Investing in a return to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour was something Chris Pasteryak felt he was ready for.
After years of running in New England’s tour-type modified ranks, Pasteryak decided to return to Whelen Modified Tour action for the first time in eight years last season, running 14 of the 16 races driving for his family-owned operation, and scoring six top-10 finishes along the way.
He had been successful running in New England with two championships in the Valenti Modified Racing Series, and running up front in the Tri Track Open Modified Series before his return to NASCAR’s ranks.
“I had gone and helped out Gary Putnam a few times in 2017, and I really liked the way (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour director) Jimmy Wilson ran the show,” Pasteryak said. “I really liked everything NASCAR was doing and it seemed like something I really wanted to be a part of. We decided to get a spec motor and give it a shot, but we didn’t think it was going to be easy.”
He was right.
Just like anything else in racing, there was a bit of a learning curve during his return. Prior to 2018, Pasteryak ran 30 races spanning across six years, with a best finish of third. But, returning almost a decade later required the team to take a little bit of a different approach compared to some of the shows he was used to running. Instead of changing no tires, or just one tire, the team had to prepare for changing multiple tires during Whelen Modified Tour races on most occasions.
But why was it the right time?
“It was a little bit of everything, I’m getting older so I figured if I was going to give it a shot with my own guys and my own team, it was time,” Pasteryak said. “The schedule worked its way into something that we could do almost all of the races and now this year we can do all of them. The guys were really ready for it. It’s not like running Tri Track races are easy, they are really hard. The Tour races are really hard to be competitive, but we were ready for live pit stops, ready to take the next step.”
That next step saw him grab a best finish of eighth in the NAPA Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway, and even though their certainly was that adjustment period, Pasteryak went through the process with the same core group of crew members, friends and family, that he had been working with for years.
“I took all of the same guys that had been helping me through the years, a few other guys came on, but it was the same group of guys that had been going to the races. It’s been cool because we have all grown together and the Whelen Modified Tour races are a lot more of a team deal than some of the others,” he said. “The schedule is usually compact. You really have to have guys that know what they are doing with the race car.”
At the end of last season, Pasteryak had watched Justin Bonsignore dominate the series — winning eight races and the championship — and doing it all driving a chassis from the LFR camp. The chassis department actually won 11 of the 16 Whelen Modified Tour races, and that was enough for Pasteryak to decide to make the move and purchase one.
“We were watching and saw what the LFR guys had going on, and the track support they give really seemed to help out. Over the winter, we went and got a car from Rob Fuller and LFR,” Pasteryak said. “For the World Series at the end of last year, we rented a car from Rob just trying to get a head start for this year. We figured we should just start the notebook. We finished ninth, but we had a learning curve and some limited practice. But after the first two races this year, we’ve been a fifth- to a 10th-place car.”
His success with an LFR car in his own garage seems to be trending him in the right direction. He qualified seventh in the opener at Myrtle Beach Speedway and finished seventh, then started 11th at South Boston Speedway, and brought the No. 75 Dawley’s Collision Chevrolet home in the sixth spot. Although it’s early, through the first two races, he sits fifth in the championship standings.
“I really don’t think we are doing a whole lot different than last year, other than that we have a whole year under our belt as a team running the races and making the calls,” Pasteryak said. “But Myrtle Beach is its own animal and South Boston was really its own deal because it’s hard to compare it to anything else we run. We are off to a better start. We’ve been a little bit better off the truck, and having a little bit of speed in practice puts you in a little bit better qualifying group. We’re qualifying a little bit better.”
But, now, Pasteryak feels like the regular season begins at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park this weekend, with the 45th annual Icebreaker weekend. The Whelen Modified Tour will run four events at Thompson this year, so having a successful setup and putting together races at a difficult, .625-mile oval is going to be important.
“It’s a lot higher than it was last year coming out of Myrtle Beach with an 18th,” Pasteryak said of the anticipation heading into the weekend. “We’ve done tour races this year, but we aren’t even at the first chapter of the book, we are only through the prologue. I’m definitely way more confident than last year, but if I can get to the end of Thompson and we are on the same straightaway as the No. 51 (Justin Bonsignore), I’ll call that a success.”
Bonsignore was the dominant force at Thompson last year, sweeping the four races en route to his crown. But Pasteryak is going to be one of many in the same situation as Bonsignore, with an LFR car, heading into the weekend. The Icebreaker is one of the most prestigious races in short-track racing, as the Connecticut oval officially kicks-off the New England racing season in style with 11 different divisions over the course of two days of competitive action.
“I enjoy the two days shows to get the year going. Where else would you rather be after being inside all winter,” Pasteryak said. “It’s nice to watch all of the other races and see some of the new cars.”
Overall, running on the Whelen Modified Tour has opened eyes for Pasteryak, who moved to the series hoping to be competitive and run up front. He’s inching closer on accomplishing his ultimate goal of running consistently at the front and putting himself in position to win.
“If you want to go win, it’s a lot of work. Effort equals results,” he said. “You just try to do the best job with what you can and what you have to work with. You love doing it, that’s why we do it. It’s nice to get in a routine where we are going racing. If it wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t take the time, effort and money to go do it. We really enjoy it and it gives us a reason to work.”
But, is the Lisbon, Connecticut, driver ready to carry the checkered flag? Or is there still a bit more of adjustment left to go?
“Not quite yet. Maybe by the end of this year,” Pasteryak said. “You can’t just go from running 10th or 12th to winning, it happens in steps. I think we are now about a seventh or eighth place car, maybe fifth on a good day. If we can consistently be in the final group of qualifying and qualify consistently in the top 10 each time, I’d say we’re ready. We’ve got a little bit of work left to go. I think with the help we are getting, we can get there. The mountain is bound to a hill, but it’s still there.”