Category Archives: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour

Mike Stefanik Back on NASCAR Hall of Fame Ballot

BY: Kyle Souza / PHOTO: Getty Images/Jared Wickerham

Nine-time NASCAR champion Mike Stefanik is back on the NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee ballot.

The Coventry, Rhode Island, native, who won seven championships on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, is on a list of 15 potential inductees into the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021.

The veteran Modified winner and champion lost his life in a plane crash last September.

Stefanik is part of the Modern Era ballot — one of two major ballots that voters will pick from to honor the Class of 2021 as part of new voting requirements by NASCAR. Two drivers from the Modern Era ballot will be selected — while one from the new pioneer ballot will join them, totaling three. A Landmark Award winner will also be honored.

FULL CAREER STATS: Mike Stefanik’s Racing Timeline

Stefanik is joined on the Modern Era ballot by Neil Bonnett, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Harry Gant, Harry Hyde, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd and Kirk Shelmerdine. Two will be selected from the group.

In 29 years of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour racing, Stefanik won 74 times and won 48 poles. Both of those marks are the most in the modern era of the Whelen Modified Tour. He won his first championship in 1989, another in 1991, followed by two straight in 1997 and 1998. He won two more in 2001 and 2002, then his final in 2006. As part of the ’97 and ’98 seasons, he also won two NASCAR Busch North Series crowns (previously K&N Pro Series East, now ARCA Menards Series East).

The panel of voters is tentatively scheduled to meet on Wednesday, May 20, in Charlotte, North Carolina, to select the Class of 2021. NASCAR did not mention in a story Tuesday if that date would change due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s important to note Stefanik has not been nominated into the Class of 2021, but is among 10 drivers where two will be selected from.

Timmy solomito itching for return to the track

BY: Kyle Souza/ PHOTO: MyRaceNews

After what has been a bit of a bumpy offseason, Timmy Solomito is itching to return to the race track.

The former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour winner will take on a new venture in 2020, with his family-owned operation competing in a part-time schedule. At the end of last year, longtime car owner Eric Sanderson — who Solomito won nine races with — retired from competition, leaving Solomito to come up with a new plan.

The offseason started off well — with his business, Natural Design Concepts & Apparel — booming with success. But at the beginning of January, things took a turn the opposite way.

Solomito was spending time competing in the Indoor Auto Racing Championship Series event in Pennsylvania’s PPL Center, when he was involved in a terrifying crash. It sidelined him or a bit after he was diagnosed with a concussion.

“Racing the Indoor Series is difficult, they get 40 or 50 cars that show up for around 20 spots,” Solomito said. “Towards the end of last year, we had started running better, and we went to Allentown to start 2020 and we qualified through the B-Main, winning it. I felt strong about the car, moving up in the feature, when someone spun and I jumped the right-rear tire and got banged up pretty good. In 22 years of racing, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a crash that violent. My head hit the roll-bar and I got knocked out.”

From there, it was a difficult stretch through January, and even into February for Solomito, who spent more time in the doctor’s office than he did at his business. He was vocal about the diagnosis on social media, giving race fans and friends the inside look on what it’s like to have a concussion and go through the process of recovery.

“As an athlete, you don’t want to admit you got hurt, and often concussions are swept under the table as far as drivers, we just want to get back in the seat and race and don’t really think about our own health,” Solomito said. “It took me eight weeks to recover, going to three doctors, three times a week, with physical therapy, chiropractor and a neurologist. They kept me busy. You crash in the big Modifieds and the car takes most of the impact, but when you crash in the indoor midget, the guy driving the car is the point of impact.”

What is most important after all of the struggles to kick off 2020? He’s back and ready to go.

RACING-REFERENCE: Timmy Solomito Career Stats

“I’m ready to get back at it, and I’m back to 100 percent now,” he said.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the start of the Whelen Modified Tour season, delaying the first three events and forcing their postponement, Solomito is itching to get back to the track for a part-time schedule with his family-owned team.

