Year In Review: Whelen Modified Tour
The 2011 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship was once again decided in the closing laps of the season as Ron Silk held off Todd Szegedy in a wild season finale at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway, but there was plenty of action throughout the season.
Let’s take one final look back at some of the top stories of the 2011 campaign, the 27th in Whelen Modified Tour history.
Another first-timer: For the fourth time in the last five years, the Whelen Modified Tour crowned a first-time champion. Ron Silk became the 15th different driver to hoist the Tour trophy with his break-through performance this season. Silk had a previous best points finish of fourth in both 2007 and 2010, but this was his first legitimate championship chase and he held strong against Todd Szegedy, the 2003 titlist and a veteran of multiple title contentions. Silk’s run also produced the first championship for car owner Ed Partridge.
The ‘what if’ game: Trailing Silk by 54 points entering the finale, Szegedy had his work cut out for him if he hoped to earn a second Whelen Modified Tour title. But as they ran on the track, Szegedy actually held the points lead multiple times in the topsy-turvy race. As it turned out, Szegedy was caught up in an accident on Lap 149 that ended both his day and his title hopes. One has to wonder what would have transpired if Silk and Szegedy were able to take their championship chase all the way to the checkered flag. … One also has to wonder what could have been for Ted Christopher in 2011 had things been different. He won the season opener at Thompson, but was fined 50 points for post-race technical violations. Christopher then won two more times before his team decided to skip back-to-back mid-season events at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Delaware (Ont.) Speedway. Without the 50-point fine, Christopher would theoretically have had the points lead heading to 10th race of the year at Bristol, a track that he had run very strong at in two previous appearances. As it turned out, he won a Tour-high four races, but finished ninth in the final standings since he was two races down. It’s quite likely Christopher would have been a formidable contender for a second career title if things had been different.
Mr. Consistent: Although he did not reach Victory Lane, Eric Beers had arguably the best season of his career that now spans 10 full-time seasons and 15 years overall. Beers teamed with car owner Dave DeLange to run the Whelen Modified Tour for the first time together in 2011, and the pairing proved to be one of the most consistent on the Tour. In 16 events Beers finished in the top 10 on 11 occasions, and only once outside the top 15. He also led all drivers in laps completed, with just two less than contested the entire season. As a result, Beers concluded his first championship podium finish in third place.
Nice comebacks: There was little rust to be knocked off as a pair of drivers rejoined the full-time competition ranks in 2011. A part-timer the previous four seasons, Doug Coby ran the full slate this year and posted a career-best points finish of fifth. Matt Hirschman finished as the championship runner-up in 2008, but had been away from Whelen Modified Tour competition since. In 2011 he hooked up with Boehler Racing Enterprises and finished sixth in the standings. … Following a 31st-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July 16, Justin Bonsignore ranked 19th in points, a far cry from where the 2010 Rookie of the Year expected to be. Through the final 10 events of the season, however, Bonsignore finished outside the top 10 just twice and was on the podium four times, including a first career win that came at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway. His finish of seventh in the standings has the team hoping to contend for the Tour title in 2012.
The action track: Thompson is certainly no stranger to exciting Whelen Modified Tour races, but 2011 was a banner year for the .625-mile speedway. Christopher rallied from two laps down to take checkers in the season-opening Icebreaker in April, then thrilled the crowd again in June as he came from the rear of the field twice and put on a passing clinic in the last 30 laps of event for another win. In September’s inaugural UNOH Showdown tripleheader, Doug Coby followed his win in the Northern Thompson 125 by defeating both Whelen Modified and Whelen Southern Modified Tour competitors in the 50-lap dash-for-cash exhibition. The season then closed with an epic tussle in October’s World Series that saw Glen Reen and Silk survive a drama-filled contest that concluded with the maximum three green-white-checker attempts to celebrate their respective race and championship victories.
Newman’s streak ends: Visiting NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman’s win streak in Whelen Modified Tour action officially came to an end at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September when his engine expired just 40 laps into the race. Newman had notched four-consecutive Tour wins, including the combo race at Bristol in August. He also took the checkered flag in July at Loudon, but the victory and his participation in the event were stricken from the record for post-race technical violations.
Hanging in there: Ryan Preece left the Boehler’s prior to the 2011 season to join a start-up team owned by John Lukosavage. The pairing lasted just three races, however, and the 2009 Whelen Modified Tour championship runner-up’s hopes to contend for a title were abruptly over. Preece was able to compete in seven more races between three different teams and recorded a pair of poles and three top-five finishes. Persistence has paid off as Preece has landed a full-time deal to replace Mike Stefanik in the Flamingo Motorsports No. 16 for 2012.