Flashback to May 2014.
It was the Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and I was writing a column about a handful of short track prospects that, in my opinion, were not receiving enough attention for their early-season success as it pertained to potential national touring opportunities.
That column featured Grant Enfinger, Matt Waltz, Lee Pulliam, Daniel Hemric and Justin Bonsignore – a pretty impressive list in hindsight.
Anyway, I was struck by the reply Bonsignore sent me on Twitter upon reading the column after I posted it. It’s something that has stayed with me over the ensuing years.
— Justin Bonsignore (@JBonsignore) May 15, 2014
“There’s nothing wrong with being just a Modified Tour guy.”
At the time, it was somewhat hard for me to fully understand that. I was covering NASCAR exclusively back then, was just 25-years-old and didn’t really understand jack shit about the harsh realities of the business of the racing world. I had covered a good bit of Super Late Model races in the Deep South by that point and was surrounded by the likes of Chase Elliott, John Hunter Nemechek and Erik Jones — guys that seemed destined for NASCAR.
In many ways, I was covering the NASCAR development pipeline more than short track racing as a whole. There was, just as it is now, a whole lot of Cup or bust in the mentality of younger drivers. It’s either make it as a national racing millionaire superstar or go on and do something else.
After all, and without naming names, how many teenagers have we seen come through the Super Late Model pipeline and fizzle out in Trucks, never to race anything again?
But here was a guy that had openly made peace with the idea that Cup probably wasn’t for him — at 25-years-old. If nothing else, he wanted to be a Whelen Modified Tour champion and that would be a damn fine life.
In hindsight, the other guys in column operate the same way. Pulliam has won four NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championships and is currently second in the CARS Tour standings. Waltz won the Langley Speedway track championship last season at 27-years-old. Hemric and Enfinger are full-time in NASCAR, but would be in Late Models even if they weren’t.
Point being, it’s cool to be a short track superstar, even if it’s not as glamorous.
“I’ve said this for many years now,” Bonsignore told Short Track Scene after winning the Thompson 125 last week. “I got to the age where it probably wasn’t going to happen, going south. I had some opportunities early in my career, but it was so hard, so financially dependent. I probably could have done more, maybe something like what Ryan (Preece) has been able to do, but you have to give him credit because he took a leap of faith.
“But I was comfortable with my day job here, and enjoy modified racing, but who knows, maybe I could have gone down there and had some success and he would agree with you: These Modified guys are probably a little cocky, but we also really know what we’re capable of.”
Preece, of course, is the best example of the Modified rags-to-riches story. And even with his newfound success and notoriety, Preece spends his afternoons wrenching his Tour and weekly fleet and definitely backs up Bonsignore’s assertion about the culture.
“We’re just a different up here,” Preece said. “Winning is the most important thing to us. That’s not to say that other racing (cultures) aren’t that way. But I can tell you that we are very competitive.”
In an era where short track racing is treated like NASCAR’s minor league, it’s been refreshing to cover the CARS Late Model Stock Tour, NASCAR Pinty’s Series and the NASCAR Whelen Modifed Tour this season where major league short trackers apply their trade.
And right now, with three wins over the first five races, Bonsignore is doing it the best in his discipline.
“I’m really content with what I do here,” Bonsignore said. “I get to go to the track and it’s not really overbearing. Look at guys like Reggie (Ruggiero), Teddy (Christopher) and the Fullers — a lot of guys went down south, but they always came back, loved what they did here.
“Our fans are so passionate about what we do, and I just love that… I have no problems being a Modified Tour guy for life. I’m only 30, but hopefully I can do like what Teddy and Mike (Stefanik) did well into their 50s, and make a great career out of it.
“And maybe when it’s all said and done, people can look back on me and say that I left a mark up here.”
Because there’s nothing wrong with being just a Modified Tour guy.