When Sanderson retired, it was a tough moment for Solomito, who has run five of eight seasons driving the No. 16 for the veteran.

“I started my Whelen Modified Tour career with Wayne Anderson, a local guy and former champion, and we ran competitively, but I met Sly Szaban (crew chief) and Eric Sanderson at the end of my Rookie season and Ryan Preece and I had a hard-fought race a few years before at Riverhead, and Preece was driving their car,” Solomito said. “I went over after the race and shook their hand and congratulated them. At the end of the Rookie season, I didn’t have too much in cement — and Ryan had stepped away from the team — and a few phone calls later, Sly was texting me asking me about moving forward with them.”

The first official encounter to discuss Solomito filling the seat was a rather quick one, but involved Solomito telling a small white lie in order to make it to their shop.

Solomito celebrates a Whelen Modified Tour win driving for Eric Sanderson. (My Race News photo)

“I went up for a meeting on a Monday and I actually told my job I was sick and couldn’t come in, and I jumped on the ferry,” he said with a laugh. “I walked in the office and Eric looked at me and said: “So, you want to drive our car?”, and I said yeah, I would be interested, and he said we had a deal and he shook my hand. I didn’t even have to sign any papers. He told me he was a handshake guy and he was going to do it if he said he was. We raced that way for five years, we had fun, and competed hard. Winning four races in the second year, and five races in the third and nearly winning the championship, I had a great car owner behind me with a great team.”

Solomito knows it’s going to be a difficult venture, with some of the best on the Whelen Modified Tour set to return in 2020 to chase the checkered flag. His main goal is to try and finish top-five in the races that he runs, and hopefully contend for a checkered flag along the way.

“We purchased some equipment with some sponsors and up until the last few weeks our plan was to run as many races as we could depending on funding, but no one really knows what the future is going to hold because of COVID,” Solomito said. “We are hoping for 5-8 races, maybe 10, but it all depends. The car is ready to go and all of the parts and pieces are in place.”

Solomito ended his interview with candid comments about the late Wade Cole, a regular on the Whelen Modified Tour, who suddenly passed away in March.

“Wade no matter what would always up come to me and say hello and ask how things were going, he was just a genuine guy,” Solomito said. “He didn’t do it for the likes on Facebook — he went out there because he was a racer and he enjoyed doing it. You knew every week that the No. 33 was going to be in the pit area and ready to go racing. He had a passion for the sport, and didn’t care what it took. Open truck all the way down to Bristol… he was there to race, and didn’t even care if anyone was coming with him. You don’t see that in this sport anymore. To get the news was tragic, and we will race this year in his memory.”

Timmy Solomito’s new ride for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2020. (Timmy Solomito photo)

Craig Lutz aiming for championship season on nascar whelen modified tour

BY: Kyle Souza

PHOTO: Tom Morris/MyRaceNews

He isn’t sure when the season is going to start, but Craig Lutz is aiming for the championship on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2020.

The Miller Place, New York, driver is like the rest of the racing community, waiting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic plays out across the United States. The first three Whelen Modified Tour races have been postponed as part of a NASCAR announcement that says they will not compete in any race events through at least May 3 in connection with the current guidance by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Safety is top priority for NASCAR and all of the tracks involved.

It puts the opener for the 35th year of Whelen Modified Tour action slated for Friday, May 8, at Martinsville Speedway, under the lights as part of NASCAR Cup Series weekend.

“It’s a big disappointment, you work all winter trying to get everything ready for the first race and a week before it, it gets canceled,” Lutz said. “Ultimately, it’s the best decision for everyone to stay positive and healthy — then we can move forward with the racing season, once it’s all cleared up.”

