MAKES MODIFIED RACING SPECIAL
is a 31-mile drive from Stafford, Conn., straight
across the state to the town of Thompson. From
there, it's a 53-mile virtual straight shot down
I-395 to the Waterford, along the Connecticut
shoreline. Heading back to Stafford? That'll run 52
to miles to the northwest, back into the heart of
what is clearly demarcated as “Modified Country.”
On a map, it's an upside-down acute triangle that
perfectly cradles the epicenter of the NASCAR
One-half of the drivers entered in last weekend's
CARQUEST Tech-Net Spring Sizzler for the NASCAR
Whelen Modified Tour call The Nutmeg State home.
Nearly all of the others come from the area a
stone's throw across the sound to Long Island.
Eight of the 14 races on the Tour's schedule this
season are in Connecticut in 2013. Two others? Yup,
you guessed it. On Long Island.
It is an embarrassment of riches in terms of
dedication, talent and passion among a relatively
small slice of the American racing life.
“There's this idea among all of us that if you took
the Top-7 or Top-8 Modified drivers in the Northeast
and put us in a Nationwide (Series) car or a
(Camping World) Truck, we'd do well,” said 2012
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby of
Milford, Conn. “That's a chip we all share together.
We all have different personalities, different ages
and different styles, but we all feel that coming
from the Modifieds and being the Modified champion
really proves something. The Modified champion beat
some really good drivers to be there.”
Statistics don't paint the entire picture of
NASCAR Asphalt Modifieds – the Tour and SK-type –
are an anomaly in the stock-car racing world. They
compete almost exclusively in southern New England
and the Long Island region of New York, with a small
pocket of them tucked away in the Carolinas. Drive
just two hours north of Connecticut, and there are
fans that – hard as it is to believe – aren't even
sure what a Modified is.
They're low-slug, open-wheeled, 700-horsepower
machines. In truth, they haven't evolved all that
much from their early heyday in the 1970s and 1980s,
particularly when compared to how Late Models, Super
Late Models or NASCAR K&N Pro Series cars have.
Then again, the cars themselves – while unlike
anything else circling short tracks – aren't even
what makes Modified racing so important to
Connecticut and the outlying region.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour drew thousands for a
standing-room only crowd to Stafford Motor Speedway
last weekend, which is not unusual for the Tour at
Stafford, Thompson International Speedway or
When there isn't a Tour race, it's not as though
there's a lack of Modified racing. Thompson,
Stafford and Waterford each run a weekly NASCAR
Whelen All-American Series SK Modified division on
Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, respectively,
all season long. Fans, drivers and teams flock from
one track to the next like a rolling summer caravan
of Modified racing.
Seven Whelen Modified Tour drivers have full-time
rides in the SK Modified division at Stafford this
“In southern New England, the fabric of racing is
Modified racing. It's always about Modified racing,”
said Shawn Courchesne, the founder of RaceDayCT.com,
a website devoted almost entirely to Modifieds at
the weekly and touring level in Connecticut.
“Everybody ends up in Modifieds at some point. It's
the pinnacle here,” Courchesne said. “It's where
they all want to be. Even now, some people would say
the SK Modifieds have become as important as the
full-blown Tour Modifieds to the fabric of it.”
In 2010, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
national champion came from the Modified ranks.
Keith Rocco piled up gaudy statistics while running
all three Connecticut short tracks en route to the
title that year – and he's finished inside the Top-3
in the national standings in each of the last four
Like many Modified drivers of today, he grew up
watching his father race the open-wheels an era ago.
“The competition level in the SK division is the big
thing – at Stafford, there are 12 cars that can win
every night, and I'm in it for the competition,”
said Rocco, of Wallingford, Conn. “They're easy to
work on, they're fun to drive, and having three
tracks in Connecticut with close to the same rules
To most observers, once you're a Modified driver,
you're always a Modified driver. Mike Stefanik, for
example, has nine career NASCAR championships –
including back-to-back K&N Pro Series titles in the
late 1990s – and made a run at the Camping World
Truck Series. Still, he's a Modified driver. Ted
Christopher has wins in virtually every kind of race
car in the northeast – Modified, K&N Pro Series,
Super Late Model, midget and Supermodified cars –
but he's still a Modified driver.
Even Coby, the reigning Tour champion, didn't always
see himself as a Modified guy. His father raced
Modifieds at Stafford and Riverside Park in Agawam,
Mass., but he retired not long after NASCAR Hall of
Famer Richie Evans’ fatal accident at Martinsville
Speedway in 1985.
Coby's father , viewing the cars as too dangerous,
vowed his son would never drive a Modified. So the
younger Coby went Late Model and then Pro Stock
racing at Stafford, winning the track's Pro Stock
championship in 2000. Stafford eliminated the Pro
Stock division following that season, and Coby had
Raise enough money for a NASCAR K&N Pro Series
ride... Or run a Modified.
“Modifieds are way more fun to drive,” Coby said.
“We're more fortunate here in Connecticut to have
cars that we get to race weekly that are actually
fun to drive. You're not going to find too many guys
that leave Modifieds and drive Late Models or Pro
Stocks and say, 'Wow, these Pro Stocks are great.'
It's just not going to happen.”
“The way Modifieds are, they are made to be raced,
made to be run hard,” Rocco said. “Honestly, have
you ever seen a Modified race where there wasn't a
lot of passing and a lot of action? That's one thing
about Modifieds that nobody can criticize.”
Because its participants and followers are so rabid
about their race cars of choice, the fraternity is a
To those that storm the Connecticut tracks each
week, there really is only one division that
matters. Late Model drivers at Waterford Speedbowl –
who are eligible to race at New Hampshire Motor
Speedway on the big stage of NASCAR Sprint Cup
Series weekends at the track each September in a
Late Model invitational – often lament that fact
that nobody seems to notice them.
“It's such a microcosm of racing, there's a certain
type of respect around it,” Courchesne said. “It's
very small in its scope in society, and I think guys
appreciate that. It's a small family, and they feel
like they have to take care of that family. It's a
very unique situation.
“You can use the analogy that they're 'like family,'
but even when they are family, they don't get out of
each other's way. Ted (Christopher's) battles with
his twin brother Mike on the track at Stafford were
legendary. Even to some extent, Jeff and Keith Rocco
were the same when Jeff started racing weekly at
Waterford. Jeff's a kid who has been behind his
brother's racing efforts his entire life, but when
it came to competition between the two of them, he
wouldn't give his brother an inch.”
It's most likely because in Modified racing, there's
a code. That code – which is well-known in that
800-square-mile Connecticut triangle, despite never
having been written down anywhere – is that Modified
racing is not about points, championships or even
It's about racing. Lap after lap after lap, no
matter who it is or where you are on the track.
“In the other series, it can come down to who has
best technology or the best connection to a Cup
team,” Coby said. “Here, nobody is cheating, because
NASCAR would find out or because we'd all find out.
We're such a close group and we talk. You put Bobby
(Santos), Keith (Rocco) or Ryan (Preece) in Kyle
Busch truck, and they're going to run up front. I
just feel that about all of us collectively as
“You know what you should do if you really want to
let people know what Modified racing is here? Get
the Top-5 Late Model drivers from the south and the
Top-5 Modified drivers from the northeast. Put them
in any kind of car anywhere you want. I guarantee
that a Modified driver would have a shot at the win.
I believe that.
“I think we all have that chip on our shoulders.
That's our attitude.”
Source: Travis Barrett / NASCAR