NASCAR modified tour still strong despite a record-small field, says series director

The No. 4 modified of Tim Connolly is worked on during garage hours at Langley Speedway in Hampton, VA. Photo by Owen Johnson.
The No. 4 modified of Tim Connolly gets worked on during garage hours at Langley Speedway in Hampton, VA. Photo by Owen Johnson.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is setting a new record at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, but it’s not a record any promoter wants to see.

With just fifteen cars entered, it’s the smallest field ever in the history of NASCAR’s oldest division. The previous low was set back in 1985 at Catamount Stadium, the year the modern Tour was founded, and the tour had only run eight events with fewer than twenty cars prior to the August 26th race at Langley. 

One of those was the previous race at Langley as well, which failed to draw a full field as well.

The small car count comes with increased costs that make running full seasons prohibitive not just at the local level but in NASCAR’s nationwide series as well.

But despite the milestone, there was no pessimistic spirit at the track. 

Series director Jimmy Wilson, for one, said the small number of entries doesn’t concern him at all. 

“When you look at car counts, particularly with the modified tour, you’ll go over seasons and you’ll see peaks and valleys of car counts,” he pointed out. 

“This is the beginning of four races in a row for us, there’s economic conditions that’re taking place, and various reasons – like, just recently, Tommy Baldwin announcing his sickness and not being able to attend here. You’ve got several different factors that are in play that affect it.”

Tommy Baldwin, team owner for perennial contender Doug Coby and a legendary former NASCAR crew chief, has been forced to suspend operations as he battles cancer, which forced Coby, the planned sixteenth entry, to withdraw ahead of Langley. 

“When we’ve seen this happen before, the numbers do come back up. It’s just kind of the natural evolution of a series of this size,” Wilson argued.

The No. 32 of Tyler Rypkema and the No. 3 of Jake Johnson are worked on during garage hours for the modified series at Langley Speedway in Hampton, VA. Photo by Owen Johnson.

And Wilson was quick to point out that NASCAR’s commitment to the Whelen Modified Tour remains strong. 

“The modifieds were NASCAR’s original series, dating back to the very first race in 1948, so yes, absolutely, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is here and strong, and NASCAR is just as committed today as it always has been,” he said. 

The drivers who were able to come to southeastern Virginia also didn’t see it as a problem with the modified tour.

Melissa Fifield, driving the No. 01 car, said it’s a scheduling issue, not a series issue. 

“We’re going to have four back-to-back races all across different locations in the country, so it’s going to be a challenging four weeks,” she explained.

And it comes at the same time as issues with race teams, especially for Tommy Baldwin, she pointed out. Matt Hirschman, for instance, is out for surgery.

And Fifield knows what she’s talking about, having competed in the series for a decade, in addition to being the only driver in the series to have competed in every one of the four modified tour races at Langley Speedway.

“I think we have a few drivers that would be here if they could, they have had a few issues,” Fifield added. “Last year at this track I think we had 18 cars, so if you count in the few that are missing, we’d be right back where we normally are.”

Tyler Rypkema, driver of the No. 32 modified, added that most of the contenders, at least, were able to attend.

“All the good guys are here, minus Coby and a few of the other top-notch guys,” he said.

“Thoughts and prayers go out to Tommy Baldwin and his family, hopefully everything turns out like it should there and we’ll see them back shortly,” Rypkema added. 

With six races remaining in the series schedule following the race at Langley, it falls to those upcoming entry lists to reveal the truth of those words.

Owen Johnson