RaceDayCT: In 2021 the Tri-Track Open Modified Series continued to pave the way for success in the Tour Type Open Modified landscape. Over a six event schedule the series averaged just over 29 cars per event, which set the high bar for touring Modified divisions. We talked this week with Tri-Track Open Modified Series managing partner Ed Bennett about how the 2021 season went, the outlook for 2022 and beyond and the state of Tour Type Modified racing.
Question: The Tri-Track Open Modified Series is coming off another successful year in 2021. Your six-race schedule saw the highest average car count for events for any regularly run Tour Type Modified series or track division. There was once again solid depth of talent, good parity at every event and four different winners in six races. When you look back on 2021 how do you rate overall how things went?
Ed Bennett: I considered 2021 a successful year. I don’t know if it was being apprehensive or not really sure where we were at after the COVID season [in 2020], and I don’t know if we were better than that or the same or COVID made us look good. I wasn’t really sure. I was really happy with the way things worked out though. The [Tri-Track Open Modified Series] staff has gotten to the point where I think [series managing partner Wayne Darling] and I could stay home and Frank [Sgambato] and Chris [Sgambato] and their guys and Greg Felton and his people, I think they could run the race without us even being there. It’s really great to watch that. And the racing was solid on the track. Four different winners. Jon McKennedy stopped by for two and won one of them. Sammy Rameau won one. Matt Hirschman got his usual couple of wins. And Chase Dowling [with two wins] has really come on. If it wasn’t for a boneheaded pit decision at Star [Speedway in May] I think [Dowling] would have been right there for the points [championship]. Ben Dodge and I really let him know how boneheaded it was. But he moved on and he’s going to be a threat. He’s really impressive and he’s really just a kid. Overall I was happy with everything and I think Wayne was happy with everything.
Question: It seems as if every year the Haunted Hundred at Seekonk Speedway becomes more and more solidified as one of the premier Tour Type Modified events on the calendar for both competitors and fans. What do you think it is it about that event that has made it grow in such a short time to being one of the can’t miss Tour Type Modified events in New England?
Ed Bennett: In regards to the Haunted Hundred’s success, I think the date of the race being basically the last Modified race in New England has a lot to do with the success. I think the location works really well. We do draw really well at Seekonk to begin with. I just think it’s taken on a life of its own. It’s something that Wayne invented [in 2017] and took a chance on it and the Seekonk people are great working with us. I think it’s just going to have continued success. It’s been good racing.
Question: Even though going from a six-race schedule in 2021 to a seven-race schedule in 2022 doesn’t look like all that much change, the reality is 2022 is going to look a whole lot different than 2021 for the Tri-Track Open Modified Series. Instead of six races at three different tracks the series will have seven races at six different tracks. Seekonk, Star and Monadnock remain on the schedule, but there will be return visits to Stafford and Waterford and the addition of a track the series has never visited in Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vt. Can you talk in general about the development of the 2022 schedule and why it is the way it is?
Ed Bennett: We had made the decision last year about trying to try a six-race schedule. We thought it was successful. [For 2022] we wanted to stay with the six-race schedule but we wanted to get a little more diversity in it. So basically Monadnock and Star are going to get one visit and we wanted to add a couple of tracks. [Thunder Road co-owner] Cris Michaud had wanted us to go there so we added that. Obviously Stafford fell into our lap. The seventh race was kind of a last minute thing that came up. Wayne was doing his usual working hard on the schedule trying to figure things out and called me up and said ‘What do you think about going to Waterford?’ I said ‘If you’re good with it I’m good with it.’ So it kind of appeared at the last minute. It’s a solid place, good for demographics and things we’re really interested in. That’s the way we want to go. We’re kind of taking the Tri-Track – short term, long term, however you want to look at it – we want a Tri-Track race to be an event at a track. We feel going to a track once and making a big event out of it is good. Monadnock stepped up this year and did a 10 grand to win show. Bobby Webber … had a giant purse at Star last year [in July]. They’re all just turning into events and I think that’s where our place is in Modified racing. Putting the schedule together was a little troublesome. We had to pick our way through the shell game with the TBA’s [from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour], but we had some pretty good information on it. It turned out a little rough with Memorial Day weekend [with the Whelen Modified Tour racing at Jennerstown (PA) Speedway the same weekend as Thunder Road], but Cris Michaud and I talked about it and it can’t affect that much. A couple racers might be involved, but the races are in two completely different geographical regions. The fan base is really the most important thing and it shouldn’t really affect them at all. I didn’t really appreciate [Claremont Speedway operator Mike] Parks and The Racing Guys throwing in an event on the Friday [of Memorial Day weekend] when they said they wouldn’t do that. But if they want to play ‘Who’s is bigger?’ we’re ready to play that game. Game on.
