Monday April 9, 2007

By Brian Danko                                                                   Shawn Courchesne Photo By Howie Hodge

Auto racing fans in the state of Connecticut and particularly, fans of the NASCAR Whelen modified tour are lucky. They are lucky in the sense that the states major papers, The Hartford Courant, the Connecticut Post, the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, the New London Day and the Hour out of Norwalk, CT are just some of the dailies that cover auto racing on a weekly basis.

For many years, the Courant, the states largest paper was criticized for its lack of auto racing coverage but that certainly hasn't been true the past 18 years or so.

Shawn Courchesne has been the auto racing writer the past few years and recently he started an auto racing blog, which according to all reports has been a hit with race fans.

On March 30th, Shawn had one blog titled, 'Watching the Modified Tour die' and that naturally grabbed my attention. Shawn was saying that 'the writing is on the wall' and that fans of the tour might want to soak in all the races that are on tap this season and possibly next, because the end is near.

Sadly, I agree with him.

NASCAR, the sanctioning body has done nothing to promote the modified tour and even though the Daytona based organization hired more marketing personal last year which was suppose to relate to more sponsors and opportunities for the modifieds, NASCAR's oldest division, nothing has come from it.

Shawn went on to mention the 16 races on tap for 2007 and how 9 of them, five are at the Thompson Speedway and four at the Stafford Motor Speedway. That leaves 7 races for drivers to venture out to but it was three races that caught the ire of the car owners, drivers, crew members and fans and it is these so called 'Flash races'. As Shawn wrote, "a flash race is an abbreviated way of saying, the track didn't want to pay the purse to bring the modifieds in so we gave them a cut rate deal because we can't find enough tracks that are willing to put on modified tour shows anymore." "Nobody," Shawn continues, "besides Stafford and Thompson wants them, unless it's for a cut rate price. We'll let you run 12.5 mile feature  but were not paying for 13 miles." 12.5 miles is equal to the 50 lap flash race that Wall Township Speedway is hosting on Sunday, May 6th while the Twin States Speedway in New Hampshire will get a freebie, ah, make that Flash race on Sunday, July 8th. The Riverhead Speedway on Long Island spurges and is running a 70 lap event on Saturday, August 4th.

Many people firmly believe that NASCAR is about to get out of short track racing within five years and they have done nothing to dispel the rumors and that also includes not sanctioning local tracks, i.e., Stafford, Thompson Waterford and many others nationwide.

What Shawn didn't say was that their will always be modified racing, whether or not NASCAR is apart of it. NASCAR did not invent modified racing and while NASCAR does bring rules and stability, it hasn't done much else to promote their product.

NASCAR brought several of the Busch East drivers to Martinsville Speedway to discuss the upcoming season with the national media. Is NASCAR planning on bringing several modified drivers to Phoenix to talk about the 23rd season of the modified tour?

Modified racing doesn't need NASCAR. What they need is an organization that is willing to care about the promoter, the car owners and individuals involved in the division that has been and will always be the northeast's most popular form of auto racing.

With the talk of NASCAR's planned 'stage left' in the next few years, all of which they will deny, I placed a cold call to a former NASCAR employee, Dennis Huth, who is now in charge of ASA racing and its many touring series. I asked Dennis in a hypothetical sense that if NASCAR gave up sanctioning modified racing, would he and his group be interested? Huth, whom I always said could sell ice to the Eskimos, is a throw back to the carney men who used to bark out front of the circus getting people to pay their nickel to see the two headed man. One thing about him, he's smooth.

"If the stars all aligned themselves just right, I would be interested but only if NASCAR backed out, I certainly would have to look at it." Dennis said from the road. "We offer fantastic insurance and even a dental plan." Dennis added. ASA racing is a shell of what it was in the 70's and 80's and Huth is hoping that it will return to prominence but right now he is signing up ASA member tracks, just like NASCAR does with the Whelen All American weekly series.

ASA also sanctions several touring series including a modified series down south so they do have a basic knowledge of the division. Huth did mention that in all his years, the people in the modifieds were the 'toughest' to deal with. That folk's is a compliment!

The one problem I could see with Huth is that the people in the modified division never trusted Huth when he worked for NASCAR and that could come back to being an issue again, if and when NASCAR decides to head for more money from the Cup, Busch and Trucks.

All across the country, people are always looking for auto racing coverage in their papers, people in the Nutmeg State ought to call the above mentioned papers and thank them for their coverage and especially for writers like Shawn.

The Toyota Showdown, the end of the season big race that the modifieds were suppose to be apart of is on schedule for the weekend of October 19-20th in Irwindale, CA just outside the Los Angeles city limits. It will feature a different format than in the past as winners of races on the Busch East series and Busch West will be guaranteed starters.
The champions of each series will also get a starting berth in the 40 car-250 lap feature.

Last year and in previous years, the top 15 from the East and West were locked in for the 30 car starting field. Now if you are in the top 15 at the end of the year, you are invited to drive 3000 miles to attempt to qualify. Nothing is guaranteed, I wonder if there is tow money like there has been in the past or is it all or nothing?

If you are a champion in the Whelen modified tour and southern modified tour as well as the NASCAR Canadian Tire series or the NASCAR Mexico series you are also eligible for 'protected' spots.

Does this mean a car is provided for them or does the champion have to go hunting and bring cash if they wish to compete?

On Friday night a 150 lap NASCAR Whelen All American series Super Late Model will be run highlighting the nations best short track drivers. This race replaces the four Elite series divisions, which are no longer apart of NASCAR.

I have read with interest on how the proposed track in Seattle was turned down by the people in the state government and I for one applaud them.

When is NASCAR and other private businesses going to realize that if you want to build something, build it, don't look for the local people to subsidize your profits.

How many times you hear sports teams threatening to move if they don't get a new stadium. My answer would be go ahead and move.

On vacation in the Seattle area a few years back, I stayed with my traveling companions' family and they said they didn't know much about NASCAR. He said they were not willing to fork over their hard-earned tax money so the people in Daytona (can you say Brian France) can go into another tax category.

If you are intent on building a track in Seattle or New York, give Bob Bahre a call. He built New Hampshire International Speedway with every penny he earned.