When Vinton, Iowa native Keith Knaack first introduced the IMCA Modified in 1979, it was a division predicated on creating another avenue for the “Saturday night Joe” to compete with the higher budget teams. Although Knaack’s goal was to create a class with evenly matched competition and a lot of competitors, I don’t even think he could have predicted the amount of Modifieds that would disperse themselves all over the United States in the coming years. In one way or another all Modifieds today, no matter the sanction they are governed by, are merely a more modern image of the Modified developed by Knaack some 31 years ago.
As we fast forward to 2010, some of the most talented drivers in any division came from the Modified ranks. NASCAR Nextel Cup star Clint Bowyer began to catch the eye of NASCAR owners at the age of 21 when the Dirt Modified ace tallied 18 feature wins and two track championships (Lakeside Speedway, Kansas City, Kansas and Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas) when the final points were tallied at the end of the 2001 season. Like Bowyer, Canadian (who now resides in Cornelius, North Carolina) ARCA/Nationwide Series driver Steve Arpin’s meteoric rise began when Arpin started racking up impressive wins at some of the bigger Modified shows in the country back in the mid 2000’s.
Although most Dirt Modified pilots will admit that they hope to reach NASCAR some day, Modified racing has created avenues for drivers to make a living in the division they love as well. Less than a week ago I interviewed a young, very accomplished, 18-year old IMCA Modified driver about his future in the sport. When the question about what he’d like to do with his future presented itself, I was a bit surprised to hear his answer. “A lot of people have dreams to go to NASCAR, be famous, and make a living racing on asphalt,” mentioned the young racer. “For me that’s never been my dream. Ever since I can remember, my dream has been to race with the USMTS. I think professional Dirt Modified drivers have more driving talent than anyone.” The aforementioned USMTS (United States Modified Touring Series) is now in it’s 13th year of existence. Fertile, Iowa legend Kelly Shryock has been crowned series champ a record 10 times but has only garnered 2 titles in the past four seasons. Many fans of the sport believe Shryock has lost a step, not me. With more money comes more competition. In the past, maybe there were 5 cars out of the 40 that could win each night. With the parody associated with Dirt Modified Racing today, more like 15 cars out of the 40 in attendance have a legitimate chance of winning each and every night.
Along with traveling the tours that have been created for Modifieds, individual high paying events have popped up over the last six or seven years as well. Just two months ago, Southern New Mexico Speedway (Las Cruces, New Mexico) promoter Royal Jones hosted the track’s annual “Winter Meltdown.” The $10,000 main event usually draws between 90-110 Modifieds for the three day show. If that same purse would’ve been put up for a big time Super Late Model show it would’ve likely drawn between 35-40 cars depending on a few factors (weather, location…etc). At the end of the weekend, USMTS regular and one of the best in the business, Jason Hughes (Westville, Oklahoma), took home a $16,000 payday for his efforts (During the final day, Royal Jones added an extra $6,000 to the winner’s check making it the richest paying Mod show of the season). At this point you are probably saying to yourself; where are you going with this, Ray? Just bear with me. As I climb down off my soapbox I’m here to tell you that Dirt Modified Racing’s popularity has grown more than most realize. Because the price to be competitive isn’t so out of hand, it has provided the racer another division to make a living in.
Although media coverage for Dirt Modified Racing has increased over the years, it is still not on the level of Sprint Cars or Late Models. Because of that very reason, I’m going to provide you some names to look out for in the future when discussing Dirt Modified’s. Along with some of the unknown talent on the rise, I’m going to give you a small list of drivers who I think get lost in the shuffle now and again and deserve a bit more recognition. The last two things I’m going to share will be my picks to win the “Crown Jewel” Modified events in 2010 as well as my predictions for whom will be taking home the championship hardware on the National and Regional Modified Touring Series.
