Since 2013, Jimmy Wilson has served as director for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
In that capacity, he is something akin to a jack of all trades as the race director, technical director, logistical director and sometimes the discipline director.
Given the entertainment value of a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour ticket, you could also call Wilson the Director of Fun.
All jokes aside, Wilson is the man who keeps the Whelen Modified Tour moving. He is responsible for everything that takes place on a weekly and monthly basis with NASCAR’s most prestigious short track series.
And one year removed from the pandemic shutdown, he is also one of the hardest working series officials in grassroots motorsports. A week ahead of the series opener, at Martinsville Speedway no less, Wilson took time for an exclusive sit down to discuss the present and future of the division.
Topics include Thompson Speedway and 2022, replacing the Musket 250 with a different crown jewel event, the importance of veterans like Doug Coby and Justin Bonsignore and what makes the Modified Tour such an exciting show.
The video of the conversation can be watched here and an edited for clarity transcript has been provided below it.
STS: What does ‘Tour Director’ entail for you and what does your M-F look like?
JW: It’s a pretty unique situation with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. I’ve got my hands on a lot of different things. I have influence on the season schedule and working with the tracks with sanctions and getting our yearly schedule done. I handle working with our promoters and partners to get the schedules done for the event, handle the logistics for the event pre-, during and post. I manage the officials during the course of the day at the track, handle anything on the on the backside of the event. The unfortunate side of the sport, I sometimes have to handle penalties and things like that with rules. It’s basically everything that has to do with, uh, with the logistics management and, uh, moving to the series a I touch in one way, shape or form.”
STS: How proud are you regarding how everyone dealt with the challenges of 2020?
JW: When the checkered flag fell at Thompson last year, it felt like a thousand pounds came off my shoulders. None of us as an industry, or anyone around around the world has ever been through anything like that, and we’re certainly looking forward to getting to the end of this. Fortunately, we’re headed that way. It was very rewarding in the sense that we were able to get nine of our races in and eight were with fans, albeit, with some type of capacity restrictions. But we were able to invite fans to the races to see our events (and) that was great. I just can’t say enough for our race teams. Everybody in this — from the race teams to the tracks — had to work together to make sure we had a season. Our competitors certainly rose to the occasion and did anything that was asked of them. Between them and our series officials, I just couldn’t ask any more out of them. 2020 was by no means a write-off a year? It was a competitive year. We saw great racing and we crowned a champion and we’re still trucking and looking forward to 2021.
STS: How does it feel to return to Martinsville given the history and prestige?
JW: Since I took over the Modified Tour in 2013, that’s all I’ve heard from competitors: ‘When are we going to Martinsville? When are we going to Richmond?’ We’ve always had the conversations. We’ve always tried, whether it was logistics, date combination, we never could make it work. To get them both, Martinsville and Richmond, is huge. I would have been tickled to death for just one, but we got both. It’s going to be a great season from that standpoint, in addition to all the other facilities we go to. Past tracks. New ones like Lancaster. But full circle about Martinsville, that’s going to be our Daytona 500, and that’s huge.”
STS: How important is it to have veteran racers like Coby, Bonsignore and Silk to be the anchors of the tour?
JW: That’s what makes this series so competitive and entertaining from a fan’s perspective. We do have a mixture of younger drivers, who have aspirations to race in a national series, but they have to compete against all those names that you just mentioned. They are our staples in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. So, it’s interesting to watch different drivers come in and cut their teeth with all of the experience that those guys have. When you have to compete against champions like Doug, Justin and Ronnie, you have to earn everything at this level.
STS: Thompson is doing something different this year, but are the doors open for 2022?
JW: No doubt about it. The nature of the sport is always, ‘doors don’t close.’ We weren’t able to put something together and we’re disappointed that we’re not going to Thompson. It’s a great facility. We love the track, the people. We put on great shows and the history that you have there. Most definitely the door is open there for 2022 and beyond. Hopefully things will come around and it’ll be a natural fit again for them and NASCAR.
STS: NASCAR is really embracing road racing right now so could the Tour go back to Lime Rock or The Glen?
JW: No, there hasn’t been a lot of conversation about it. Over the years, every once in a while, you’ll have a car owner or driver that will poke around and say ‘what about The Glen’ or what about this? I’ll certainly never say never if the right opportunity presents itself. We’ve got a pretty strong following with the selection of tracks and short tracks that we’ve got. But if the right situation presents itself, it’s definitely something we’d entertain. We just have to be careful on the end. There’s probably some R&D that would have to go into it before taking the Modifieds back thee because a lot has changed with our cars since we were there at Lime Rock. We’d probably need to take another look at it and make sure that everything would be a good fit.
STS: You guys nearly went to Iowa, you’re going to Martinsville and Richmond, people talk about New Smyrna or IRP. How do you balance expansion and cost containment?
JW: Very smart decisions and scheduling. We have to remember that these teams are working people that depend on their vacation time to be able to race. Asking for one or two days off is a big deal for them. I believe we can expand methodically. It’s important that we don’t cram a trip to Martinsville and then go to Beech Ridge or something the very next week. We try to have some space on the schedule. And for the most part, we try to do that when we’re laying the schedule out. Now there’s some cases that you just can’t because of the way that it works out — case in point our month of September — we got four races in a row we’re back to back to back to back. But otherwise, when you look at the rest of our schedule, there’s a week or two off between events that allows for family time and for people to save on their vacation time and things like that. So, it just comes down to the scheduling. We have to be careful and not throw too much at them. You have to make sure that as you’re expanding the schedule, that you can still go in with a solid car count and a provide a good quality show whenever there’s a new venue.
STS: Have you guys looked at creating a new crown jewel event to make up for the loss of the Musket?
JW: We’ve had some discussions. We’re always talking and trying to come up with some new ideas and asking what would be a good fit for the series. There’s nothing that I can really say right now, but we’re always looking. I think the emphasis right now is just to coming out of a year with COVID is to have as much normalcy as we can — get our feet back up underneath us before we start trying to move off into a direction like that. So the goal for 2021 is ‘get through a year without any schedule changes as much as possible, have a year of normalcy and look to build on that for 2022 and beyond.’
STS: What do you want casual NASCAR fans to know about the NASCAR Modified Tour?
JW: Like I mentioned before, the Whelen Modified Tour is made up of the blue collar workers out there. You’ve got so many unique personalities between our drivers, car owners, team members. It’s a family and there are a lot of dysfunctional families out there, and we’re probably one of them, collectively as a whole. It’s entertaining to watch on and off the racetrack. What I would tell those fans: If you like what you see at Martinsville, you can see us live on NBC TrackPass every weekend and follow every one of our races. This is the first year that every race is going to be re-aired on NBCSN. Not just a select few. So they’ve got plenty of ways to follow us, even if they can only get to one or two races a year. They can follow the series, the whole year and follow the storylines that lead us to crowning a champion at the end of the year.