The Tri-Track Open Modified Series kicks off its 2021 season Saturday at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H.
Like all sporting entities in 2020, the Tri-Track Open Modified Series was forced to make some change on the fly last year. They had originally planned to run six events with two scheduled at Monadnock, two a Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway, one at Star Speedway in Epping, N.H. and one Claremont (N.H.) Speedway.
Because of various COVID restrictions the series lost both events at Seekonk and the event at Claremont. They also added a late October event – the CBYD Modified Classic – at Stafford Motor Speedway. It was the division’s first event at Stafford and drew an entry list of more than 50 cars.
The series returns to a six-event schedule in 2021. The division will run a second event at Monadnock on Aug. 14. They will also visit Star Speedway (May 22, July 24) and Seekonk (June 30, Oct. 23).
The series has also added a special year end bonus for 2021 in conjunction with Stafford Motor Speedway’s Open Modified 80 events. The Call Before You Dig 811 Modified Bonus creates a points championship between combining both Stafford’s Open events and the Tri-Track Open Modified Series events that will pay an $8,100 bonus to one driver courtesy of Call Before You Dig 811.
We talked with Tri-Track Open Modified Series managing partner Ed Bennett about the state of the series heading into the season opening event.
Question: Obviously 2020 was a year that threw a lot of curveballs at short track operators and series promoters. Looking back on how the Tri-Track Open Modified Series was able to maneuver through 2020 what do you think went well and what do you think hurt you guys?
Ed Bennett: The pandemic was certainly something to deal with. I think one of the advantages Tri-Track has is that it’s only [managing partner Wayne Darling] and I. We talk every day. So were pretty flexible and we have two [track] operators in Norm Wrenn [at Monadnock] and Bobby Weber [at Star Speedway] who had tracks in New Hampshire that had some capacity and they were willing to take a risk in having the events. Nobody was sure how things were going to work out. We were able to keep a full purse and I think it was really good for us. Those two guys were great about having us and they were great events that drew a lot of cars. I think it really gave us a leg up and started us in the right direction. I don’t think the pandemic hurt us at all.
Question: Is the management of the series facing any obstacles in 2021 that are carryovers because of all the restrictions faced in 2020?
Bennett: I don’t know if I would call them obstacles. Obviously COVID is still around. We’re going to be respectful of that and try to keep the crowds down. We fully intend to abide by whatever the regulations are in the state each time we’re there. Seekonk has been all good news, they’ve got some capacity now and it will be increased by the time we get there. So I think we’ll be OK.
Question: The Tri-Track Open Modified Series seems to be attracting a deeper field of talent now than ever before in its existence. What are the factors that you think have made that happen?
Bennett: I think the number one thing that put us in the right direction for people in Modified racing that really thought it was kind of a hokey tour with no tech, we have real tech now and it’s good tech. But we do it in such a manner that I don’t think we torture our competitors. I think the series has become really well organized. We run good, tight events. And the main thing is the staff is just unbelievable. Everybody is friendly, everybody is there to help. It’s just created a great atmosphere. It’s kind of turned the clock back 15 or 20 years on how it used to be between officials and competitors. Our guys are there to help everybody.
Question: The series is at interesting point in its existence. The Whelen Modified Tour is very openly struggling to get New England short tracks on board with their product and the Tri-Track seems perfectly positioned right now for growth because of that. But there are also a lot of competitors who really like the six-race format. How do you look at that right now?
Bennett: To tell you the truth, late last summer Wayne and I had talked seriously about maybe expanding our schedule. We certainly had the opportunity to do so. The Tri-Track is in high demand. We could have easily had 12 or 14 races this year. And some things changed. The Tour is the Tour. Obviously Stafford has its Open Modified 80’s, which are really important to us. And [Thompson Speedway promoting partners] Cris Michaud and Tom Mayberry came aboard with the Thompson Outlaw Modified series and we’re trying to be respectful of that. And we talked about it and we just simply didn’t want to saturate it. There’s a limited amount of cars and competitors and money to do these races and fans. So we thought the best thing for us was that maybe less would be more. Make a better out of not having so many events. Moving forward I think six is a sweet spot. Maybe we’ll be at seven, maybe eight, but I can’t ever see it getting much more than that. I think we’re going to focus on having the best events we can. We’re super respectful of the efforts at Thompson and of course we’re involved with the Stafford people. We want them to succeed. We don’t need to saturate the market with too many races.