Although New Richland, Minnestoa, standout Jason Cummins is a household name around South-Eastern Minnesota dirt tracks, he hasn’t seen the kind of recognition he deserves on a national level. During the third week in September each and every season, the United States Modified Touring Series (USMTS) finishes up it’s “Hunt for the Championship” with three shows on three consecutive nights. During night one action last year, 108 Modifieds signed in to do battle for the $2,000 winners check. At the end of the night’s festivities it was Cummins dominating the event shocking the near capacity crowd in the process. Cummins qualified for all three events during the weekend which ultimately ended his season. In all the 2009 Deer Creek Speedway (USRA) Modified Track Champion collected 11 feature wins while finishing in the top five in USRA Modified National points.
For Las Cruces, New Mexico open-wheel Modified ace Stormy Scott, racing is something he’s been around his whole life. He started racing Modifieds at the age of 12 and recorded his first win two years later at 14. Since then he’s blossomed into one of the most talented young guns in the Southern part of the U.S. In 2009 Scott tallied 13 feature wins as well as a win at the Silver State DirtCar Nationals at the Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Scott also made a name for himself at this year’s Speedweeks Open-Wheel Modified competition at Volusia Speedway near Barberville, Florida. During the final night, Scott led the majority of the $5,000 event before finishing second to Batesville, Arkansas, charger Jared Landers. Scott plans to run some USMTS shows in 2010 so look out for the GRT by Phillips #2s at a bullring near you.
When one examines the year that was in 2009, no one made bigger strides in the world of Dirt Modified Racing than Columbus, Indiana, driver Devin Gilpin. The 19-year old gunner they call “Kid Dasco” turned a lot of heads in 2009 as he garnered 21 feature wins as well as a UMP Regional Championship. Gilpin also finished second in UMP National points behind eventual winner Gary Cook Jr. With a whole career ahead of himself, many have already tracked his progress in 2010. The young Indiana hotshoe has already scored three feature wins including a $1,000 win this past Friday night at Moler Raceway Park (Williamsburg, Ohio). Although Gilpin has not received a lot of national recognition over the past few years, his talents will leave the writers and media no choice but to let the people in on one of Dirt Modified Racing’s best kept secrets.
The elder statesmen of the group of young unknowns is Quincy, Illinois gunner Michael Long. Over the past few seasons, Long has proved that no matter the sanction, no matter the location, no matter the venue, this Illinois native can flat out get it done. On August 8th, 2009, Long traveled to 24 Raceway in Moberly, Missouri, to participate in USMTS action. At the end of night’s events it was long scoring the victory and the big check in the process. Long hurried home the next night to take part in the Gem City UMP Modified Shootout at Quincy Raceway. Long would pick up the win there as well showing his versatility in the process. Perhaps Long’s most impressive win came just a few weeks ago when he traveled to Lee County Speedway in Donnellson, Iowa, for an IMCA sanctioned special event. A nice field of 37 cars were on hand with the likes of Mark Elliot, Richie Gustin, and Corey Dripps all in attendance. Like he’s done so many times in the past, Long wheeled his #18 machine to the front collecting a $2,400 paycheck in the process. Long is definitely a driver to keep an eye out for during his 2010 campaign.
Last but certainly not least we head to the great state of Minnesota to the small town of Danube to discuss the ever evolving talents of 18 year old IMCA Modified pilot Brandon Beckendorf. Beckendorf, now in his third year behind the wheel of a Brian Beckendorf powered Skyrocket, made a name for himself early on in the go-kart ranks. In 2007, Beckendorf picked up a Golden Driller at the Tulsa Shootout racing again names like Kevin Swindell. This past season Beckendorf was crowned IMCA Modified state points champion in Minnesota on the strength of 10 feature wins. Beckendorf was also crowned Arlington Raceway’s 2009 IMCA Modified Track Champion. Perhaps the biggest win of his young career came last August when he took the win at Redwood Speedway’s Annual Jason Wyffels Memorial IMCA Modified special. Along with the aforementioned names above, look for Beckendorf to do big things in 2010!
Honorable Mention: Clay Daly #96 (Watsonville, California), RC Whitwell #96T (Tuscon, Arizona), Rick Corbin #9c (Independence, Kentucky), Justen Yeager #33y (Green River, Wyoming), Tim Ward #4w (Mesa, Arizona), Colt Mather #8 (Webster City, Iowa), Nick Deal #55D (Walnut, Iowa), Danny Bayer #36 (Elrosa, Minnesota), Randle Sweeney #182 (Clifty, Kentucky), Mike Hansen #12H (Alton, Iowa).
