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Open-Wheel Modifieds Return To Martinsville

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 8 2021

Martinsville Speedway will host NASCAR’s only open-wheel series on Thursday . (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – When the 2021 Whelen Modified season opens Thursday night with the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200, the race marks the return of NASCAR’s inaugural series to its Martinsville Speedway home.   

It’s the first time in 11 years NASCAR’s only open-wheel series will visit the tough half-mile track and Martinsville President Clay Campbell said the time was right for the powerful cars’ return.

“Timing is everything,” Campbell said. “When the modifieds left here it was just a timing issue. We were putting different events into the schedule. We didn’t want to do it (modified race) with the late model race. That race stands on its own. With the format of the two Cup weekends with Trucks and Xfinity, it didn’t make a lot of sense. 

“Now that we have lights we’ve got more opportunity to do things. The stars have aligned. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long run for the Whelen Modified Tour at Martinsville.”

 Martinsville Speedway and the modifieds initially met during NASCAR’s inaugural season when the track hosted a race on July 4, 1948. That made it the third NASCAR-sanctioned race in history in Virginia. NASCAR’s National Modified Championship, the predecessor to today’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, competed at Martinsville from 1960-1984. At that time, the spring event was known as the Dogwood 500 and the fall race weekend carried the Cardinal 500 name. The Whelen Modified Tour continued to race at the historic track 1985-2002 and 2005-2010. The modifieds were originally scheduled to return last May, but the race was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“For so long, modifieds and Martinsville were synonymous and we want to get back to that point,” Campbell said.   

In mid-March, Ryan Preece and Ryan Newman tested modifieds at Martinsville. In addition to Martinsville, Newman plans to compete in modified races at Richmond, Va., and Loudon, N.H., later this year.

“If you look at the big picture of it, the modified is just an amazing race car,” Newman said. “If you, as an engineer, had to draw up a car, to design, to make it go fast, turn left and accelerate you’d draw a Whelen Modified. So whenever I can fit it into my schedule and it makes sense geographically and time-wise (I will race a modified). It’s a way to stay sharp. Driving something that goes fast or turns better and has more acceleration just makes you better when you get to those bigger, slower stock cars.” 

Glen Wood leads the way during a Modified race race at Martinsville Speedway in the late 1950s. (ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Preece acknowledged a racer’s ultimate goal was NASCAR’s Cup Series, but he would never pass up an opportunity to compete in a modified.

“I know where my roots are,” Preece said. “I know where I’ve cut my teeth. I know where I’ve put many hours in the race shop to go and win races. I enjoy racing these cars and I know quite a bit about them and they’re a lot of fun to race. The best thing for a race car driver is to be in the seat all the time.”

Virginia racing legend Ray Hendrick is the all-time leader in modified victories at Martinsville with 13. NASCAR Hall of Fame member Richie Evans is second with 10. In qualifying for a 1986 modified event, Greg Sacks set the track record of 101.014 mph.

Thursday’s modified race, scheduled for 8 p.m., kicks off three nights of racing at Martinsville. The Xfinity race is scheduled for Friday at 8 p.m. and the Cup event for Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 8 2021
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