Question: The Modified Classic in October 2020 at Stafford Speedway was a special event that took place due to COVID restrictions at Seekonk Speedway. The event proved to be a landmark success and one fans and competitors still talk about for how huge it was. The series will return to Stafford in 2022 as part of the track’s NAPA Fall Final weekend. How important is it to the series to be on the schedule at Stafford and not just be a mid-season addition like in 2020?
Ed Bennett: The first thing that’s come to mind is that we’ll have more time, not that Stafford wouldn’t be a great event if you booked it the week before. But I think we’ll have time to really build up. I suspect after New Year’s we’ll get together and talk about purses and stuff. But I expect it to be a pretty outstanding purse. I’m not going to speak to what it will be, but I’m sure it will be enough to turn some heads. They’re concentrating a lot on the [NAPA Spring Sizzler] right now, which it looks like it’s going really well with their car count. So after New Year’s sometime we’ll get going on it. We’re looking for some partners to really get the purse into the next level. Of course going to Stafford is just good for the series. It’s so much exposure.
Question: The series will make its first visit to the Thunder Road International Speedbowl in 2022 for a Memorial Day weekend event. The Barre, Vt track doesn’t have all that much history when it comes to hosting Modified events, but it is considered one of the iconic short tracks in New England. Why was it important to get them on the schedule?
Ed Bennett: Thunder Road in Northern New England is kind of the iconic track. They really don’t do a lot of traveling series’ there. For Cris to ask us to go there – I don’t know if I want to use the word honor – but it meant something to me. If you look at their schedule they don’t do a lot of that. I’m excited. I visited the place, kind of dropped in unannounced in late September, and the place is beautiful. And his staff is excited to have us so I’m looking forward to it.
Question: The series will return to the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in 2022 for the first time since 2016. It’s a still a place that people rave about visiting for the quality of racing the track produces. Why is it important for the series to return there?
Ed Bennett: For my own selfish perspective, it’s 25 minutes from my house. But it’s just another race track that has such a good demographic area, should draw well, we should be able to find some partners for that race to make it an event. I have not been there on the promotional side, I’ve raced there. Tri-Track has been there and people generally like racing there. I think it’s going to be a good day.
Question: There are a lot of people around the Modified racing landscape that see the Tri-Track Open Modified Series to be in competition with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. There are others that look at the landscape and see two divisions co-existing peacefully without trying to hurt the other. How do you see the relationship between the Tri-Track Open Modified Series and the Whelen Modified Tour?
Ed Bennett: If there’s a competition with the Modified Tour I think maybe it’s manufactured a little bit by the keyboard warriors. Wayne and I don’t see us in competition with them. Shawn Waddell [from Waddell Communications] and I did a solid favor for [Whelen Modified Tour series director Jimmy Wilson] by opening a door for him [at Thompson Speedway]. I’m sure he knew that and appreciates that. There’s so much crossover between crew members and drivers, I don’t know how it could be in competition. Honestly, if I was the Modified Tour looking at the landscape, maybe the competition is broader than the just the Tri-Track. There’s a lot of Open [Modified] racing. Stafford has got a solid program, Michaud and [Tom] Mayberry are developing a good program [at Thompson]. There’s a lot of Modified racing going on. So I don’t know how anyone could focus on a competition between the Tri-Track and the [Whelen Modified Tour]. I think they’ve got their hands full with the amount of stuff going on.
Question: The Whelen Modified Tour has announced a 16-race schedule for 2022 that includes three races in Virginia, a race in Florida and a race in Western, Pennsylvania. It’s a lot of travel outside of the Northeast and some have been critical of that. You’re a former Whelen Modified Tour team owner. If you were still a team owner there how would you look at that schedule for 2022?
