Monday May 7, 2007

By Brian Danko                                                              Click On Photo For Full Size              

WALL TOWNSHIP, NJ-------It seemed that as soon as the 2006 NASCAR Whelen modified tour season ended, that changes were on the way for the 2007 modified tour, changes that were not going to be welcomed by owners, drivers and crews. These changes were so called 'Flash Races', a race that is short in distance and short in the payoff line at the end of the night.

Well this past weekend, the Flash came home to roost as the first of three Flash races took place at the Wall Township Speedway on the New Jersey shoreline. NASCAR officials (i.e. Daytona Beach) felt that because the tour was losing tracks they couldn't afford to run a regular full purse race that they would offer these new tracks a cut rate purse. A track on a $90,000 race purse pays about $60,000 cash for the event, the Flash races total purse is about $59,000 meaning the cash obligation to a Flash promoter is about $34,000.

Three tracks, all which have run tour races in the past accepted NASCAR's offer. The Wall Speedway, Twin States in New Hampshire and Riverhead Raceway figured it was worth the gamble.

Last week, I had the chance to talk on the phone with Wall Township Speedway Operations manager, Jim Morton and asked him about the decision to take one. When I asked Jim why they choose to run the race on Sunday, instead of their regular night of racing and why run it now, before the shoreline is buzzing with vacationers. "I can use a shot in the arm right now." Stated Jim, "I don't need one in June or July. I was also told by NASCAR officials that if I ran it later that some of the drivers who aren't in contention for the championship might decide to skip the event." When I asked him about the format used, running twin 50 lap heats and then a 50-lap feature, Morton said that was all that was set up by NASCAR. "Everything was set up, all we had to do was decide to run it or not. NASCAR explained that fans still got to see a 150 laps of modified racing but that competitors were running only 100 laps, so that they were saving money on tires." Morton said that he is thrilled to have the modified tour race in the Garden State but the only way he could it was in this format.

Competitors had many questions about the race and even two weeks before the race; NASCAR officials couldn't answer some questions. Would the pit fee, which is normally $25.00, be reduced? Would the fans be charged a third less? When I asked Morton about these items he said that the pit fee would remain at $25.00, because that is set by NASCAR and not the track. Wall is offering a doubleheader ticket for their regular Saturday night show and the tour race on Sunday for $35.00 but if a fan from Connecticut or New York wanted to venture south to New Jersey, it would still be $35.00 for Sunday only. When I asked him why he is charging $35.00 while fans attending Stafford or Thompson Speedway are generally paying the same amount, yet have a much larger payoff, he was quick to reply, "I have to run it for this amount, I couldn't afford to run it for $25.00."

That leaves the question that the teams are wondering, why are they being asked to concede everything when the tracks are getting a cut-rate deal. "We are in the process of applying for a movie permit. When you are sitting on a piece of property worth 20 million dollars, you can't be profitable running just six months a year. We are trying to find other ways to generate revenue and still keep it a race track."

Morton said that he modeled his front gate structure after looking at both the Stafford Motor Speedway and the Thompson Speedway, the leading tracks for the modified tour. "I consider them the northeast benchmarks for running a NASCAR track. I am very impressed by them so I wanted to see what works at other tracks and not to copy it but see how it works and why." Morton said.

The crowd for the tour race wasn't what I thought it would be so I asked a couple of fans that attend races here weekly if this was a good crowd and they said NO. "Why wouldn't they run this as part of their weekly show, I think the crowd would have been better running on the normal race night." According to fans Doug and John. Even John Blewett, III, the local favorite along with his brother, Jimmy, also wondered why it wasn't run on a Saturday night. Many race fans and race teams feel the modified tour needs to have a presence in New Jersey but that the 'Flash' format is not the right way to be doing it.

When the rumors began to circulate during the week, that Tony Hirschman and his KAMCO #48 team had pulled their entry for the Wall race, people began talking and that's just what Hirschman did Sunday morning in a conversation with me. I asked when they decided not to come to Wall, and Tony said it was right after Stafford. "We talked last week and we just decided not to come." Tony said very low key. "I thought that for sure that somebody from NASCAR would have called me to find out for sure or to show some concern but nothing. If it wasn't for Matt (Son), I wouldn't be here at all."

