November 21, 2009

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By Brian Danko

Was Moving The Modified Tour Banquet A Good Idea?

Recently, NASCAR honored its regional series champions with one gala affair in Charlotte, N.C.

It replaced all of the regional banquets that were originally held at various locations in the United States, at places close to where a particular NASCAR Tour/Series regularly competed.

When NASCAR unveiled its master plan for the single banquet last April, it was met with much disdain from almost all that were involved with the Tours.

But it seemed that the people of the NASCAR Modified Tour were the most upset with it.

That set off a blog in the Connecticut-based Hartford Courant newspaper. There, fans of the Modified Tour blasted NASCAR from moving the banquet from its location of the past several years, Ct.’s Mohegan Sun Casino, to Charlotte.

What upset many of the competitors the most was that they were forced to sign a letter stating that NASCAR could withhold their post season winnings if they didn’t attend the banquet. It was about 10 days later that NASCAR announced the banquets would be replaced with one in North Carolina.

NASCAR maintained that all of the people who attended the previous banquets would be more than welcome. But, they also knew that most of the people who were at past events wouldn’t go because of the cost or travel considerations.

Last years Modified banquet at the Mohegan Sun alone drew 690 people. This year, at the single event, roughly 620 name tags were filled out for the five touring series.

None of the crews, that worked without pay during the season, giving up their family time to devote to racing and the chance to win a championship, wouldn’t be able to attend and mingle in a social atmosphere with others from the Tour that they followed from early spring to early fall.

While I didn’t attend the banquet in North Carolina, I, like many connected with the Modified Tour, wondered how it would be and how many of the teams were there because of the threat of having their post-season monies withheld.

I talked with 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, Ted Christopher of Plainville, Ct. and veteran Tour driver Ed Flemke Jr. of Southington, Ct., asking their views on the banquet and the other activities that NASCAR had planned.

Both drivers are known for not candy coating their views and my questions were in a simple, direct manner.

While Ted Christopher was also one of the track champions, he could also attend NASCAR’s Weekly Racing Series banquet held the night before in Charlotte. But Ted flew down to Carolina on Saturday morning and back home on Sunday because his wife, Quinn, had to have corrective surgery.

“It certainly wasn’t as good as our ‘stand alone’ banquet,” began Teddy. “At those, the champion and his team were the center of attention. But here (North Carolina NASCAR banquet), you were one of five champions honored.

“It was the most impersonal banquet I’ve ever been to.”

Flemke went back and forth as to whether to attend or not, but relented at the last minute and decided to go.

“As far as the venue and the things to do around it, it was great,” said Flemke, who finished 10th in Tour points. “The people of Charlotte were happy to have it and it showed. The facilities, the staff, the hotel all were quite nice.”

But...

“Would I rather have had the banquet here (Connecticut)m with only people from our series?” asked Flemke. “The answer would be ‘yes’.”

When I inquired how many of the people from the Tour in the top-ten in points attended, Ted Christopher said he thought most of them did.

He was right according to Flemke.

According to Eddie, NASCAR handed out a minute by minute script of what would be happening and when.

“I realize this was their first time doing it this way, but it was very choppy, very rough,” he said. “A lot of mistakes were made and a lot of important people weren’t recognized.”

Teddy, meanwhile, said one of the things that bothered him was the way they handed out the awards and trophies.

“They brought all of the owners and drivers together from four through ten on stage,” he said. “It was a tiered stage but it was very crowded and you couldn’t see everyone getting their awards. I didn’t like it at all.”

Both drivers said that while they were happy that the Tour was quite well represented there was the thought as to whether the potential loss of the point money played a part in that top-ten attendance.

But that obviously wasn’t the same for the other Tours/Series.

The Whelen Southern Modified Tour was missing two drivers in positions four through ten; while the Canadian Series only had two drivers in the same positions. In the Camping World West Series, only two drivers attended in spots four through ten. Everyone from the Camping World East Series was there, but then, many from that group are all based in the Charlotte area.

