Modified racing is rooted...
Modified racing is rooted in the early days of NASCAR.
Over the last 20 years, we have seen NASCAR make tremendous changes in its Cup Series, to a point where the cars are no longer recognized as the production cars they are supposed to represent. And now we have the Car of Tomorrow, which sports a front splitter and a rear wing.
The Busch Series has been reduced to Nextel Cup Light by the infusion of Cup drivers, and the Busch Series regulars are lucky to win a race or two all year.
The Busch North Series is gone, along with the Southeast, Midwest, West, Southwest, and Northwest Series. They have collectively been replaced by a conglomerate called Busch East and Busch West, with a new rules package that has left most of the drivers in the former series with cars that they can't race. We'll see many of these guys racing for state championships in the newly revamped Whelen Weekly Racing Series.
NASCAR dumped the Goody's Dash Series a few years back, and nothing has really come along to replace it.
Meanwhile, there is one division that NASCAR has basically left alone since 1986, and that benign neglect has resulted in a continued resurgence for those racers. This division is what is now called the Whelen Modified Tour, and both the Northern Division and Southern Division are flourishing along with the NASCAR-sanctioned weekly tracks.
All of the northern tracks, which have historically been the hotbed for Modified racing, are drawing 20-plus cars for weekly shows, and these guys have the tracks scheduled so that they can race two or three times per week. Even Bowman Gray Stadium, down south in Winston Salem, North Carolina, has more than 20 cars per week that play to a packed grandstand.
When these tracks host a national points-paying race, those fields go up to over 30 cars. In fact, during the '06 season, over 75 cars earned points in the Northern Division.
The vintage '30s and '40s...
The vintage '30s and '40s coupes that once dominated the sport gave way to the custom-built cars of today.
The last thing that spurs the Modified's success is the lack of any major rules changes from NASCAR. The teams today still use the basic chassis package that they did in the '80s. Sure, there have been some small changes and increases in speed over the years, but that is more due to advancements in shocks, tires, and brakes than anything mandated from Daytona.
Jerry Cook is a six-time national Modified champion and was the tour director in 1985, when the modern era of Modified racing began.
"By then, the mid-'50s Chevy frames were starting to get hard to find, so some of the guys started building front and rear clips from tubing," says Cook. "At that time, the NASCAR rules were such that you had to have part of an actual frame under the car; that frame piece started getting smaller and smaller. In some cars, the frame piece was just the length from the front rollbar to the rear one.
"It got to a point where expenses were getting out of hand and the car counts suffered. You not only had to have a newly designed car at the beginning of the season, you needed another latest-design car in the fall of the season. Then, NASCAR, some tech guys, and a bunch of racers sat down and put a stop to it by figuring out a set of rules that would stabilize the design of the cars, add flexibility to the chassis, and keep the costs down for all of the teams. Those rules, I'm proud to say, are still in effect today."
From the time the National Tour began and NASCAR took command of the costs, the series turned around and started a growth period that continues to this day.
"Modified racing has always been strong in the Northeast, but, without a doubt, Bowman Gray Stadium is the reason that Modified racing is alive today in the South," says Cook. "When you don't mess with the rules, that leaves a lot more cars eligible to race, cars that are 5 and 6 years old.
"The main thrust of the rules has stayed the same, but the advances have been made with new technology of bolt-on pieces. What we did over the last 20 years with the rules packages is to keep racers in the business. We made the rules as such that you can race with only one car. For instance, a team can go to New Hampshire, which is a superspeedway for a Modified, with the same car that they use at a place like Thompson Speedway. The rules are such that a team can't build a special superspeedway car to go to New Hampshire."