Being a relocated Northeast asphalt Modified fan can be extremely frustrating. Any fan away from the region can relate. We keep abreast of the happenings through friends still involved in the Northeast auto racing scene and try to hide our envy the best we can. Fortunately for us, there are a few sites who supply excellent in depth coverage. Our friends at TheChromeHorn.com and MyRaceNews.com post articles and have live race reports of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Valenti Modified Racing Series as well as “open” Modified events. If we need updates on tracks running weekly programs, they have that too. Both are extremely great news sources. We also look for the writers of both sites and others who are on the scene covering the events to give additional insights leading up to events and the days following. However, sometimes news slips through the cracks unnoticed and unquestioned. The following was one of them that certainly peaked this writer’s curiosity.
On Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 many of us, who couldn’t be in attendance tuned into the Chrome Horn’s race report as Waterford Speedbowl was playing host to NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour. The Waterford, Connecticut speed plant is a 3/8ths mile semi-banked asphalt oval with a deep history in Northeast auto racing.
During coverage of the 150 lap tour race, the Chrome Horn reported NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour officials had handed down a penalty to the Hill Enterprises #79 Modified, piloted by Woody Pitkat, for an unapproved change. The team was forced to start at the rear for repairing their Modified’s kill switch.
For those unfamiliar, the kill switch is one of many safety devices equipped on a Modified and many other types of racing machines for the sole purpose of saving a driver’s life. In years past, stuck throttles have been the cause of numerous horrific wrecks, some taking the lives of some of the best to sit behind the wheel of a Modified.
Speaking with a source close to the team I asked at what point in the night’s proceedings was the issue discovered; “[The Hill team] noticed the kill switch not working right before time trials. Some wires were grounding out on the steering shaft.”
Due to the timing of the kill switch failure the team’s driver, Woody Pitkat, was forced to hit the bypass switch in order to get through time trials. When time trials were over Pitkat had the Hill Enterprises Modified 13th fastest in a field of 27.
Upon returning to the pits, the team went to work to correct the issue with the kill switch. That’s when officials informed the team they were receiving a penalty for the repair and would start at the rear. When asked if anyone involved with the team questioned the tour officials over their ruling; “There wasn’t really much to talk about the penalty. [NASCAR officials] just said it’s a safety issue. You fix it and you will start at the rear.”
With the Waterford event being a one day show it’s considered an impound race; “I believe the procedures are that during an impound race, which is usually a one day event, you cannot work on your car after time trials. If you do you have to start at the rear. Officials do have to be at your car when making adjustments or changes, but you still have to start in the rear if it’s something besides air pressure, tire stagger or spring rubber.”
The Hill Enterprises team has been a strong supporter of the Modified division for decades on end. The popular North Carolina based team has made the haul to every tour stop on the Northeastern tour schedule for many decades. They are not only known for it’s late great driver/owner/patriarch, Roger Hill, but the great racing family carrying on the legacy. Drivers who have sat behind the wheel of the famous 79 since the team began competing on NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour is a who’s who in the division.
The rig they transport their Modified in guzzles fuel for the long hauls to each race costing enough for one to spray a mouthful of coffee across your computer/tablet/smart-phone screen. I’ll spare you the clean-up, but how about some other costs you may or may not know?
From what I have been told, the owner pays an entry fee every tour stop costing somewhere around $150.00. Those on the Hill crew, like many of their fellow competitor’s crew members, are made up of mostly all volunteers who pay for NASCAR licenses somewhere in the neighborhood of $370.00 a season just to help out. Last season, the Hill Enterprises team would bring with them anywhere from 3 to 8 crew members from their home base in North Carolina. A driver on the tour dishes out about $385.00 for their season license to compete. None of these costs include the pit passes everyone must purchase to enter each speedway’s pit area. Nor do these approximate numbers include other expenses such as lodging, meals, etc. Barring any major damage, the preparations to field one of these machines for each tour stop has been estimated around $2,500.00. The Modified teams competing on the tour haul into the speedway grounds early so their racing machines can be inspected by officials. I believe the inspection comes with another fee which is unknown to this writer. Considering that the tour purses have decreased terribly over the years the teams are racing dollars for donuts. When the night is over, more often than not, they’re leaving the grounds and heading home out of pocket. These are the true weekend warriors.
Their opinion of the unapproved change rule including safety devices; “My feelings were that because it was a safety issue it needed to be fixed and I don’t think [the Hill team] should have been put to the rear. If it was a shock or something then I understand being put back.”
I couldn’t agree more. The repair had no effect on the machine’s performance and everything to do with making sure the Hill’s driver, Woody Pitkat had that additional life saver inside the cockpit at his disposal.
It’s laughable when you think about it. The penalty NASCAR officials handed down to the Hill Enterprises team is the same as being sent to the rear for replacing; the window net, safety harness, fire extinguishing device, or even a driver’s suit or helmet for that matter. Call it petty or nitpicky . Whatever tag you want to slap it with, it’s a costly penalty and should have been a no-call. If NASCAR wants to penalize a team during an impound race for changes after time trials then so be it, but safety devices should be excluded from the rule entirely.
It’s apparent the majority of the fans and teams who attend and compete in NASCAR Modified racing are at their wits end as how to get the Modifieds back on track and headed in the right direction; “I know the costs for everything right now is outrageous and I think NASCAR could take some money from the big 3 (Cup, Nationwide and Trucks) to help the NASCAR weekly guys. [NASCAR] always talk about how it all started with the local short track series. So why not help [the Modifieds] out and give us bigger purses so we can make [Modified racing] a little more feasible.”
The amount of money these teams spend to field a Modified is bad enough. The volunteered hours these people spend working on the car beyond their full time job proves their love for the division, but hasn’t paid back as it should. They spend time in the shop after hours away from their families with out of pocket expenses to support a series that currently pays crumbs in comparison to all the costs.
This is NASCAR’s first sanctioned division. At one time the Modifieds were considered part of the “Big 3”, but lost out when the sanctioning body gradually placed more effort into their young fender-friendly series labeled as trucks. The Modifieds are the division which laid the foundation for the success of NASCAR. Whether its lack of consideration by rule book makers, lack of care by the sanctioning body, the empty promises heard every season or otherwise, one thing is for certain. The respect and attention for the Modified division as a whole, by the sanctioning body, has been long overdue.
If you have any news items, questions or comments you would like to discuss or bring to my attention you can comment on the post or drop me a line at email@example.com. Until next time, always remember; The shorter the track, the shorter the temper.
*The individual who was kind enough to answer my questions will remain anonymous, but not from their own wishes. History has shown where there exists a “Rule 12-4A”, there exists a chance that anyone crewing, driving, owning or reporting can be effected just for giving their honest opinion. I appreciate the time they spent providing the information. You know who you are and I thank you.