Heading into last week at Bristol, race fans were eagerly anticipating seeing the Whelen Modified Series run around the high banks of the World’s Fastest Half Mile. Qualifying was going to see most if not all of the field run faster than Ryan Newman’s track record 128.709 mph. The race was going to pit the best in the modified series, north and south, dueling side by side with their high horsepower, light weight and greater downforce for the full 150 laps.
What the fans actually received was a little bit less.
To start things off, qualifying was rained out, so the assault on the track was not on display for the fans. The field was set by the rulebook and no one got to have the bragging rights of being the fastest ever at Bristol, although it still would have most likely been slower than when the World of Outlaws sprint cars were on the track running laps in the 13-second range.
When the race started, it ended up being more of a parade than a battle royale. The cars quickly battled to get to the bottom of the track and it looked strikingly similar to the old Bristol with one groove and no passing without bumping for the most part. There were two drivers who led the entire event, with Ted Christopher dominating the first 107 laps. Donny Lia took the lead for 31 laps before Christopher wrested it back away from him for three laps. Lia regained the lead on lap 143 and was not challenged again for the last seven circuits of the track.
Was it a good show? Sure, it was a good race and fun to watch. Did it live up to the hype? Not really. For whatever reason, the modifieds did not get up into the higher lane of the track and make it work like the other series have been able to do. The event simply showcased these ground-pounding cars for what most of their races entail: nose-to-tail racing with passing via the bump-and-run.
It was great to get to see these cars on national television and it would be fantastic to see a lot more of their action picked up by Speed or ESPN. Some very talented drivers were able to put their skills on display before a large number of fans who had never seen them race before. Hopefully NASCAR’s top brass took notice of the audience and pushes the networks to afford more coverage of their races in the future.
The hype was somewhat reminiscent of the all-star event before the spring Bristol race, where the former legends of the sport climbed into late model stock cars and put on an exhibition. It’s good to see that NASCAR is already tweaking the rules for that event for next year and is going to limit the drivers to people who have not raced in the major levels of the sport in the last seven years. That means we won’t be seeing Sterling Marlin or Rusty Wallace dominating the show like they did this year.
Let’s hope the racing next spring is a little closer to the hype than it was this year. Just like, if they bring the modifieds back next year, let’s hope they can get it out there high, wide and handsome and put on an even better show than they did this time around.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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