Based on the rescheduled dates that have been announced for some of the tour’s largest events, it’s going to be a packed start to the season. Starting with Martinsville, and ending with Seekonk Speedway just under a month later, teams are scheduled to compete in five races in five weeks to open the year. It starts in Virginia, before Thompson Speedway’s Icebreaker (May 15-16), Jennerstown Speedway (May 23), Stafford Motor Speedway’s NAPA Spring Sizzler (May 30-31) and Seekonk (June 6). Talk about a tough stretch.

“It’s definitely going to have us with our hands full,” Lutz said. “But we have to do what we have to do. Hopefully it gets started in May and doesn’t get pushed back even more. We are racers, so either way, we will be at the track.”

RACING-REFERENCE: Craig Lutz Career Stats

Lutz is no stranger to running up front. But most of his tour success has come in the last two years driving for Russell Goodale and Goodie Motorsports. He joined forces with the effort in the middle of 2017, winning a pole together in their first outing. In 2018, he ran full-time for the team, scoring three top-five finishes, before really bursting to the front last year. Lutz won his first race in the NAPA Fall Final at Stafford in October, finished fourth in the championship standings, and scored top-10 finishes in all but four races.

“A huge part of your season is dictated by the first three races, if you get the season kicked-off on a strong note, that’s a huge part of being able to contend for the championship,” Lutz said. “if we are able to qualify in the top five, I think that would make it a lot easier. In the race, we are always good — it’s just getting that starting spot you need since everyone is so close.”

Heading to Martinsville, Jennerstown and Iowa Speedway for the first time as a driver will be a difficult task for Lutz, but he’s no stranger to venturing to new facilities.

“I think it’s a dream come true going to Martinsville, as a driver I have never been there, and it’s something you look forward to in short-track racing,” Lutz said. “I think it’s going to be a big learning curve for me, and hopefully after we get some laps under our belt we will be good to go.”

“I haven’t seen any of the new tracks besides Martinsville, I’m going to try and get on iRacing before we get there (to Iowa). My whole career, I’ve always been to tracks I haven’t seen before and I was able to be successful,” he said. “But I’m not intimidated by it. We have an hour practice and that’s a lot of time to find a line and get some laps in order to be competitive during the race. I have an awesome team and I’m in competitive equipment going to the race track. That’s most of the battle.”

He’s also heading back to some staple tracks on the tour schedule like Thompson, Stafford, Seekonk, Riverhead Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He will also visit Wall Stadium Speedway and Oswego Speedway as part of the 17-race schedule.

“Stafford just seems to be one of those places where everything works out in our favor,” he said. “I felt like I had some slip through my hands, but they say it takes losing one before winning one. It was a huge accomplishment for me and the team to be able to win a tour race. It was my fourth season on the tour, and seeing guys like Justin Bonsignore, Doug Coby, and even Timmy Solomito when he was unbeatable… it just takes time. We have made a lot of positive gains and we are becoming a top-five car to beat every week.”

Prior to the start of the season, and prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lutz took his family-owned team to New Smyrna Speedway for the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, finishing second in the weekly points and scoring a win.

Was it important to head to Florida?

“Without a doubt, anytime you can get in the car and get some laps under your belt before the important season starts is so crucial,” Lutz said. “We had a really solid week, winning a race and finishing second in points. As our second year down there, I think it was a huge accomplishment.”

NASCAR MODIFIED TOUR: 2020 Schedule

Once the season starts, Lutz will be chasing the championship on a competitive tour with the likes of six-time champion Doug Coby, 2018 champion Justin Bonsignore and 2012 champion Ron Silk joining him as some of the favorites for the crown. Add those three, Lutz, and about 25 more per event, the races are going to be something fans want to want.

Does he feel like his team is ready for the championship crown?

“I do,” Lutz said. “I’ve got probably the best car owner out there, Russell Goodale, he puts everything he needs out there to be successful, and I have a dedicated crew, which is ultimately what it takes. There are so many pieces of the puzzle that make it work every week. Getting everything together like we have been doing is definitely why the success is coming.”