MADE IN AMERICA WHELEN 300 COULD END
UP WITH SOUTHERN
SURPRISE IN VICTORY LANE NEXT SATURDAY AFTERNOON
It has been a long, long, long time
since a Southern driver won a NASCAR Modified event at Martinsville
It’s been 23 years to be exact, since a Southern driver rolled one
of the sleek, powerful Modifieds into Victory Lane at Martinsville.
The last Southern winner? Bassett’s Johnny Bryant, driving a
baby-blue1984 Chevrolet Cavalier. He won the 200-lap Modified
portion of the Winn-Dixie 500. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
returns to Martinsville Speedway next Saturday with the running of
the Made In America Whelen 300.
Bryant’s win was an upset of unprecedented proportions, maybe the
biggest surprise victory in the 61-year history of Martinsville
Bryant was driving for Riggs Racing, based just a few miles from
Martinsville Speedway. It was an underfunded family operation short
on dollars but long on love of the sport.
How underfunded was the team? They were probably the only team
without two-way radios that day. They communicated with Bryant the
old-fashioned way, with a chalk board held up on pit road. They had
competed in only five or six races coming into the Winn-Dixie 500.
Ironically they didn’t qualify for the spring Martinsville race that
year, but were given a “promoter’s option” berth in the field by
Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles.
But you couldn’t have convinced anyone on the team they were
underdogs before the race started that fall afternoon.
“I actually thought we had a chance to win,” said Jeff Riggs, who
was a 23-year-old tire-changer for the team in 1985. Today he is
listed as the team’s owner, but still has to answer to his father,
family patriarch and team founder David Riggs.
“When we got up that Sunday morning I asked my wife where she was
going to sit. She said on the back stretch. I asked her how she was
going to get to victory lane. She laughed and said she’d be there.
Well, we got there and she didn’t.”
Much has happened to the NASCAR Modified Tour since 1985. It’s now
the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, and actually there are two tours.
The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour was added three years ago.
And it should come as no surprise that the Riggs Racing team has
won two out of the three Southern Modified Tour championships to
date. The Riggs team won those two championships with veteran Junior
Miller, but this year have a Northerner, young Andy Seuss, behind
While the changes have been great in Modified racing since 1985,
one thing remains the same: winning at Martinsville Speedway is the
holy grail of Modified racing. And according to one Southerner who
has celebrated in victory lane at Martinsville Speedway, you don’t
have to be from above the Mason-Dixie Line to win a Modified race on
the tough half-mile.
“Absolutely, Southern teams have a chance in this race. I believe
that more so now than ever,” said Riggs. “It’s a lot of good
equipment down here now and there are plenty of good drivers.”
Before the Made In America Whelen 300 takes the green flag next
Saturday, legendary driver Red Farmer will be honored as part of
NASCAR’s celebration of 60 years of Modified Champions.
Farmer won the NASCAR Modified national title in 1956, but he
hasn’t hit the rocking chair just yet. Amazingly, he’s still racing.
After being honored in prerace Saturday, Farmer will hop a plane
back to his home state of Alabama to run a dirt race that night.
Tickets for the Made In America Whelen 300 are $25. Children five
to 12 years old are $5. Tickets may be purchased by calling
1.877.RACE.TIX or visiting
The race is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m.