The Frontstretch: Where Dreams Can Come True: Modifieds, K&N Pro Series Perfect M'Ville Match by Amy Henderson -- Monday June 7, 2010

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Where Dreams Can Come True: Modifieds, K&N Pro Series Perfect M'Ville Match

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Monday June 7, 2010


It’s a beautiful summer Saturday – hot and steamy as Southern summers are wont to be. I’m driving to Martinsville Speedway for the weekend’s event, and the beauty of this drive strikes me. Martinsville is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, encircled protectively by green hills and fields and trees, and everything about the speedway reflects an area that, at least by appearances, is trapped in time – a softer, easier time when you didn’t have to worry so much and if you worked hard, you could be successful and even prosperous.

Martinsville is, in effect, a microcosm of the two series racing at the famed track over the weekend: the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the K&N Pro Series East. The Modifieds are, in fact, NASCAR’s oldest division. The little open-wheeled cars have not seen as many of the drastic changes over the years that their full-bodied NASCAR cousins have, and that’s part of the charm. It’s not a development series in that way other regional series are; instead, it’s a means to its own end. Drivers race a career here, and the veterans can still take the young guns to school every race. The strategy is different in the series’ shorter events, in part because the cars are different: tracks like New Hampshire are their superspeedways, and they use the draft as effectively as any Sprint Cup driver at Daytona or Talladega. There are enough aggressive drivers to keep everyone on their toes, and the competition is as exciting a mix as any other division in the sport.

A little tattered around the edges and perhaps a throwback to an earlier time, Martinsville Speedway is a perfect match for NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour and K&N Pro Series East.

The K&N Pro Series is, in some ways, its complete opposite. As it has evolved from two separate regional series to the current format, it’s become a natural driver development haven for NASCAR’s top levels, and the Cup money is seeping in as team owners like Michael Waltrip, Joe Gibbs, Richard Childress, and Red Bull all have up-and-comers in the series being groomed for Nationwide or Truck rides down the road. There are still a few veterans in the mix: former Cup stars like Steve Park, along with guys like Eddie MacDonald and Matt Kobyluck who have raced here since its previous incarnation as Busch North. Kobyluck is an old school racer who doesn’t cut the young drivers much slack; and so they learn to race, not ride when competing. The series is still small enough and affordable enough that the independent teams can – and do – compete with the bigger ones, although that is slowly changing, too. But until it does completely, the competition remains filled with honest, hard-working drivers trying to make it, believing that if they work long enough and hard enough, the next step will open up for them – or in some cases, open back up a second time.

Walk through the garage this weekend, and you’ll still see the trappings of money: quarter-million dollar haulers, teams in matching uniforms, cars splashed with sponsor logos from national companies. Racing is expensive, and those who have it, spend it. They don’t necessarily flaunt it, because it’s not quite the guarantee of success that it is in Cup or Nationwide; but at its core, those images remain a constant reminder of money’s constant influence in the sport. Yet next to those quarter-million dollar haulers (many purchased from Nationwide or Cup teams looking for an upgrade) are bare-bones ones along with smaller, enclosed trailers. Next to the teams in the matching uniforms are ones in jeans, wearing the same T-Shirts they sell to their fans. Next to the national sponsors, there are local car dealers and other businesses proudly displayed as blue collar and white collar come together in order to compete.

That’s the most beautiful thing about this garage stroll: in both of these series, the smaller teams have a shot at competing with the big ones. The larger teams have an advantage, of course, but the line between the haves and have-nots is blurred considerably. Winning, perhaps, takes money, but top-5 and top-10 finishes are available to all takers. While we would all like to think that’s the case at the higher levels, it’s simply not anymore. Once upon a time it was, but those days are gone – except here.

And, like Martinsville Speedway itself, NASCAR cannot afford to lose these series. As talk of the speedway losing a Sprint Cup event (the track’s real moneymaker) runs rampant through the garage, purses in these two events are hardly enough to keep a race team going. Without sponsors, they don’t race. There is no start and park; a three-figure, last-place payout doesn’t pay for the one set of Goodyear tires they’d need to start the race on. A local sponsor is enough to pay the bills, but there aren’t even enough of those to go around. The Cup companion races fare a little better – there are more fans in the seats and more media attention, and the local sponsors can be had for those events. But so many teams need them to run the whole season. So many dreams hum through these engines. If they can just get that top-10 finish, surely a sponsor will take notice…

There are probably a decent number of fans in the stands at Martinsville, on the frontstretch and in turns 1-2, but it’s not the number these series will see in three weeks as they head to Loudon and a companion event with Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams. Perhaps this is something NASCAR needs to consider, racing these cars together more often. But for now, they have their own show at Martinsville, and they don’t disappoint, putting on a fantastic competition in both series.

The area surrounding Martinsville Speedway reminds you of the track itself: maybe a little worse for the wear, but beautiful nonetheless. Still, there are signs of the times – a few closed businesses, a few empty storefronts. They’re waiting on a few dollars to head their way, a little help from somewhere to keep going. Just like the cars racing there this weekend…

It’s a perfect fit, really, when you think about it. Martinsville mirrors the Whelen Modified Tour and the K&N Pro Series East perfectly. A little lost in time, perhaps, but in a good way. A little shabby in places, but beautiful and proud. If they work hard enough and try long enough, something better will come around. Turns out this small Southern town and these two primarily Northern series have a lot in common.

They’re two places where, with a lot of work and a little luck, dreams come true.

Contact Amy Henderson

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06/07/2010 02:07 AM

Good article Amy.

I was wondering the same thing about running more companion events with the Cup or Busch series,and not running as many Cup/Busch series companion events.

It is nice to see the up and coming stars, but hard to drive 4 or 5 hrs for a 200 laps on a 1/2 mile. And there is next to nothing as far as media coverage.

06/07/2010 10:49 AM

Great article, although one thing is missing. The “old” Busch North Series ran just the North. Now that they are the East Series and travel as far as Iowa and South Carolina, many of the Northeast teams have left for the ACT tour. They can’t afford the travel (never mind the tires). While it is good news for the series to have Gibbs, DEI, et al using this series for what it is – development – the big teams are looking for exposure, which is moving the tracks further and further apart. (NOTE: The 00 of Ryan Truex and Waltrip Racing had no sponser at Martinsville). The schedule is already down to ten races now. They used to pair these two series for two stand alone dates at NHIS, combined with the other dates (Cup, trucks, etc.), they used to have five races ayear at NHIS. Now there is just two, since NASCAR also combined the three top series into two double header weekends, they only get to run twice. Those of us in the Northeast are VERY concerened about the longevity of both these series.

06/07/2010 11:37 AM

Remember the Dogwood 500 and Cardinal 500? Those were the days with Richie and Geoff and Sam Ard and all the top drivers in the Busch and Modified series. Martinsville was packed and the twin 250s were unforgettable. I drove down to the Cardinal 500 starting in 1978 until 1985 when Richie died. The modifieds haven’t been the same since, just like Cup hasn’t been the same since Dale died. Remember when Richie rode along the front stretch wall to win at the checkers?

06/07/2010 12:06 PM

It’s all about the Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium. Love me some Modifieds. O course, I’ve been in Texas so long, I’ve almost forgotten what they’re like.

06/07/2010 12:19 PM

I was there yesterday and have the sunburns to prove it. It’s still a mystery to me why, when the best racing in Nascar is in these divisions, Madhouse did more to put people in stands than anything Nascar does. Fan accessibility to the drivers, cars, teams, and even other fans is unparalleled. $25 for 400 total laps of racing at Martinsville – I’ll be there!


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
Piquet, Jr. Wins K&N East Opener

Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.