Ed Bennett: I was a longtime [Whelen Modified] Tour owner. Sixteen races in 2022 is a lot of work. It’s a lot of traveling. Things have changed over time. It seems like no one wants to travel, everyone wants to sleep in their own bed. I personally wouldn’t be very excited about it. I think if you’re a well-funded team and expect to land in the top three or four in points I guess you do that. I think it’s important for the Tri-Track that everybody can sleep in their own beds with what we do. We’re the guys with jobs who want to race on a Saturday. It’s the best day. We do have a Sunday and a Wednesday race, but in general it’s pretty limited on travelling. We use Hartford for the center of things and a lot of what we do is within an hour and a half or two hours. It’s just not a lot of traveling and everybody can sleep in their own beds. I think that’s huge. It’s not cheap to travel, it really isn’t. … When it comes to NASCAR, with all this Open racing going on, I think they need to look at themselves. I think their show has gotten stale. They’re not being innovative. You look at Michaud and Mayberry, they’re not afraid to try new things [at Thompson Speedway], certainly the Arute’s are trying new things [at Stafford Speedway] and we’re trying some new things too. I think that’s part of the issue with what NASCAR is doing with the Tour is that it’s just gotten stale. It’s confusing to me because on the national level they keep trying different things. In Cup it seems like they can’t leave things alone for two weeks.
Question: There’s more Tour Type Modified racing events out there in the Northeast than any other time in the last 25 years. You have what you guys are doing, the Whelen Modified Tour, the ROC, the Modified Racing Series, Stafford Speedway has their own slate of Open shows, Thompson Speedway has their own slate of Open shows, Riverhead has their own special Open shows. Some people say it’s great to have some much to choose from, some people say there’s too much Tour Type racing going on. Where do you fall in looking at the abundance of Tour Type racing that’s available in the Northeast?
Ed Bennett: I think the abundance of Tour Type [Modified] racing is pretty full. I don’t know of any other way to put it. I don’t know if there’s room for more of this. I think you’re right at a tipping point of, how many races can you have? I think it’s manageable now. People are sort of working together to keep an eye on what other people are doing. I don’t think there’s too much piggybacking of events. It will work. But there’s a lot of events.
Question: You’ve said in the past that the positive future of short track racing is hinged more in having healthy tracks than having healthy touring series’. Can you talk more about that philosophy and how that intertwines in what you do in operating the Tri-Track Open Modified Series?
Ed Bennett: Wayne and I look at the race tracks when we go there as we’re partnering on the event. We’re very concerned that the track does well. We want things to go smooth. We tell everybody that it’s their place and if they don’t like how things going to let us know. The first thing I usually ask Wayne – he’s more tuned into it because I’m usually a little busier than he is in the morning at events – is, what do you think we’re going to have for a crowd? Then later I ask him how the crowd is looking. It’s important because the Tri-Track could go away, the Modified Tour could go away, but there will still be racing. You lose a race track and it’s gone forever. It’s gone. It’s important that we support the race tracks. Whether you look the Modified Tour, the ROC, the SMART tour, you need to go to the races or else these places can’t make it. They depend on a crowd.
Question: You’ve worked hard behind the scenes to try to foster good relationships for your series with different track management groups, but you’ve also worked to try to bring different management teams at certain tracks together for the greater good of all involved. How important is it to you to see tracks that are important to Modified racing working together?
Ed Bennett: This has been a year that there’s been so much conversation between individual tracks and the series. Wayne has the people he talks to. I talk to Joe Skotnicki [from the ROC], Chris Williams has kind of joined the club with the SMART tour. I know he’s reached out to talk to Paul Arute at Stafford. It’s all friendly conversation, picking each other’s brains on how to make things better. There’s a big concentration on trying to keep rules in Open racing really close. We’re on the same tires, which is great. Engine packages and chassis things, we’re really all working together. It’s just a pleasure. We have tracks talking to each other, it’s just a really good thing. And there’s a couple of people that are like ambassadors that we’re really lucky to have. One is John Holland from New England Racing Fuel and the other is Rob Summers from Hoosier Tire East. As little issues develop you call one or the other and they know everybody and they get along with everybody and they can kind of pave the way for things to work for everyone. It’s almost to have them.
Question: There are a lot of people that I think would like to see the Tri-Track Open Modified Series go from say six to seven events each year to maybe 12-14 events. What are your thoughts when it comes to the idea of growing to something that big?
Ed Bennett: I will never say never, but I personally don’t see it happening. And especially with the way the landscape is in Modified racing I don’t think we need to get that big and I’m not sure that Wayne and I are that interested in that. Things could change, but I don’t know what it would take for us to do that. We’re both pretty busy and it’s some work. I enjoy going to the race track, but six or seven events is in our wheelhouse. It seems to work and it seems to work for the competitors.
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