Monday September 3, 2007

By Brian Danko                                                                       

“One Shining Moment” is the song that CBS television ends the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with. The snippets of videos highlighting the great passes, dunks and buzzer beaters are a staple of the network and the tournament.

‘‘One Shining Moment” won’t be the theme song that NASCAR will use at the Mohegan Sun Casino in December’s banquet to highlight the modified tour in 2007.

To say that the 2007 version of the modified tour has been disappointing is an understatement and that is not to take away from the tremendous breakout season that Donny Lia has had or the strides that young drivers, James Civali and Matt Hirschman have shown.

The 2007 season will be marked forever by the tragic death of John Blewett, III at the Thompson Speedway and that will be with the tour forever, just as the death of Tommy Baldwin will be.

No, bad decisions, bad races, too many caution laps and poor scheduling will mark the 2007 NASCAR modified tour season.

The year got off to a bad start when NASCAR ‘showed’ off the 2007 schedule that was Low lighted by three ‘Flash event’. If NASCAR is claiming the fans want it, I would ask where were they at Wall Speedway and the Twin States Speedway in New Hampshire and I can’t talk about the crowd at Riverhead because I wasn’t there.

Basically it was an attempt to give tracks races at cut-rate purses that the drivers, owners and more importantly the fans hated. If NASCAR thinks it was a success, where were the 40 plus cars that usually show up at tour events that are regular purses?

If NASCAR thought this was going to infuse new excitement into the tour, they are more naive than any of us already feel they are when it comes to what’s best for the modified tour and a short track series.

The series has had two races cut short by weather, the first at Thompson in June and the second, just recently at Mansfield, OH.
The later were called because of the ‘television window’ for the Busch East on HDNET television.

What no one explains is why the races couldn’t have been moved up, especially at Mansfield, where thunderstorms were in the forecast and flooding already covered some 40% of the town.

There have been too many non-calls concerning on track activities that an amateur could have seen and called properly but NASCAR officials saw nothing.

The races put on the NASCAR teams haven’t been the best either and it isn’t the young drivers on the tour but some of the veterans driving over their heads and causing wrecks.

I spoke with one tour series veteran who asked to remain anonymous and he said, “I will admit, I have been part of the problem but it starts at the top (NASCAR). They miss calls and then your fighting to get back to where you should have been and you make moves that you necessarily wouldn’t.”
Then when a wreck or caution comes out, why does it take forever to go back to green, especially on a simple spin? Does New Hampshire Speedway in June ring a bell?

Scott Thomson of Berlin, CT is one of the most diehard modified fans that I know of and attended races in the past at Richmond, Martinsville and Loudon or where ever the modified tour would be.

He is fed up with the high cost of the admission prices, throw in the cost of fuel and some lousy racing, he has cut back to a couple of races on the modified tour.

Is his attitude the feelings of many modified tour fans?

Last week I had the chance to talk with George Silbermann of NASCAR, who is the managing director for the touring series and fired off some questions to him concerning the 2008 edition of the NASCAR Whelen modified tour.

George said that NASCAR is working on the schedule and that like last year; he hopes that it will be released either before the banquet or at the banquet.

“We are first checking with the tracks that had the modified tour in companion events with the Nextel Cup and that is just about complete. We then contact the tracks that had stand alone modified tour events and work with them and then we contact promoters of tracks that are interested in getting a modified tour race.”

When I asked Silbermann if the controversial ‘Flash events’ are being looked at he said, “There could be as many as three in 2008.”

Silbermann said the ‘Flash events’ did create people to talk about the modified tour and gave added exposure to the series.

But my question is, was it good exposure?

When I questioned him about the modified tour having four events cut short either by weather or television and his thoughts on that he responded, “With television you get both negatives and positives. This year the events at Loudon and Mansfield had scheduled television (Busch series and Busch East) and we notified teams that the races could be cut short because of the television window but we have contracts with television. The positive is that this year the modifieds have four events on TV.”

He continued, “We try and make sure that all races are run to their scheduled distance.” Looking at more positives, both New Hampshire races this year are on a Saturday. That is because of the promoter wants it and the fans wanting it.”

When I said to him that many on the modified tour feel that NASCAR had little regards for the modified tour and that they feel like a step child, Silbermann said, “I have been with NASCAR since 1999 and my first modified event was at Seekonk and I found it very exciting and that is also where I heard from people on the series saying the impression is that NASCAR doesn’t care about them. I can’t say what my predecessors did or not do but I think our actions will be louder than words. We have been making positive steps and we are trying new and different things.”

Silbermann said one of the positives this year has been the rise of the ‘young guns’ on the tour.

Rumor has it that Rick Fuller who won the 1993 NASCAR Whelen modified tour championship will reunite with former championship car owner, Curt Chase. Their first race is set to be Thompson next weekend.

Doug Coby, who drove for the Chases’ last season filled in for the past three events and did a great job with 3 top 15 finishes, including a runner up at Mansfield and a top five at Stafford.

Last season nothing seemed to go right for Chase and Coby but Doug showed he has what it takes to compete on the modified tour.

Coby took over for Zach Sylvester who quit earlier this season.

As the calendar turns to September, the modified tour is heading for the checkered flag as just two events at Thompson; one at Loudon and one at Stafford will close out the season. While Donny Lia and the Bob Garbarino team has been quite steady and at times dominant, Todd Szegedy and Matt Hirschman are just still in the hunt for the title.