As NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary season in 2023, the sports oldest division continues to thrive.
Each year, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour brings together polished veterans like Doug Coby, Justin Bonsignore, Ron Silk and others to race alongside the rising stars of Modified racing, most of whom cut their teeth in the Northeast. This season, the Tour schedule features 19 races, with the opener at New Smyrna Speedway in February, won by Silk, already in the books.
The series returns to competition Friday, March 31 at Richmond Raceway, and the entry list for the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 150 is padded with talent. As the season hits full speed again for Round 2, it provides a chance to review the Rookie of the Year lineup heading into 2023.
Whether drivers have come from Legends cars, Late Models, Super Late Models, Quarter Midgets or even SK or Crate Modifieds, each of the competitors in the rookie class of 2023 has taken a different path to reach the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
Some of them will run full-time this season and chase the Josten‘s Rookie of the Year honors, while others will sprinkle starts throughout the season to gain experience. The battle for the Rookie of the Year is one to watch during the season, and for many of these drivers, it‘s their ultimate goal.
For a driver who cut his teeth racing in Legends cars, Jake Johnson has moved up the ladder quickly in the Northeast. The Massachusetts driver went from winning a Legends car championship to full-bodied Late Models, then Super Late Models and now Modifieds.
He competed in select NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events in 2022, driving for the famed Boehler family in Ole Blue No. 3. Although he struggled in his first start at Riverhead, Johnson quickly came out of the gate at Lee USA Speedway in his next start, winning the Mayhew Tools Dominator Pole, leading three laps and finishing fifth. In five starts that followed Lee, Johnson finished eighth or better in four of them.
Entering a new year, Johnson will be the driver of the Boehler Racing Enterprises entry for more than half of the events on the diverse 2023 schedule. After capturing his first victory in a Modified last year at Star Speedway in New Hampshire, Johnson will continue to try to score his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win, but he will also sit behind the wheel of Late Models, Super Late Models and an Open Modified in competition for his family team again this season.
Bryan Narducci will sit behind the wheel of one of the most historic cars in the history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2023, joining Johnson to fill out the schedule for Boehler Racing Enterprises in the Ole Blue No. 3.
Narducci‘s first Tour start, and those that come after, will be the next steps in his already successful short-track Modified career. His first race will come at Richmond on a weekend when the Tour joins NASCAR‘s national series divisions.
Narducci is a two-time NASCAR Division III National Champion (2018-19), and at just 23, he has multiple wins in SK Light Modifieds and SK Modifieds in New England. Narducci has won at two of Connecticut‘s toughest tracks — Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and Stafford Motor Speedway — and is a threat every time he climbs behind the wheel.
The Colchester, Connecticut, native competed in the Legends cars, Limited Late Models, SK Light Modifieds and SK Modifieds prior to making this step.
His planned NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour starts in 2023 include events at Richmond, Lancaster Motorplex (Aug. 5), Langley Speedway (Aug. 26), Oswego Speedway (Sept. 2) and Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 26).
With Goodie Racing returning to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour full-time this season, and their team based on Long Island in New York, it‘s only fitting that they selected a Riverhead Raceway driver to wheel the car.
Justin Brown, driver of the No. 46 for Goodie Racing, started his career at Riverhead in 2012 and has been racing there since. He won races and championships in the Champ Karts at multiple tracks to start his career in 2012, and then moved to the 602 Modified class at Riverhead in 2017, winning nine races before moving to the Modified class, Riverhead‘s top division, in 2020.
He won his first Riverhead Modified feature in 2022, and when Goodie Racing made the call to put him on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour full-time, he couldn‘t pass up the opportunity. Brown is teamed with crew chief Douglas Ogiejko, who was on the box for Craig Lutz during three of his four NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour wins, all of which came with Goodie Racing.
Brown has a crew chief on his side who has experience, and as he continues to learn the ropes of touring with the Whelen Modified Tour, expect his finishing position to improve.
This New Hampshire standout made his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour start in 2022, competing in all three races during the Whelen Granite State Short Track Cup, promoted by JDV Productions. His best finish was eighth, showing he‘s a quick study when it comes to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at his local short tracks.
Robie won the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series New Hampshire State championship in 2020, winning track championships at Monadnock Speedway, Claremont Motorsports Park and Hudson Speedway — all in the same season.
As he continues to dip his toes into the Modified ranks and make select NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour starts along the way, Robie is planning to compete in at least five Tour races this season, which began at New Smyrna. He will also run the four JDV Productions events at Monadnock (two), Lee USA (one) and Claremont (one), while chasing the three-race Whelen Granite State Short Track Cup again. Monadnock (May 6), Lee (May 27) and Claremont (July 29) are the three races that make up the Whelen Granite State Short Track Cup in 2023.
Robie will look to continue to impress his local crowd but also showcase his name to fans across the country by competing on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour circuit again this season.
Similar to Robie, Matt Kimball is another driver who cut his teeth in the state of New Hampshire. Kimball grew up racing at the same tracks — Monadnock, Claremont, Lee USA — and like Robie was a champion. Kimball won the title in the Mini Stock division at Monadnock at 13 years old. Shortly after winning the title, Kimball moved to the Sportsman Modifieds, where he‘s been to Victory Lane multiple times.
He‘s been focusing on getting up to speed in a Modified the last two seasons and opened his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour adventure at New Smyrna in February, running inside the top 15 before a mechanical failure ended his night.
Like Robie, Kimball is expected to frequent his local New Hampshire tracks with the Whelen Granite State Short Track Cup and the second Monadnock date in September, but don‘t be surprised to see this rising star compete in some other events along the way as well.
Chris Hatton Jr.
As a Florida native, Chris Hatton Jr. was a competitor in the opening round of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season at New Smyrna Speedway. He started his career at the Florida half-mile, running in the Southern Ground Pounders and then capturing the championship in that division in 2021.
In 2022, Hatton moved to the 602 Modifieds when they became a regular division at New Smyrna, picking up two wins last season and finishing second in the track point standings.
After making his debut with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in February, don’t be surprised to see him at additional events during the 2023 season.
Scheduled to compete in select races in 2023, Anthony Bello is one to watch when it comes to the future of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. This Connecticut standout won the SK Lite Modified championship at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in 2021, winning the prestigious Icebreaker to begin the season.
Since then, Bello has also polished his skills at one of the toughest Northeast Modified tracks, Stafford Motor Speedway, winning in their SK Modified division with the help of setup mastermind Stephen Kopcik.
Bello opened the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season with a DNF due to a mechanical failure at New Smyrna. It’s currently unknown when he’ll join the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour next, but when you think about five, maybe 10 years into the future, look for Bello‘s name to be near the front of the pack.
These drivers won‘t be the only ones during the season who are rookies on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Similar to past years, as the season rolls along, other competitors will throw their name into the ring to see if they can tackle NASCAR‘s oldest division and the stout competition that comes with it.