The first driver that popped into my head when thinking about underrated Modified drivers was none other then Garner, Iowa, IMCA Modified driver Jeremy Mills. Mills put together one of the most impressive seasons I’ve seen in quite some time a year ago which ended in a second place finish in IMCA Modified National points. When examining Mills’ stats it is easy to see why he is one of the best in the business. When all the totals were tallied it was Mills collecting 28 feature wins as well as four track titles. Mills will definitely be a car to watch during this season’s special events because of how well he’s run at them in the past. If he participates in the entire series schedule, I look for Mills to be one of the favorites to win the inaugural Hawkeye Dirt Tour.
Another driver I feel does not get the press he deserves is Bixby, Oklahoma, driver Greg Skaggs. Skaggs, the 2009 USRA Modified National Champion has shown over the last 4-5 seasons he can and will compete with the best the division has to offer. In 2007, Skaggs competed with the United States Modified Touring Series (USMTS) quite a few times garnering a jaw dropping four wins on the tour that season. Look for Skaggs to once again be near the front of the USRA Modified national standings when the final points are tallied at the end of the season.
My next driver on the list is likely the most exciting driver I’ve ever seen climb behind the wheel of a Modified. If you’re into watching someone run the extreme, and I mean extreme, high side of the speedway look no further than Hanover, Indiana, ace Joey Kramer. Kramer, the four-time Battle of the Bluegrass Modified Series Champion turned in one of the finest campaigns in recent memory back in 2008 when he gathered 20 wins in just 30 starts. Kramer will take on a new venture in 2010 as he’ll pilot the MasterSbilt Modified House Car. Kramer has been fast from the get go already scoring a feature win at Lawrenceburg Speedway just two weeks ago. When the man they call “The Rocketman” gets a bit more acquainted with his new machine, look for the menacing black #77 to visit victory lane a myriad of times in 2010!
Second generation driver Brad Pounds of Bakersfield, Californai, was labeled at a very young age. Being the son of 1994 IMCA Modified National Champion Scott Pounds, everyone expected Brad to be able to wheel like his daddy. To make a long story short, Brad has shown over the years he can wheel it with the best of em’ as well behind the wheel of his ONIT Chassis #15B. In all, Pounds collected 17 feature wins in 2009 (124 overall) including the victory at the “Turkey Classic” at Victorville Auto Raceway in Victorville, California. Pounds is off to a hot start already in 2010 garnering two victories in just four starts. For you traditionalists that frequent the IMCA SuperNationals each and every year (Boone, Iowa), look out for the #15B of Pounds, he is a great competitor and very fun to watch!
One of the smoothest drivers I’ve had the opportunity to watch race over the years is Gillette, Wyoming, Y cushion-slammer Tony Leiker. The mild mannered Leiker does not get the opportunity to race as frequently as most because of where he lives but puts on a show for the fans each and every time his #18 rolls out onto the Speedway. Last season Leiker posted some gaudy numbers picking up 13 WISSOTA Modified feature wins in just 21 starts. Leiker, an accomplished WISSOTA Late Model driver in the past as well, had the near capacity crowd on their feet at the 2006 Minnesota Modified Nationals at Viking Speedway in Alexandria, Minnesota ($7,000 to win event). Leiker marched forward from his ninth position into second with four laps remaining. Tony would continue to reel in race leading Shane Sabraski each lap as the white flag flew through the air. On the final set of turns, Leiker climbed the hill in turn three and pulled even with Sabraski. Sabraski was able to hold off Leiker off of turn four but in the process the Wyoming native gained legions of fans a long ways away from home. With Tony’s home track in Gillette switching from WISSOTA to IMCA, it will be interesting to see what Leiker has planned. One thing is for certain, Leiker will be near the front no matter what division he competes in.
