NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Newman was recently at Martinsville Speedway where he tested the Modified he plans to drive in Thursday’s Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 200, the first Modifieds race at Martinsville Speedway in 11 years.
“If you as an engineer had to draw up a car to design to make it go fast, turn left, and accelerate, you would draw up a Whelen Modified,” he said.
Newman is used to driving the heavier, slower Cup car, so whenever he can fit it into his schedule he makes a point to race a Modified as often as possible.
“Really if you look at the big picture of it, a Modified is just an amazing race car,” he said.
When asked what makes driving a Modified so fun, Newman quickly pointed out the speed. His fastest lap time in the early parts of practice that day were about 18.80 seconds, between half and 3/4 of a second quicker than a Cup qualifying lap.
“Every aspect of a Whelen Modified makes it go faster,” Newman said.
And it’s not just faster on the straightaways. The cars are faster all around on the track. With a lower center of gravity, bigger, fatter, and wider tires with more gumminess to them, “It makes it a whole lot of fun to hustle around,” he added.
Modifieds have a long history at Martinsville Speedway, dating back to 1948, NASCAR’s inaugural season. The cars competed at Martinsville in some form from 1960-2002, and again from 2005-2010.
The current track speed record was set in a Modified 35 years ago when Greg Sacks turned a lap in 18.746 seconds, going 101.014 miles per hour.
“It will not surprise me to a see a new track record set by the Modifieds,” said Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell.
Campbell said the No. 1 question he was always asked by fans prior to the announcement of the race was when the track was going bring the Modifieds back. Martinsville announced the return of Modifieds in May of 2019, but the race was delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think it’s important. It’s probably one of the most important events that we’ll have here, because it’s been a while since we’ve had them and I think the fans have spoken loud and clear that they want to see them back. And on Thursday night they will,” Campbell said.
“I think in this case we have total buy-in from everyone. The fans, the competitors, obviously us here at the Speedway, NASCAR. So all the ingredients are there for a fantastic event.”
Newman isn’t the only Cup Series regular who’ll try his hand at winning the Grandfather Clock in Thursday’s race. Ryan Preece, a former Modifieds champion, will also strap in.
“Man, this place is made for it, I’ll tell you that,” Preece said of bringing Modifieds to Martinsville.
“Really, I just want to race. It’s really awesome that NASCAR and the Whelen Modified tour have been able to put this all together and come to Martinsville ... and go to these premiere racetracks, because it’s a great opportunity for guys like myself and other drivers that wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to run at an historic racetrack like here and go out and race and put on a great show for the fans.”
Newman made it clear he isn’t racing the Modified to try to learn anything that could be applied to his Cup car, though he said it is a way to stay sharp and get more laps in. He compared going from the faster and better handling Modified to his slower and bigger stock car to a pilot going from an F-16 fighter jet to a small cub plane.
Newman said he’s there for fun, but also to race against the best of the best in that world of racing.
“It’s just fun racing against these guys,” he said. “They do it quote-unquote for a living. We’re all hobby racers, but they do it for a living. They’re the best, and it’s fun to come back and race against them.
“I think everybody that races when they come here has a good shot. Obviously guys with more experience, whether it is in the car or at the racetrack, it helps to have a small advantage, but realistically anybody that shows up in my opinion has a shot.”
With a mix of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour veterans, newcomers, returners, and NASCAR regulars, Campbell sees Thursday’s race as not only a boost to the track but also the Whelen Modified Tour.
It will all kick off with a practice session at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, then qualifying at 6 p.m. before the green flag waves for the main event at 8 p.m.
“For me, being here the number of years I’ve been here, the Modifieds have always been my favorite,” Campbell said. “I have a lot of fond memories with the Modifieds and the competitors in that series. I think they’re always fun to see here. I think they’re really made for a track like this. The show they can put on here is phenomenal so it’s special to me to see them come back and I can’t wait until Thursday night.”
“It’s no different than if you’re a kid going out and racing a go-kart. You get excited,” Preece said.
Cara Cooper is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin.
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