Nine-time NASCAR champion Mike Stefanik finally earned his rightful place in NASCAR glory on Tuesday.
Stefanik, who lost his life last September in a plane crash at 61-years-old, won seven championships on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and two on the NASCAR Busch North Series (now ARCA Menards Series East) during his driving career. He won 74 times on the Whelen Modified Tour and earned 48 career poles — both sit at the top of the all-time list.
Tuesday, Stefanik was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2021. Stefanik joins Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Red Farmer as the newest to be inducted.
Stefanik won 20 career Whelen Modified Tour races at Stafford Motor Speedway, the most of anyone — and 15 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. He joins Richie Evans and Jerry Cook as Modified drivers to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
First it was slated for Virginia. Then it was scheduled for South Carolina. When the long-awaited 2020 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour opener finally rolls around, it will be in Pennsylvania, courtesy of Jennerstown Speedway.
While the site has changed, the familiar faces of the tour are ready roll with the changes and get the season going.
The Morocco Welding/Wade Cole Memorial 133 presented by Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair will be held Saturday without fans in the grandstands at the popular Pennsylvania short track.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The biggest change from 2019 actually occurred over the winter, before the COVID-19 Pandemic, when four-time championship car owner Mike Smeriglio III announced his retirement from racing following another championship season with driver Doug Coby.
That means Coby, in a new-look No. 10, will begin chase for his seventh tour championship Sunday, as a newly-minted driver/owner
The Whelen Modified Tour will visit Jennerstown for the first time since 2006, when the late Ted Christopher took the win on the .522-mile oval. Coby was ninth that night driving the No. 77 for Curt Chase. Fourteen years, 28 wins and six titles later, Coby will the tour’s return.
He’ll face a strong field of competitors, as the Modified drivers and teams have been champing at the bit to get back racing. After the original opener at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway was postponed by the pandemic and the rescheduled opener at South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway was bumped by the weather, Jennerstown is now up.
Thirty-five entries have been filed for the race, which will honor long-time Whelen Modified Tour veteran Wade Cole, who passed away over the winter.
The tour has run 14 races between 1987-2006 at the central Pennsylvania track, with five-time tour champion Tony Hirschman Jr. winning in 1999 and then again when the tour returned in 2005. He was second to Christopher the following year. Hirschman’s son, Matt, has had his success at the track in the Race Of Champions modified series, and is among those set to challenge Coby this weekend. Another contender for the win is Jon McKennedy, who has won in just about every open-wheel division in the northeast, including picking up an IMSA Super Modified victory at Jennerstown in 2017.
McKennedy was 10th and Matt Hirschman 12th in the tour’s 2006 race at Jennerstown.
Long Island’s Justin Bonsignore, the 2018 tour champion, closed last year with three wins in the last five races. Ron Silk, Craig Lutz and Woody Pitkat all visited Victory Lane in 2019 and will be in the hunt to do so again.
CREW CHIEF HANDOUT: The starting field for the Morocco Welding/Wade Cole Memorial 133 presented by Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair is limited to 30, including provisional positions. The field will be set by qualifying (1-24) and provisional process per the entry blank (25-30) for the Wade Cole Memorial 133 presented by Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair. In the event that qualifying as stated on this entry blank does not take place for any unforeseen circumstance, the field will be set in accordance with the 2020 NASCAR Touring Series Rule Book.
QUALIFYING: Two consecutive qualifying laps. Faster lap determines qualifying position. Adjustments or repairs may not be made on the vehicle after the vehicle has taken the green flag at the start/finish line. Vehicles will be impounded after qualifying. Vehicle must qualify on race set up.
The Wade Cole Memorial 133 presented by Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair will be 133 laps (69.43 miles) and is to be run in two (2) segments. The race will have a halfway break, at or near the conclusion of Lap 70. All participants in the event will be allowed to make changes that would normally occur during a routine pit stop. A maximum of five (5) uniformed crew members in the car servicing area. Teams will be allowed to change all four (4) tires – two change tires and teams may swap front/rear on left side – and add fuel. Change tires can only be utilized during the break. Fuel cannot be added at the same time that tires are being changed.
The maximum tire allotment available for this event is as follows: Four (4) tires for practice and four (4) for qualifying and to start the race, plus an additional two (2) for a total of 10 (10) tires.
By: Kyle Souza / Photo: Michael Jaworecki/My Race News
Bristol Motor Speedway has a special place in Patrick Emerling’s heart. On a mid-August night in 2017, he held the checkered flag for the first time in his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour career at the Tennessee track.
Just under two weeks ago, Emerling returned to ‘Thunder Valley’ in a different car, with a bit different result. He made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut for Our Motorsports on June 1 — finishing 29th after a wreck — but the result didn’t show the speed and confidence he had during much of the race with no previous experience in the car.
He’s hoping to take the experience forward when he returns to championship contention for the opener of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season on Sunday, June 21, at Jennerstown Speedway.
“Given Bristol is one of my favorite tracks, we decided to make our debut, and I was nervous going into it, with no practice or qualifying, it was just start the race and go,” Emerling told My Race News. “Being my first time in the car, you have an idea of what to expect… but you don’t know exactly what to expect. Leading up to the green flag was a bit nerve-wracking.”
Emerling ran inside the top-20 for most of his 140 completed laps prior to the crash. The wreck — which stemmed from contact with Matt Mills — left Emerling frustrated.
“There was a car behind me (Mills), and he was within a car length for a little while, and he was sending it in the corner deep,” Emerling said. “If someone shows you a little bit of a nose, you move up the track and race it out. But we had none of that. He didn’t even show me the nose, he was just running a bit behind us… all of a sudden he just took me out in the middle of the straightaway and put me in the inside wall. It was one of the hardest hits I’ve ever had — and he said we deserved it. I didn’t understand it. I’ve never driven someone like that, and no one has ever driven me like that. It was weird that the people at that level would be doing that. Complete lack of class in my book. I don’t have an opportunity to do that everyday, so it was a big letdown.”
The result wasn’t what he wanted. But with it in the rear-view mirror, his eyes turn towards next weekend at Jennerstown. The Whelen Modified Tour season is three months delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will finally take the green flag on Fathers Day, with no fans in attendance.
Emerling has just the one victory in 102 career tour starts, but has 48 top-10 finishes, and a best championship points finish of fifth. He’s hoping a bit of extra effort behind the operation will bolster his chances of becoming a title contender this year.
“A lot of the teams that are contending for the championship put a ton of effort into running for the championship, and I think it’s something we have lacked on a little bit,” Emerling said. “We’ve run the RoC, other divisions, and we never really planned on running the whole series, even last year. We ran a few races and we were second in points and we decided to finish the season off, but there was a lot of bad luck after that and we struggled with the car a bit. We were looking to put in a better effort than we ever have before.”
Jennerstown, a .522-mile oval, held 14 Whelen Modified Tour races between 1987-2006. In the most recent event, Ted Christopher went to Victory Lane. Just nine active drivers have previous experience at the track in Whelen Modified Tour action.
Although Emerling isn’t one of them, he does have laps behind the wheel of a Modified in Race of Champions action.
“It’s going to be great,” Emerling said. “With what has been going on, it was hard to speculate what was going to happen. Jennerstown is a great race track, a great facility. Any track that is more of a neutral track, unlike Stafford or Thompson, I tend to do a little bit better at because a lot of the teams just really have the other tracks dialed in. It’s a really cool race track.”