News & Notes: Whelen Modified Tour Set to Take On Riverhead

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s mid-season bullring swing will continue with the Riverhead 200 and the annual appearance at Riverhead Raceway on New York’s Long Island.

A Modified track since well before the formation of the Whelen Modified Tour, Riverhead has been on the schedule in each of the Tour’s 26 years of existence. Only Connecticut’s Thompson International Speedway can claim the same distinction.

After competing at the Monadnock Speedway quarter mile in New Hampshire on July 17, the Whelen Modified Tour’s next stop will also be at a .25-mile oval. Aside from the distance, there are few similarities as Riverhead has less banking and is more narrow than Monadnock.

In addition to the uniqueness of the track, the Riverhead stop for the Whelen Modified Tour is also set apart from other events on the schedule as a number of Riverhead’s weekly NASCAR Whelen All-American Series competitors enter the race, and they’ve had measurable success.

Riverhead regular Dan Jivanelli won Whelen Modified Tour races in 1986 and 1987, Mike Ewanitsko’s first win before he became at regular Tour driver also came at Riverhead in 1987, Don Howe grabbed a victory in 1994 and Ed Brunnhoelzl Jr. followed in 1995.

Brunnhoelzl is the last driver that primarily competes in the Riverhead weekly program to take the checkered flag, however. In the last decade and a half, Whelen Modified Tour regulars like Mike Stefanik, Donny Lia and Ted Christopher have owned the podium.

That is not to say that the Riverhead regulars have faded. Dave Brigati, Howie Brode and Justin Bonsignore immediately followed winner Ryan Preece across the line a year ago and Bonsignore and Bill Park were top-five finishers in 2007. John Fortin, Chuck Steuer and Frank Vigliarolo have also had strong runs in the last decade.

Bonsignore’s situation this year is similar to that of Ewanitsko more than two decades ago. With top-five finishes in the first two Whelen Modified Tour races at Riverhead prior to becoming a full-time Tour competitor this season, the Holtsville, N.Y., native is hoping his first career win can come at his home track.

“We feel we should have a really good chance to qualify up front and win the race,” Bonsignore said. “We’ve got overall a better team [than in his previous Riverhead starts], we know the Tour a little bit better now and the drivers are a little more familiar racing with us. We feel we should have a chance at a win and definitely a top-five finish.”

As a rookie, familiarity with tracks on the Whelen Modified Tour schedule is a luxury that Bonsignore has not had. With this week’s race at the track where he grew up racing, half the battle is already behind him.

“Our biggest thing this year is the learning curve of each race track,” Bonsignore said. “Luckily I’ve already taken care of that at Riverhead, so I feel we should be right up to speed.

“Usually our first practice at these tracks is just learning and adapting to everything, and now that’s already out the window because we have plenty of laps there.”

To get that first win, Bonsignore will have to beat a stellar field of veteran drivers who are accomplished at the Long Island bullring. Stefanik is the active career leader in wins at Riverhead with six, while Ted Christopher has four. Preece, Jimmy Blewett and Ed Flemke Jr. also have reached Victory Lane.

Christopher’s last win at Riverhead came in 2006, but he brings more momentum than any other driver into this race with top fives in five of the season’s first seven events, and he was the winner last time out on the Monadnock quarter mile.

The 2010 edition of the Whelen Modified Tour at Riverhead will be a qualifying format race as in previous seasons, with the same format as the last event at Monadnock. The first 16 starting positions will be determined from two-lap time trials and positions 17-23 will be established from the top seven finishers in the 25-lap qualifying race. The feature race will be 175 laps.

The Race Riverhead 200
The Place Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway
The Date Saturday, July 31
The Time 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Schedule VERSUS, Aug. 4, 7 p.m. ET
Track Layout .25-mile banked oval
Race Purse $53,631
2009 Winner Ryan Preece
2009 Polesitter Ryan Preece
Event Schedule Practice 2-3 p.m., Qualifying 4:30 p.m.; 25-Lap Qualifying Race 6 p.m.
Track Contact Bob Finan, (631) 842-7223,
NASCAR PR Contact Jason Cunningham, (704) 201-6658,


Raceday Notes
The Race … The Riverhead 200 at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway will be the eighth of 14 races on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour 2010 schedule and the only trip to the Empire State.

The Procedure … The 16 fastest cars from time trials will comprise the first eight rows in the 175-lap main. The top seven finishers from a 25-lap qualifying race will determine starters 17-23 and five provisionals will fill out the 28-car field.

The Track … A quarter-mile banked asphalt oval, Riverhead Raceway opened in 1949. The track has held a total of 48 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races since the series began in 1985, and is one of only two venues to play host to the Tour in each of its 26 seasons.

Race Winners … There have been 23 different drivers to reach Victory Lane at Riverhead, led by Mike Ewanitsko’s 11. Ryan Preece took the checkers last year, and among active drivers, Mike Stefanik has the most wins, with six.

Pole Winners … Twenty-seven different drivers have won the pole at Riverhead, led by Ewanitsko’s seven.  Ed Flemke Jr. leads active drivers in the category, with four. Preece earned the pole in addition to the race win last year. Stefanik holds the qualifying record at 11.562 seconds (77.841 mph).

VERSUS Era Begins With Riverhead 200
Riverhead Raceway and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will be in the spotlight as the Riverhead 200 will be the inaugural NASCAR race on VERSUS.

The Riverhead 200 will premiere on Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. ET on VERSUS,  the fastest growing sports cable network in the country. The Riverhead 200 will be the first of nine telecasts to air on VERSUS between the NASCAR Whelen Modified and Whelen Southern Modified Tours in 2010.

