The Whelen Modified tour completed a successful season in the midst of a pandemic, visited new tracks, saw Justin Bonsignore roll to his second championship, and the Modified community lost a legend and a friend. The 2020 Whelen Modified Tour season will be memorable for many reasons.
Starting up the season
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of numerous races, including the season-opener at Virgina’s South Boston Speedway, the Icebreaker at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and Spring Sizzler at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway. Events at Wall Stadium in New Jersy, Riverhead Raceway and Oswego Speedway in New York were also cancelled due to the pandemic.
The Tour was scheduled to visit two new tracks in 2021: Martinsville Speedway and Iowa Speedway. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellations of those events too, NASCAR was able to devise a back-up plan thanks to collaboration with, and cooperation of, short tracks across the Northeast. Jennerstown Speedway in Pennsylvania, Monadnock Raceway and White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire each agreed to host the Tour at their facilities. With Thompson Shosting two dates, New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s Musket 250, and Stafford with the Fall Final, a nine-race schedule was put together over the course of the season.
When the haulers arrived at Jennerstown to finally start the season on June 21, things looked very different. No fans were allowed to attend, teams were limited to eight crew members, and mask-wearing and social distancing were both enforced. As the season progressed, a reduced number of fans were allowed to attend races.
Tour community mourns loss
The Modified community lost a longtime competitor back in March, when Wade Cole passed away after an accident at his home.
“Just an absolutely great guy that you always looked forward to seeing pull through the gate,” NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour series director Jimmy Wilson told RaceDayCT at the time. “I’m just absolutely shocked.”
Cole started 371 races across his Tour career, eighth-most all-time, competing in every season of the Tour’s existence, save for 1986. He earned seven top-10 finishes, his last coming in 2017 at Seekonk.
Godspeed, Wade Cole. pic.twitter.com/1xyYIY4pVB
— NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) March 16, 2020
It was the second gut punch to the Modified scene in six months, as Mike Stefanik had passed away in a plane crash the prior September.
Tracks and teams paid tribute to Cole throughout the 2020 season, putting No. 33 decals on their cars. Jennerstown renamed its first race the Wade Cole Memorial 133 as homage to his impact on the community.
Bonsignore tears it up
On the track, Justin Bonsignore and the No. 51 team came firing out of the gate. Bonsignore sat on the pole at the season-opener at Jennerstown and led every lap in a wire-to-wire victory.
The opening-day win was a sign of things to come the rest of the way. Bonsignore won two more races and another pair of poles, finishing no lower than fifth throughout the entirety of the campaign. He led laps at eight races, and the most of any driver in the field.
Craig Lutz with the 🏁
— NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) October 11, 2020
Only five drivers have won multiple championships since the Tour was formed in 1985: Mike Stefanik, Doug Coby, Tony Hirschman, Jimmy Spencer, and Donny Lia. After 2020, Bonsignore can add his name to that very prestigious list.
Since Ryan Stone jumped aboard the No. 51 team in 2018, they have utterly dominated: of the 41 races won since then, the team has won 17 of them, finishing in the top-five 31 times and finishing outside the top-10 only four times.
Coby runs his own show
When it was announced after last season that Mike Smeriglio, owner of the No. 2 car driven by Doug Coby, would be retiring, it threw the Modified world for a loop. The two had won five of the last six championships. What would Coby end up doing? Where would he go? Perhaps most important: could he succeed? Rest easy, Modified fans. Doug Coby appears to be doing just fine.
Coby made the decision to buy a car from Smeriglio, and was able to bring most of his crew to what became Doug Coby Racing.
While 2020 did not bring a seventh championship, Coby did win a race at White Mountain. That gives him 10 consecutive seasons with at least one win, the longest such streak of active drivers. Coby also won two poles and finished in the top-five in six races, with the third best average finishing position of all drivers.
New team? Owning and driving? It sure doesn’t seem to be a problem for Coby.
Santos and Silk play spoiler
In his only race of the 2020 season, 2010 champ Bobby Santos came to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Musket 200 and did what he always does: win. It was his second consecutive Musket victory. Over the last seven times the Tour has visited the Magic Mile, Santos has won five of them. The only other driver to win five races in that tight a window came from 1992 to 1994, when the great Reggie Ruggiero won five straight at the track.
Meanwhile, Ron Silk and the No. 85 Kevin Stuart-owned team became arguably the hottest Tour team in the second half of the year. After championship hopes were essentially dashed by a 27th-place showing at White Mountain, the team chose not to compete the following race at Jennerstown before returning at Monadnock.
The break clearly helped. Silk went on a tear over the final five races of 2020, winning at Thompson and Stafford and finishing no worse than third. It continues a career resurgence for Silk, who won only once on the Tour from 2013 to 2018. Over the last two seasons, he’s won five times. Watch for the No. 85 team to once again challenge for the Tour crown in 2021.
Rypkema rides hot streak to ROTY
While it wasn’t Tyler Rypkema’s first season on the Whelen Modified Tour, it was his first crack at running the full schedule.
Driving the Rypkema Racing No. 32 and running equipment bought from Mike Smeriglio III after his retirement, Rypkema performed quite well, finishing every race and running inside the top-10 in five of them.
The Owego, New York-native and 23-year-old finished the final four races of the season in the top-10 to earn the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award.
It’s a time to stay safe, celebrate the best the Tour has to offer, and gear up for what should be a thrilling 2021 season.