Asphalt Modified racing often gives fans a thrill with whee;-to-wheel action.
Say the word "modified" to anybody in the Northeast, and chances are you'll hear names such as Richie Evans, Charlie Jarzombek, and Ron Bouchard. Use that same word south of the Mason-Dixon line, and Junior Miller, Ralph Brinkley, and Ray Hendrick will roll off their tongues. The fact is that Modified racing-that's asphalt Modified racing-has been around a long, long time.
From Upstate New York to the beaches of Florida, you can find Modified racing at a lot of different short tracks, and why not? They put on a great show. These 2,600-pound, 107-inch-wheelbase race cars typically run a small-block in the range of 350- to 360ci engines.
Like their dirt counterparts, asphalt Modified rules stay reasonably consistent from sanction to sanction, making it easy for guys like New Jersey's Jimmy Blewett and North Carolina's Junior Miller to run all over the place, if they choose.
While Modified racing's roots were based in the Northeast, there was a lone holdout in the South, Winston Salem's Bowman Gray Stadium. Jerry Cook, the former series director for the National Modified Tour when it was formed back in the '80s, says that Bowman Gray is solely responsible for preserving Modified racing in the South. "If it weren't for them," Cook says, "that style of cars would have been long gone down here."
Preparing to scale a car. Both ASA and NASCAR have similar rules and no conflicting dates,
Before we get into where Southern Modified racing is going, let's take a look at where it came from. In 1988, after a rainout in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a group of car owners and drivers gathered together and formed the Southern Modified Auto Racing Teams, or S.M.A.R.T., as they became known to race fans throughout the region. For the next 16 years, Modified racing lived through the S.M.A.R.T. Tour as they raced up and down the Carolinas and Virginia. In late 2004, NASCAR announced it was taking over the S.M.A.R.T. Tour and bringing it under the NASCAR banner. It was renamed the Whelen Southern Modified Tour. A number of tracks didn't or couldn't join NASCAR, and petitioned the American Speed Association to begin sanctioning Modified racing at their facilities. Thus, the ASA Southern Modified Tour was born.
With two series running the same cars in the same region, you might think there would be a lot of animosity between the two groups, but there isn't. In an incredibly smart move, there isn't a single conflicting date between the two organizations, nor do they race on any common track during the season. This allows many of the teams and drivers to run in both series. In fact, the drivers who are at the top of the points standings in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Series are also at the top of the ASA Southern Modified points. That should come as no surprise to anyone who delves into the schedule. Since there are only 12 races on NASCAR's circuit, adding the 10 ASA Southern Modified Race Tour races almost doubles a team's chance to win and perhaps make a little money on the season.
More than half of the 20 or so drivers who have made at least three starts this season race on both tours. While that's a good thing, you still have your loyalists.
Note the tie-down rope, a safety feature that holds the tire in place in the event of an a
There are those drivers who don't run the newer ASA series, preferring instead to run with NASCAR. Almost all of the NASCAR races are on tracks the Modifieds have historically raced on, and they like it that way. Running on the same tracks for 20 years can be comfortable. Teams already have notes on the track and can practically set up the car at home before they get to the track. Most of the teams also like the national exposure that NASCAR gives them. While it's true they don't have a television package like the top-three touring groups, they do get coverage through NASCAR's Web site and affiliated newspapers.
Along with that national exposure, the choice of tracks is bigger in the NASCAR world. With the exception of the tires, a NASCAR Southern Modified Tour team can also run on the Northern Tour under the same rule book . . . if they have the budget.
On the flip side, the ASA Tour focuses a lot of attention on the individual track and team. Many tracks throughout the South are struggling. There is a lot of competition to get fans into the stands and drivers on the track. Some of those tracks can't afford to pay the price to become a NASCAR track. Likewise, NASCAR licenses for a team are more expensive than ASA. Bigger, established operations that have been running for years can handle the added costs, but there are a lot of smaller groups out there. Most of those racers aren't professional teams; they do it on the side because they love Modified racing. The ASA Southern Modified Tour offers them a chance to go racing without the extra costs.
Interestingly, four of the drivers who are sitting in the Top 10 in ASA Southern Modified Race Tour points are comfortably in the Top 10 in NASCAR Whelan Southern Modified Tour points. So regardless of whether it's big money or small money, ASA or NASCAR, it seems that Modified racers race for the cult-like love of racing Modifieds.
NASCAR Whelan Southern Modified Tour cars head into a corner side by side, a common sight
LOVIN' THE EDGE
A number of guys have turned a successful Modified career into full-blown NASCAR stardom-Jimmy Spencer, Geoffrey Bodine, and Martin Truex Jr. to name a few. Truex excelled in racing Modifieds at his home track of Wall Stadium in New Jersey, winning his first feature in just his eighth race in 1998. The following year, he clinched the prestigious Turkey Derby, Wall's annual star-studded Modified race. He likens the Modifieds to a sports car and says that racing a Modified is somewhat of an art form.
"Modifieds are really fast. You have to have really good car control because they have so much grip," says Truex. "They are low to the ground, stuck down, and have a lot of horsepower. They drive really, really good. They're a lot of fun to race. They've got so much horsepower you've got to really drive them hard, really drive them on the edge."
Modifieds will turn a lap of around 13 seconds on Wall's high-banked third-mile asphalt. That's quick for a third. Take the mods and put them on a high-banked half-mile like Music City Motorplex in Nashville, and you've got one wild show.