Honorable Mention: Mike Harrison #24 (Highland, Illinois), Kevin Weaver #B12 (Gibson City, Illinois), Mike Sorenson #19 (Rochester, Minnesota), Randy Timms #5T (Wheatland, Oklahoma), Ray Guss Jr #12 (Milan, Illinois), Scot Danzeisen #5x (Herman, Minnesota), Dominic Ursetta #6u, Paul Stone #66 (Winton, California), Darrell Nelson #44 (Hermantown, Minnesota), Shelby Miles #76 (Bloomington, Indiana).
MAJOR MODIFIED EVENTS:
Minnesota Modified Nationals (Viking Speedway, Alexandria, Minnesota):
The first Modified “Crown Jewel” I will discuss is the $7,000 to win Minnesota Modified Nationals held each and every 4th of July weekend at Viking Speedway in Alexandria, Minnesota. Since the inaugural event in 2005, we have yet to see a repeat winner. Drivers Jason Thoennes, Shane Sabraski, Dave Cain, Steve Arpin, and Dale Mathison have all scored $7,000 paydays thus far. I look for that trend to continue this season with another first time winner entering victory lane. My pick to win the 2010 Minnesota Modified Nationals is 10-time Viking Speedway Modified track champion Scot Danzeisen. Danzeisen, who is one of the best in the business on the slick stuff, will likely benefit from the 10 extra laps added on to this year’s main event. Valley City, ND driver Jason Grimes could be a dark horse in this event coming up in July.
IMCA SuperNationals (Boone Speedway, Boone, Iowa):
Although the winner of this year’s installment of the IMCA SuperNationals (Modifieds) will only go home with a $2,000 paycheck, it is likely the most sought after victory in all of Dirt Modified racing. Each year cars from all over the United States convene at the moderately banked ¼ mile in Boone, Iowa, to see who will be this year’s king in the IMCA Modified division. A driver could have a terrible year all season long and switch their fortunes with just one win at Boone. With over 300 Modifieds in attendance, it is obvious that luck of the draw has something to do with success. With that said my pick to win the 2010 IMCA SuperNationals Modified A-main is The all time wins leader in IMCA has always been tough at Boone at this year will be no different. My darkhose for this event would be Hinton, Iowa, driver Jay Noteboom.
IMCA Duel in the Desert (Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Nevada):
After watching Johnny “The Jet” Saathoff dominate the field at last year’s $7,777 to win main event it would be hard to pick against anyone else. Over the years Saathoff has show that when the dry conditions are present, the #96j is headed toward the front. With all that said, I do have a different pick to win this year’s Duel. This year I’m going to go with Springfield, Missouri, driver Terry Phillips. Phillips, who finished second a year ago, always steps up his game when the big money is on the line. With a record 220 IMCA Modifieds on hand this past year it is definitely hard to pick a winner for this event but I will go with Phillips none the less. If Phillips doesn’t pull it off I look for Jonesboro, Arkansas, driver Jeff Taylor to take home the big payday.
The American Heritage 101 (Brushcreek Motorsports Park, Peebles, Ohio):
Over the years the “American Heritage 101” has turned into one of the most unique Modified races in all the land. A race that originated as a Late Model Special event, switched over to Modifieds a few years back. Drivers like Dave Hess Jr, Steve Arpin and Lightning Chassis Builder Don Adams have all scored Heritage victories. The winner of the event gets a choice between $10,000 or a new Harley Davidson Motorcycle (valued around $15,000). This has turned into one of the best races to watch if you’re a Modified fan over the past couple seasons. Joey Kramer and Dave Hess Jr put on a duel for the ages in 2008 with Hess ultimately picking up the win. Last year a pile of rain made the track conditions a bit different but the track prep crew did a great job. When one examines the names that took part in this event one year ago it is nearly impossible to pick the right one. I’ve studied this one for a while and I’m going to go with the “Flatland Flash” Kevin Weaver to pick up the $10,000 payday at Brushcreek. During these bigger races when track conditions are slick because of the abuse the speedway takes day in and day out, I usually look for the drivers who compete the best on a finesse type of track. My darkhorse would be the #76 entry of Shelby Miles (Bloomington, Indiana).