Question: You’re a former Whelen Modified Tour team owner and now you operate a series that – I think it’s fair to say – is a competitor to the Whelen Modified Tour. There’s a lot of people looking at the Whelen Modified Tour right now with a lot of concerns for the direction it is headed. How do you see that product right now?
Bennett: The Whelen Modified Tour is a very very expensive way to go racing. It’s a lot of initial up-front expense. It requires a lot of travel and it requires a lot of team members. And there’s an element of people that really enjoy that and can afford to do that, but it’s not for everybody. The racing up front with the Modified Tour is as good as it gets. I think by the same token, the Tour has also become a place where if you’re going to race with the Tour you know if you go to the race you’re going to make the race. I think it’s a comfort factor, safety zone for a large element of the competitors that are on that Tour. Whereas if you come do a Tri-Track race you need to bring your lunch.
Question: When one looks at the landscape of the Tour Type Modified racing right now there’s kind of a vision that it’s the Tri-Track Open Modified Series, the Stafford Open 80’s and the Thompson Outlaw Modified events as a group all versus the Whelen Modified Tour. Is that the way you see it?
Bennett: No, I don’t see that at all. I think, I’ll take Stafford for an example. They’ve had an Open races and they just chose to do it themselves. Cris Michaud has a vision of doing some stuff by himself. Obviously where we are, I’d hate to think we’re competing with it. Everybody does their best not to get on each other’s schedules and not to get on the Tour schedule. I think it’s just an option for people to not spend so much time traveling and not have the expense of traveling and sleeping in their own bed at night. It’s just an option for them, I don’t think it’s one versus the other.
Question: One of things a lot of people see that is unique is that the Tri-Track Series management really seems to be trying to foster relationships with track owners and event promoters, many of which aren’t even part of the Tri-Track schedule. How important do you see building those relationships and what do you think it ultimately does for your product?
Bennett: Wayne and I are business people. We’ve spent a lot of our lives cultivating relationships and I think we understand the value of it. I talk to the Arute’s [Stafford Speedway owners] pretty frequently, once a month or so. We get along really well and they know we’re supporting them and they’ve been really supportive of us. I owe Mark Arute a giant thank you. He’s running the rain date for the [Whelen Modified Tour NAPA Spring Sizzler 150] on Friday night versus what he normally would have done and moved it to Saturday. It was a solid favor and I really appreciate that. Tom Mayberry and Wayne have an old relationship. We’re doing the Haunted Hundred together with him and Cris Michaud. They asked about using our rules [for the Thompson Outlaw Modified series] and we were fine with that. And they’ve hired our tech guys directly and I think they’re pretty happy about our relationship. We’ve talked about in the future trying to even make scheduling better for the competitors and the fans and the whole racing community. We’ve just kind of been able to be the go betweens maybe or the figure it out people and I think it’s really neat. And then we have Derek Brown [from Call Before You Dig 811] who really isn’t involved with us directly this year but he was really happy with the end of the year event last year at Stafford and he’s cooked up this 811 Challenge which somebody is going to be really really happy after the Haunted Hundred is over because they’re getting an extra $8,100. That’s big money.
Question: A lot of people thought after the very successful season ending event in 2020 at Stafford – which obviously came about because of the crowd restriction issues at Seekonk – that the series would end up on the Stafford schedule for 2021. Obviously that didn’t happen. Where do things sit with that and is that a place you have on your radar where you’d like to be running an event?
Bennett: I want to really address what the Modified Classic [at Stafford in October 2020] really was. Yes it was a Tri-Track event, but it was really two entities combining their series’ together. Mark clearly has the Open Modified 80’s and it was really more than just a Tri-Track event. It was really a mutual effort, we had 51 or 52 cars entered in that event. It was terrific. This year, there was scheduling issues and that’s how that goes. We’re in contact. We do things and I certainly see there’s a really good chance we’ll be back at Stafford at some point.
Question: There have been rumors that White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire and Thunder Road Speedbowl in Vermont are interested in series events. Are those places you’d like to see the series try to establish a presence?
Bennett: I think absolutely some time – not this year because we’re locked into our six-race schedule – but I certainly see the Tri-Track at either one or both of those tracks in the very near future.
Photo credit: RaceDayCT