021 — including Thunder Road Speedway in Vermont, which Michaud also owns. He’s hoping to return to Thompson Speedway for the traditional Whelen Modified Tour races in 2020 as well, if everything goes as planned for the remainder of this year.

The remaining pieces of the Whelen Modified Tour schedule includes the Musket 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 12, a trip to Riverhead Raceway on September 19, Stafford Motor Speedway’s Fall Final on September 26, the World Series 150 at Thompson, and another trip to Riverhead on October 17.

Both Riverhead dates have not been confirmed by NASCAR, and the track is running without fans due to an executive order from New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. A source close to My Race News said it’s certain that both of those events won’t happen — but it is possible that NASCAR and the track work out a deal where one of them can.

Only time will tell if additional races are added, or any of the events planned are scrapped.

But thanks to Cris Michaud, the Whelen Modified Tour season is off the ground and running — as smooth as possible — in the middle of a pandemic.

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