Category Archives: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour

How Losing TC Helped Drive Ryan Stone Back Home To Become Champion

Story & Photo By: Kyle Souza

When Ted Christopher suddenly passed away in a plane crash in 2017, en route to a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race, it sent shockwaves through the entire Northeast modified community.

Nevermind just the modifieds — but it sent those same waves right through short-track racing, and even trickled it’s way up to the higher levels of the sport. Losing a prestigious driver, who was a multiple-time champion and winner, but more importantly — a genuinely good guy — hit home with most.

Including Ryan Stone, now a two-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship crew chief. Stone clinched his second title on Sunday at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park as the ringleader of the No. 51 Phoenix Communications Chevrolet with driver Justin Bonsignore and car owner Ken Massa. It was also the second title for the other two centerpieces of the organization.

After a tenure down south, working in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports, Stone came home to unite with Bonsignore and Massa — and it’s resulted in two titles in three years.

“Losing Ted Christopher made me think about being away from home, being away from friends,” Stone told Souza Media. “He was a good buddy of mine. I missed him racing for the last three and a half years of his life. That really affected me. I said I needed to go home to my people.”

Stone’s success down south was well-documented. Working for JR Motorsports, an organization owned by NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr., was the epitome of everything Stone dreamed of as a kid. But, as that kid growing up, his home was in the open-wheel Modifieds, cars with no fenders, wide tires and plenty of ground-pounding speed.

The fendered Xfinity cars and the trip down south was worth it for Stone. But it was three separate phone calls from Ken Massa and Bonsignore that helped him make the return to New England, where he belongs.

“It’s such a funny story, because at first I said no because I wanted to stay at JR Motorsports and try to drive myself up the line,” Stone said. “They called me in September of 2017, I said no. They called again, I said no. When they called me a third time, they sweetened the deal, and they were going to get me a shop. They wanted me to move to Long Island, almost home… but I wanted to be in Connecticut where I was from with my friends… really go home. Ken told me he would get me a shop and they wanted me to do it. I saw some layoffs happen at the end of the year at JR Motorsports, and that was tough. I watched that and said I should go home.”

READ MORE: Dynasty Building: Bonsignore, Massa Clinch Second Whelen Modified Tour Title

The decision to roll back has certainly paid off in a big way. Stone and the No. 51 team have accomplished some impressive feats in the last three years — on top of two titles — with wins in 17 of 41 races and top-five finishes in 31 of them. Better yet, they have been consistently one of few cars on the Whelen Modified Tour that can unload at a variety of different tracks with winning speed right off the truck.

“We have a special deal here,” Bonsignore said. “Ryan, more than anyone, speaks up to it. He knows what we have as a core group. And he, more than anyone, wants to go out and keep solidifying his spot as a championship winning crew chief in the future. He wants to be in the likes of Phil (Moran) and the others who were the dominant type.”

Stone has been busy since day one, building, preparing and maintaining cars, and hasn’t stopped for much else. He’s dedicated to his craft, and it shows on the track. He even spent time living with former Whelen Modified Tour champion and close friend Ron Silk until he got his feet back under him.

“We hit the ground running in 2018, we built some cars, I lived with Silk for two years, because all I was doing was working. I looked for a home, worked, worked some more, went racing,” Stone said. “We’ve just been on fire ever since. The chemistry just happens. I can’t even explain it. We hit the ground running and never looked back.”

“Ryan just doesn’t let us fail, he works his guts out every single day at the shop, 16-hour days,” Bonsignore said. “He’s there every single day of the week. Even with COVID he was there. It’s just how he is.”

With two titles down, and no signs of slowing down in their immediate future, Stone, Bonsignore and Massa, while celebrating on Sunday at Thompson, we’re already starting to look forward to the 2021 season, where they hope to grab their third title in four years.

“It feels good to get a second one,” Stone said. “If we can keep this together, we can be one of those teams that you guys talk about… the No. 16, the 3, the 4, the 2… that’s what we are trying to build towards, an iconic team. It’s another step closer to that… we have a long way to go to catch people like Doug (Coby) and Phil (Moran), but that’s what we are trying to do. It’s been a magical three years.”