I asked Ed Cox, modified tour race director why Tony wasn't called and Ed explained to me, "The reason is because his car owners, Bob and Tom Kehley told me they weren't coming and why. I really hate it because they and Tony have been apart of the tour for many years. I thought Tony knew."

When I asked Tony, seeing how he is a five-time NASCAR modified tour champion, if he cared that others were talking about his absence he said he basically didn't care what some might say. "All I heard all winter was how everyone was against all these races and here they are. We needed some car owners to step up to the plate but no one voted to step up and do it."

Tony said the reason they left here years ago was because you couldn't pass and "they bring us back to this track". "It's nothing against the track but there is just no room, the cars are one and a half second faster now than when I ran here years ago. I've been against this race(s) all year." Tony said getting more talkative all the time. "This place needs to be time trails and single file restarts because before the end of the day, all the equipment is going to be wrecked and they'll be nobody left."

Tony said that even the Race of Champions series is going to time trials at some tracks including Wall. "We are taking steps backwards and other series are going forward." Tony said another thing that really aggravated him was the way they unveiled the new Whelen modified tour championship trophy. "They baited all of us with that trophy. I don't remember them doing that before with other trophies for the champion. I have to admit, that would look nice in the home."

Tony is usually quite and reserved but he was fired up Sunday morning and he said that besides missing Wall, he would naturally miss Twin States in New Hampshire and Riverhead. "I might even miss another race during the year. I just don't know yet." Tony said but added, "we are still going to be at the open test at New Hampshire International and if they have a test session at Mansfield, we'll likely be there."

The modified tour needs tracks and races. That is obvious but these 'Flash' formats are not going to be the way to do it. All they say is fans want heat races, well, if the heat races and the 50-lap feature are what fans want, this series is in big trouble.
Putting it mildly, the races stunk, period.

This is not the way promote the tour. Many drivers have wondered why tracks like Richmond and Watkins Glen, tracks formerly on the schedule aren't anymore. Oh, by the way, they are tracks owned by International Speedway Corp., which also happens to oversee NASCAR.

If I was the next 'Flash' race, such as Twin States is on SUNDAY NIGHT, July 8th, I would be worried about HOW many cars show up because many expressed doubt about going after the fiasco at Wall.

Tom Curley, the man who runs the ACT late model tour based in northern New England was a guest on Gary Danko's Speedway Line Report last week and had some views on NASCAR's involvement with the modified tour and
the Busch East series.

"I think they are searching right now." Curley said in respect to the modified tour. "Frankly, I believe that the modified tour might be the strongest touring series other than the Hooters Cup. They have always had their legs underneath them and have strong car counts. They have a very strong fan base but they are not being properly promoted by NASCAR."

Curley, who at one time worked for NASCAR running the old NASCAR North series said, "If they want to play in the Cup, Busch and Trucks let them. But don't come back into short track racing, something I don't think they know a whole heck of a lot about. Some of their decisions are just not healthy for those series."

"NASCAR has ruined the Busch East series, I just hope that they don't do it with the modifieds." Curley a longtime fan of the modified division.

If you're a true race fan, the one book you must read is called "Steady Eddie-Memories of Ed Flemke, Modified Racing's Fastest Professor." It is a personal collection of stories from 21 people who knew Eddie from his ex-wives, his son, Eddie, daughter, Paula as well as other drivers, car owners and mechanics.

Bones Bourcier did a wonderful job of editing the book and the words from the people who knew the man who was Mr. Modified.

As I youngster growing up in Southington, CT, I had the chance to know Eddie, watch him race, and sit in on hours of him holding court and telling stories. Whether it was at the original Race Works in East Hartford, CT or at Rocky's Amoco, the service station just up the street from my parent's home it was something I'll always remember and cherish.

It is a book that depicts what life was in racing 30, 40 and 50 years ago. With Fathers Day about a month away, it would be a great book for dad, It is available online at  or by calling them at 877-907-8181.

Semi regular driver on the modified tour, Bobby Santos, III, had an impressive debut on the NASCAR Busch series driving for former modified driver, Eddie D'Hondt.

Bobby, who drives the Boehler #3 on the tour started seventh and finished 30th but was in the top ten for the first half of the race. Bobby certainly has driven and won in just about every open wheeled car out there and it won't be long before he makes his mark on the Busch series and beyond.