VERSUS first entered its partnership with NASCAR in 2009 with “Quest for the NASCAR Sprint Cup,” a weekly half-hour series that followed the 12 drivers competing in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.  In September 2010 the network will launch “NASCAR – Next Generation,” a series which will profile some of the future stars of the Sprint Cup series.

In addition to its NASCAR offerings, VERSUS is also the exclusive cable television home of the IZOD IndyCar Series.  Now in its second year of coverage, the network has seen 24% growth in viewership for its live races as compared to last year.

VERSUS’ nine-race schedule will premiere with one-hour race telecasts airing on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET.  All races will re-air the Sunday following the initial telecast.

The five NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour broadcasts on VERSUS are in addition to  the five events that will also be carried by SPEED. Races at Bristol Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway will air same-day while the previously recorded races at Martinsville and New Hampshire will be shown at times to be determined. The Lime Rock Park race has already aired.

Tour Tidbits: Christopher Conquers Monadnock
The 2010 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season reached the halfway point with the Monadnock 200 at Monadnock Speedway on July 17 in Winchester, N.H. It was the first Whelen Modified Tour race at the quarter-mile track since 1990.

Christopher Comes Out on Top in Battle with Rudolph … While the racing was good through the field, Ted Christopher and Erick Rudolph were the only two cars that seriously contended for the Monadnock win. Rudolph earned his first career 21 Means 21 Pole Award presented by Coors Light prior to the race and led the first 94 circuits. He and Christopher swapped the lead twice, but Christopher pulled ahead to stay on Lap 153 to earn the victory.

Milestone Triumph for Christopher … With the Monadnock 200 victory, Christopher moved into sole possession of third place on the Whelen Modified Tour all-time wins list, with 36. He now trails only the 70 of Mike Stefanik and the 44 of Reggie Ruggiero. All three can now count Monadnock on their personal wins list.

Berndt Continues to Impress … Although he is staying with the part-time plan, Eric Berndt has put together an impressive 2010 campaign in his limited starts. Berndt entered the season with a career-best finish of eighth, but in each of the last three races in which he has participated, he has lowered that mark. At Monadnock he crossed the line in fourth place, up two spots from the sixth he turned in at Stafford Motor Speedway on May 28. At 23rd in the season standings, he has out-pointed six other drivers who have more starts.

Best Finish for a Recuperating Brunnhoelzl … Following a hard crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 27 that resulted in a couple of fractures in his chest, George Brunnhoelzl III was forced to skip the next race at Lime Rock Park. The return behind the wheel was impressive, however, as Brunnhoelzl  registered a Whelen Modified Tour career-best finish of sixth. The 2009 Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion, this is his first full campaign in the northern-based Tour.

Silk, Beers Earn Improvement Awards … Ron Silk improved from his 16th starting position to a third-place finish and captured the Coca-Cola Move of the Race Award. It was Silk’s third top-five in a row. Eric Beers also improved from a 25th-place finish in the previous race at Lime Rock to 10th at Monadnock, and earned the Featherlite Most Improved Driver Award.

Szegedy, Preece Slip … The first DNF of the year for Todd Szegedy was suffered at Monadnock. Ryan Preece also couldn’t go on the initial green and finished 43 laps down. They entered the race second and fourth, respectively, in the season standings. Both slipped one spot.

Whelen All-American Series At Riverhead
One of four NASCAR weekly programs in the Empire State, Riverhead Raceway features four divisions that compete on Saturday nights as part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.

The Riverhead program is headed by the Modified division. Riverhead’s Modifieds are similar to “tour-type” Modifieds, and one of the most-competitive weekly divisions in the country.

Through racing action on July 17, Tom Rogers Jr. was eight points ahead of Chuck Steuer in the Modified standings. Roger Maynor (Figure Eight) Kevin Metzger (Late Model) and Chris McGuire (Charger) were also division leaders.

Up Next: Stafford
The third of four races for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway is slated for Friday, Aug. 6 with the Town Fair Tire 150.

Following previous races this year on May 1 and May 28, the August date will mark the 97th all-time race for the Whelen Modified Tour at the historic half-mile.

The winningest driver in Stafford history – Ted Christopher – has already nabbed yet another Whelen Modified Tour win at his home track in 2010 with his Spring Sizzler triumph. He has won 10 Tour races there overall, and has a win in each of the last four seasons.

Bobby Santos earned his first Stafford win in the Whelen Modified Tour’s last visit there in late May. Santos also has earned the pole for the first two Stafford races in 2010.

Ryan Preece is the defending winner of the Town Fair Tire 150. He took the lead from Christopher on Lap 104 and held on for his first  Stafford win.

Qualifying is slated for 6 p.m., and the 150-lap race is slated for approximately 9:15 p.m. The race will premiere on VERSUS on Aug. 11 at 7 p.m.

Bobby Santos, 3
Ryan Newman, 1
Erick Rudolph, 1
Mike Stefanik, 1
Todd Szegedy, 1

Woody Pitkat, 3
Erick Rudolph, 1
Ron Silk, 1
Mike Stefanik, 1
Jamie Tomaino, 1

Eric Beers, 1
James Civali, 1
Chuck Hossfeld, 1
Bobby Santos, 1
Mike Stefanik, 1
Rob Summers, 1
Glenn Tyler, 1

Bobby Santos, 3
Ted Christopher, 2
Ryan Newman, 1
Dale Quarterley, 1

Justin Bonsignore, 6
Richie Pallai Jr., 1

Justin Bonsignore, 69
Richie Pallai Jr., 64

Sources: Jason Cunningham/NASCAR WMT PR