Dynasty Building: Bonsignore, Massa Clinch Second Whelen Mod Title

By: Kyle Souza / Photo: Tom Morris/My Race News

Two-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Justin Bonsignore.

Ask the Holtsville, New York, driver 12 years ago and he would have said that phrase was a dream. Ask him now and the dream is reality. 

Bonsignore and his Kenneth Massa Motorsports team clinched their second Whelen Modified Tour title at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, marking their second crown in the last three years. He did it with a fourth-place finish in the season-finale — scoring his ninth top-five finish in the nine races run in 2020. Due to COVID-19, the original schedule was cut down to just nine, with a few new tracks on the schedule. But it was a return to one of Bonsignore’s favorite tracks, Thompson, that helped him seal the crown.

The Long Island kid celebrates again.

“Ryan Stone, Ken Massa, and everybody, top to bottom, to our sponsors, product sponsors, the team, families of the team, it’s everything together,” Bonsignore said of the success. “Ryan Stone just doesn’t let us fail. He works his guts out every night at the shop, no matter if we are racing or not. Ken and Ryan talk hours everyday on what we can do to get better. We just work hard.”

Bonsignore, team owner Ken Massa, and the entire No. 51 Phoenix Communications team have been on fire since the start of 2018 — a year which also marked the start of their new journey with Ryan Stone as crew chief. Since then, they have won 17 of 41 races on the Whelen Modified Tour, finished in the top-five in 31 of 41 and have been a contender to win nearly all of them with the speed they’ve shown unloading off the truck.

The reality: they could be building the next dynasty in NASCAR’s regional touring series. 

Names like Evans, Stefanik and Coby had to start somewhere, right? Doug Coby, a six-time Whelen Modified Tour champion, who finished third in the standings this year, won his first title when he was 33. That sparked a tenure at the top of the series with six titles in nine years. Bonsignore is the only driver to beat him in that span, other than NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Preece.

Bonsignore, who is 32-years-old, is in his 14th year of competition. It took him more years driving to win his first crown than it took Coby, but it might pay off for him in the long run. While Coby switches over to become an owner/driver, and the tour continues to become more top-heavy — with only five or six cars, if that, in true title contention each year — the blocks are building towards Bonsignore and Massa creating the next dynasty.

Bonsignore’s second career title and 29 career wins further cements his legacy as one of the best of the era to compete on the Whelen Modified Tour. It’s clear his goals are to continue to win races, and championships, for many years to come. And the relationship he has with Massa, Stone and his team is going to make it tough for most to match.

“Ken and I have been together a long time, my parents don’t live close to me anymore, but Ken and his wife are my second parents,” Bonsignore said. “I hope we can continue this relationship as long as Ken wants to race. I’m going to race as long as I’m competitive and as long as I have Ryan Stone in my corner. Ted Christopher and Mike Stefanik raced into their 50s… as long as I have an opportunity like I have now, I’m going to continue to race.”

“The emotion is insane,” Ken Massa, who took a slight break from taking photos with countless family and friends, said. “What I go through on a day-to-day basis with Ryan, it’s just unexplainable. I’ve never been through it with a crew chief and I love it on a one-to-one level. The respect we have for each other, and the friendship we’ve built because of it is special.”

Bonsignore, one of the more humble drivers in the Whelen Modified Tour garage, isn’t ready to discuss his legacy yet — with him planning to race for many years to come — he hopes at this winning level.

“It’s not my place to really say,” Bonsignore said of what he thinks of his second title cementing himself as a top contender. “I don’t get to make the decision for what people of think of me, but I know that as a team, we want to go out there and drive out butt off. We just want to go out and win.”

Massa is already thinking of ways to improve the team for 2021, and beyond. They will open as early favorites when NASCAR releases a schedule for the new year.

“Dynasty is something that you always strive to build… I always had that faith in Justin and I never gave him what he needed as a car owner,” Massa said. “For the last three years, I’ve given him what he needed. The eight points last year was… just eight points. It was hard to swallow. But that’s exactly what I want to build of this team.. a dynasty.”