"They put on a great show, good fan turnout," says Music City's David Underwood. "It was the very first time Modifieds ever raced at our track, and they turned about a 19-second lap, but the tire they brought was way too sticky." By comparison, that's a tick quicker than a NASCAR Late Model. A different tire would make the Modifieds even quicker.
With a good show under their belt, Underwood is optimistic the Modifieds will return in 2008.
Burt Myers discusses feature strategy with his crewchief.
MAKING THE DRIVER
Current Modified star Burt Myers, who is tearing up the track in both the ASA and NASCAR Southern Mod Tours, says, "I don't want to sound boastful, but if you can run up front and win in modified racing, you can drive most anything and win."
Truex, who is one of the hottest drivers on the Nextel Cup circuit, agrees with that stance.
"Look at the guys who run the tour who have been doing it for 15 to 20 years," says the 27-year-old. "They're the best of the best, so if you can go out and beat them, you can probably get in just about anything and run up front and win races."
But why is that?
"When you're racing a Modified at a short track, you've got to be very smart," explains Truex. "Obviously, your wheels are hanging out all the time. If you bump somebody with your right front tire, you're gonna knock out the toe, break the rack or whatever, so it [racing mods] gives you patience, makes you smart, makes you really aware of all the cars around you. You can't afford to bump wheels with them or you'll be wrecked, so it definitely helps you race smart."
A healthy field of Modifieds prepares to go racing at Music City Motorplex in Nashville.
SOUTHERN MOD FUTURE
Even with two sanctions running competing tours, Southern Modified racing seems to be doing well. Car counts remain constant, with at least 20 racers showing up for almost every race so far this year. Driver crossover between the series is healthy.
Four races into the season, ASA Southern Modified Race Tour promoter Randy Myers is optimistic. "Car counts have been a little better than I expected and about what I had hoped for. The first race was a little bit off, the second race at Friendship we had 20 cars, then we had 23 at Hickory, and we had 20 Sunday back at Friendship. The entry list for Franklin County [Speedway in Central Virginia] went over 20 today of people I'm pretty sure are going to be there."
Myers has a keen eye on that Franklin County race as he believes it is a gauge for the true health of Modified racing in the South. "While Hickory and Friendship and all those other places are important, I think Franklin County is pivotal in the success of this season of the ASA Modified tour and southern Modifieds in general," he says.
Reason being is the Franklin County race is the first Modified tour race in 30 years that runs against Bowman Gray, the staple Southern Modified track, on a Saturday night. That's the meat of their season and, to Myers, if the Franklin County race is successful, it proves there's enough of the Modifieds to go around. "I respect what they do at the Stadium, but if the division is going to grow, now is the time to do it," says Myers. "If there are enough cars around to make that happen, Bowman Gray can be successful, and a Modified tour in the South-be it ASA or NASCAR or whoever-can be a viable piece of property."
These bars, located on either side of the car, protect the tires from damage in the event
Twenty cars showed up for that Frankiln County race, couple that with the 17 that ran at Bowman Gray and Myers was proven right. There are enough Southern Mods for that series to grow, now it's up to the drivers, teams, and sanctions to work together and make some Southern Modified magic
By Kevin Thorne
If the stars align properly this year, the ASA Southern Modified Tour and the NASCAR Whelan Southern Modified Tour could share a champion. His name is Burt Myers. The Myers name is legendary in and around the Carolinas. Burt, first cousin to Danny "Chocolate" Myers (longtime gasman for the late Dale Earnhardt), has been racing for 13 years.
"I started racing four cylinders at Bowman Gray [Stadium]. I ran it about half a season. I did OK, I guess, then I was given a chance by my father Gary to drive a modified.
...most of the time.
"He said, 'There's a car, if you race it, you have to keep it up.' That year was tough; in fact, I had to get a loan from the bank to pay my tire bill at the end of the season. It was then I realized I better start running up front if I was going to keep racing and, besides, Modified racing is in my family's blood."
So much so that he is running both the ASA and NASCAR Modified tours this year. At press time, he was leading the ASA points and second in NASCAR points, just 23 behind Junior Miller.
If that's not enough, Myers is also running his Modified at Bowman Gray in the hunt for the track championship. "Between the three series that we run, the cars aren't that much different, and that's a good thing. The only difference is the tires," explains Myers. "The tours run the 15-inch tires, and we run the 10-inch tires at the stadium. ASA does grandfather cars in, allowing the 23-degree motors as well as |18-degree motors. If you run the 23-degree motor, they let you run with the bars knocked out of the carburetor. It adds about 25 hp so they can be more competitive."
If it sounds like Myers knows his stuff, he does. "I build cars, I fix cars, I know what makes them tick. I'm old school, I want to know why the parts do what they do," he says. "When you say the car is tight, there are two different types of tight. There's a tight that might need less right-front spring, and there's a tight where you might need less left-rear spring, and you have to know the difference in the two."
Myers would like to move up to the next level of competition. "You would think that with 53 wins and 5 championships, I could get looked at, but so far, nothing." Sure, he's had a look here and a test run there, but they either didn't pan out or were with lower-performing teams. "Nobody remembers if you finish 31st or, if they do, they think you don't have it," Myers says.
At 31 years old, getting noticed by the right big-time team owner could be a tricky proposition. So right now, Myers is content to concentrate on winning the championship in ASA, the NASCAR Southern tour, and the Stadium's track championship. If he does, it might be the kick-start his career needs.