Both Christopher and Flemke echoed what I thought might happen when drivers from other divisions were being honored.

That is that people from the other tours start talking at their tables and raised the chatter level. Flemke said he constantly had to remind himself and others to be quiet to let the other series champions have their moment in the spotlight.

For drivers and owners finishing in positions 11-20, they were gathered on Friday morning for pictures and trophies along with a continental breakfast.

One thing that bothered both drivers was that those racers honored as “Most Popular Drivers” couldn’t thank the many people on the NASCAR internet site who voted for them. Christopher was the recipient of that particular award for the Whelen Modified Tour.

Also, both drivers said that none of the track owners and promoters were recognized at the banquet. Flemke said he felt that many of the NASCAR sponsors were “slighted” and that everything was watered down.

One item that had Flemke seeing red was that the trophies and the jackets that the teams received were made in China.
“Here is Whelen, our series sponsor, who proclaims everything they do is ‘Made in America’ and they (NASCAR) go out and get trophies that are made in another country,” emphasized Flemke. “Now, they may not have known where they bought the trophies, what company or country they were made in -- but ask.”

Eddie did say that the trophies were bigger than in the past but he would have settled for smaller ones if it meant that they “were made in America by Americans.”

According to Flemke, NASCAR announced that the banquet will be held next year in the NASCAR Hall of Fame location. As one of the drivers said, “Once the city of Charlotte offered to build it for them, they are just repaying the city by bringing in events.”

The 2010 Modified Schedule
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will consist of 14 events in 2010, scattered throughout the Northeast and Virginia.

It will once again open and close at Ct.’s Thompson International Speedway, beginning on April 11 and ending on October 17. Thompson will also hold another race, a midweek event on Thursday, August 12.

Stafford, Ct., Motor Speedway will have its traditional dates, opening with the Spring Sizzler on April 25 and closing for the season on October 3 with the Fall Final. Stafford will also host two other Modified Tour races, both Fridays, May 28 (beginning of Memorial Day Weekend) and August 6.

The New Hampshire Motor Speedway will have two races on the Sprint Cup weekend and again the NASCAR Modifieds will run on Saturdays. On June 26, the Modifieds will be paired with the Nationwide Series and on September 18 they will join with the Camping World Truck Series.

Va.’s Martinsville Speedway is bringing back the Modified Tour. But this year, they will be with the Camping World East Series on Sunday, June 6.

Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee will again have the Modifieds back, on Wednesday, August 18.

Riverhead Raceway on eastern Long Island will welcome the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for their one event at that track on Saturday, July 31.

Two new events will dot the schedule with Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Ct., hosting the Mods and the Camping World East Series on its road course on Saturday, July 3. Monadnock Speedway, in Winchester, N.H., will be back on the schedule for one race on Saturday, July 17.

It will be the first time that the NASCAR Modified Tour will be at Monadnock in over 20 years; while the historic Lime Rock, a 1.53 road course, will have its first ever Modified race.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour must be in better shape than some of the other touring series.

The NASCAR Southern Modified Tour and Camping World East Series only have 10 races each. The Camping World West Series schedule has yet to be finalized.

A New Brian Danko
I have covered the NASCAR Modified tour full time since its inception and wrote about the Northeast Modifieds long before the Modified Tour began. I have often been critical of NASCAR for what I thought were bad decisions by people who don’t know the Modifieds or their people.

When I looked at next year’s schedule, there are more opportunities for me to attend races and I look forward to it.

No, I will not be back full time as a writer on the circuit.

But two years away has allowed me the chance to renew my interest. So, I look forward to going to a couple more races than the two that I attended in 2009.

While I continue to believe that NASCAR doesn’t know what is right for the Modified Tour, I make this promise.
There will not be any unprovoked bashing and I will talk with NASCAR officials before giving my opinion.