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Title on the Line at Sunoco World Series

Photo Tom Morris/Myracenews

Thompson, CT — The 2020 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship will be decided this Sunday, October 11 with the Sunoco World Series 150 at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. The final race of the 58th Annual Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing will tie a bow on the tour’s 36th season with two modern greats battling for the title.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule took several unexpected turns this year due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Several venues had to be dropped while new ones were added in a constant shuffle. Despite it all, the season draws to a close with two familiar sights: a trip to Thompson for the Sunoco World Series, and Justin Bonsignore and Doug Coby in the hunt for a championship.

Holtsville, NY’s Bonsignore sits in the catbird seat. The 2018 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion enters the Sunoco World Series 150 with a 27-point lead over six-time champion Coby. Bonsignore has won three of the eight events contested this year. A finish of 23rd or better on Sunday will clinch his second NASCAR Modified title.

Bonsignore’s track record at Thompson Speedway is a good sign for his chances. He won seven of the eight series events held at the track across the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In last month’s Thompson 150, he finished a close second to Ron Silk. The hard charger made his name by going all-out for wins, and though Bonsignore merely needs to stay out of trouble on Sunday, he may well be a factor for the victory before the day is over.

Milford, CT’s Coby is the only man who can catch Bonsignore. The multi-time champion has continued to thrive in his first season as a car owner, and second in points would objectively be a great year. Still, once a racer stands atop the mountain, it’s hard to settle for anything less.

Coby enters Sunday knowing he needs a win or top-5 finish just to have a shot at the championship. As a six-time winner at Thompson, with the most recent triumph coming last year, he is certainly up to the challenge. From there, he must hope that Bonsignore falters enough for him to steal a seventh crown.

Although the title is the big story on Sunday, the Sunoco World Series 150 is far from a two-man dance. Norwalk, CT’s Ron Silk may be the hottest driver in Modified racing. He has won two of the last three NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events, including September’s trip to Thompson. After a slow start, the Kevin Stuart–owned team is ending the year on a high note.

Several top runners, on the other hand, are still looking for their first win of the year. Number-three point driver Jon McKennedy of Chelmsford, MA has surprisingly been shut out of Victory Lane to date. Matt Swanson, Dave Sapienza, Anthony Nocella, and Woody Pitkat also have been knocking on the door with their performances. A win at the historic 5/8-mile oval and a big check to go with it would be the perfect way to enter the pending offseason.

The rest of the NASCAR Modified stars will be out in force this weekend. Craig Lutz, Ronnie Williams, Patrick Emerling, Kyle Bonsignore, and Eric Goodale are just some of the racers who have filed entries for the Sunoco World Series 150. Some drivers will be doing double-, triple-, or even quadruple duty among the other Modified divisions on the card.

The Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park runs from Friday, October 9 through Sunday, October 11. Many of the NASCAR Modified stars can also be seen in the Budweiser Modified Open 75 on Saturday’s schedule. The ISMA Big Block Supermodifieds, Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models, ACT-type Late Model Open, NEMA Midgets, and Exit Realty Pro Truck Series are also part of the 19-division program.

Advance general admission tickets for the Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing can be purchased at https://happsnow.com/event/Thompson-Speedway-Motorsports-Park-YHPQ/WORLD-SERIES–NO2QX. A three-day ticket is $55 for adults and $15 for kids ages 12 and under. Pit passes will be sold at the track and are $75 for adults and $40 for kids ages 12 and under. The Saturday and Sunday programs, with the exception of the NASCAR Modified action, will also be broadcast via pay-per-view on Speed51TV.

For more information about the Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing schedule, contact the ACT offices at (802) 244-6963, media@acttour.com, or visit www.acttour.com/thompson-speedway. You can also get updates on Facebook and Twitter at @ACTTour.

For camping information and general Thompson Speedway inquires, call (860) 923-2280, email oval@thompsonspeedway.com, or visit www.thompsonspeedway.com. You can follow Thompson Speedway on Facebook and Instagram at @ThompsonSpeedway or on Twitter at @ThompsonSpdwy.

For technical information concerning all PASS divisions, and for media or marketing questions, please contact passracing@roadrunner.com or visit www.proallstarsseries.com. Don’t forget to “Like” the Pro All Stars Series on Facebook or follow on Twitter @PASSSLM14 to keep up with breaking news as it happens.