By: Kyle Souza / Photo: Tom Morris/My Race News
Jon McKennedy hopes a new year will bring another first in his racing career.
The Chelmsford, Massachusetts, native, who is no stranger to success in asphalt racing, has one glaring bucket list item left in his mind at just 33-years-old: win a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship.
He plans to return to tour competition for another shot at the crown this year, with car owner and crew chief Tommy Baldwin, and Ultra Wheel as a returning sponsor. Baldwin, a former Daytona 500 winning crew chief, has returned to his Modified roots, and tabbed McKennedy to compete since the beginning of the 2018 season.
“I want to win the Whelen Modified Tour championship,” McKennedy said. “A few years ago, Tommy called me out of the blue to come run his car at New Smyrna Speedway’s Speedweeks — he gave me an opportunity and knew I couldn’t really bring anything but my helmet bag. I’m very thankful for the opportunity he has given me. I’ve met a lot of people through him, and I’ve been fortunate to drive his cars. He has faith in me and my ability.”
Over 62 starts on the tour, last year was McKennedy’s breakout year. In the midst of a shortened season due to COVID-19, McKennedy managed to finish inside the top-10 in all nine races. He scored four top-five finishes — with a best of second at Thompson Speedway in September — and a second-place points finish placed him ahead of six-time tour champion Doug Coby.
“If you look at last year, we proved pretty much every race that we were a top three, top-five car… we won some poles, led a bunch of laps and finishing second in points, it was really the first season I’ve had the opportunity to run all of the races. Now that we’ve been working together, we’ve learned a lot… I think last year and the previous year we proved that with a little bit of luck, we are a serious contender.”
McKennedy is especially looking forward to the 2021 Whelen Modified Tour schedule — one that has 14 races. But, it includes dates at tracks where McKennedy has previous success, and others where he feels like his team might have an advantage over others due to his ability to catch-on quickly. As a four-time Modified Racing Series champion, Tri Track Open Modified Series champion and ISMA Supermodified champion, McKennedy has proven to be a master of multiple cars and tracks.
“We’re going to a few race tracks that some of these guys are not familiar with, and with all of the cars and tracks I have driven, I think we will adapt to some of these tracks quicker than most,” McKennedy said. “We all went to Myrtle Beach Speedway with no notes a few years ago, I had a win, a second… tracks like Richmond, Martinsville, Beech Ridge this year… I think we will have a good chance at those.”
Outside of the Whelen Modified Tour, McKennedy is also planning a full Tri Track Open Modified Series schedule and a select amount of Open Modified races as part of a new team. McKennedy’s ISMA Supermodified owners, Tim and Cheryl Lepine, who are the owners of Middlesex Interiors Inc., have assisted to purchase a brand new LFR chassis. McKennedy is also planning on running select ISMA events again in 2021.
“Certainly the last few years I’ve had some good people behind me,” McKennedy said. “You have to surround yourself with good people and sponsors to have some success.”