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.
HIRSCHMAN SPEAKS OUT
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."
MY OWN PERSONAL TAKE
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 ON MODIFIED TOUR
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
"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
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 www.coastal181.com
or by calling them at 877-907-8181.
SANTOS IMPRESSIVE IN BUSCH DEBUT
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
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.