2010 IMCA Harris Clash (Knoxville Raceway, Knoxville, Iowa):
Because of the prestige this event has gained since it’s inception back in 1992, (Inaugural race took place in Webster City, Iowa, move to Knoxville in 1996) some of the heaviest hitters in all of IMCA converge at the storied ½ mile each and every year to take part in the $2,000 to win main event. Usually when I look at these big races I single out a few guys I believe have a chance to win. This year for some reason I had a driver picked out from the beginning whom I believe has a great chance to win it. My choice to win this year’s Harris Clash at Knoxville Raceway is Ames, Iowa native “Nitro” Nate Caruth. Last year Nate finished second to Jay Noteboom and will look to improve that one more spot needed to park his new Shaw by Landers in victory lane.
2010 Fall Nationals (Southern New Mexico Speedway, Las Cruces, New Mexico):
Last year Springfield, Missouri, ace Terry Phillips picked up the $10,000 payday at the Southern New Mexico Speedway in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This year the event will be back once again with the three day show starting November 5th. A healthy field of 105 Modifieds took part in last seasons’ event and Royal Jones and the crew at SNMS Speedway will look to have even more this season. One driver I believe is going to have a breakthrough year in 2010 is Batesville, Arkansas, driver Peyton Taylor. Taylor, a driver who has won a pile of big races in the past, has jumped on board with Bad Boy Mowers for the 2010 season which will help him out immensely in his #01 Shaw by Taylor. With that said I’m going to take Peyton Taylor to score the big victory. Hermantown, Minnesota, driver Darrell Nelson is definitely another driver to keep an eye during the 2010 installment of the, “Fall Nationals.”
2010 WISSOTA 100 (Dakota State Fair Speedway, Huron, South Dakota):
Last year Cameron, Wisconsin, pilot Kevin “Buzzy” Adams blistered the field taking home the $4,000 payday for his efforts. Over 70 Modifieds took part in the four day event with some of the best in the business on hand to do battle. This year I think the laps that Kent Arment has turned at Huron over the years will prove to be the difference. So, without further ado, my choice to win the 2010 WISSOTA 100 Modified crown is Aberdeen, South Dakota, driver “Showtime” Kent Arment. I don’t know that you could ever call him a darkhorse because of all he’s accomplished in the past but I’ll take Jamestown, North Dakota legend John Corell as my “back up” pick.
2010 Night of a 1,000 stars (Hancock County Speedway, Britt, Iowa):
In 2008, Jay Noteboom got around Mark Elliot in the ladder stages of the event taking the win. Last year, however, Elliot got his revenge as he picked up the $3,000 victory with Noteboom in 2nd. Who will be the victor in this year’s “Night of a 1,000 stars” A-main? I look for Garner, Iowa, gunner Jeremy Mills to reign victorious over the large field of Modifieds on hand at Britt. Mills consistently finishes up front in some of the biggest events IMCA has to offer and I think this will be his year to hoist the hardware at Britt. My darkhorse pick would have to be Kanahwa, Iowa, ace Ryan Ruter.
2010 Belleville 100 (Belleville High Banks, Belleville, Kansas):
With a lot of money on the line, and the USMTS off that weekend, I predict that Belleville will see a pile of racecars for the money they are putting up. Because it is Belleville’s 100th year of racing, the powers that be decided to construct one of the biggest Modified shows in the country to celebrate. Saturday night’s 60-lap, $10,000 to win A-main will start 30 cars. If the pole-sitter for the main event would choose to start 30th, and come back through the field to win it, they would receive a cool 100k! With the track being as big as it is and the duration of the race being 60-laps, I could definitely see someone walk away with a $100,000 check. Cars from all over the United States will be on had for this unique race. With that said I’ll take Chanute, Kansas driver John Allen to win the $10,000 main event. Jared Landers would be my darkhorse pick if he would happen to be in attendance. This will definitely be an intriguing show!
2010 Featherlite Fall Jamboree (Deer Creek Speedway, Spring Valley, Minnesota):
Every year the USMTS Hunt for the Championship concludes with a stop at Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, Minnesota. Last year Jason Hughes made a thrilling last lap pass on Terry Phillips to earn the $6,000 payday while Kelly Shryock picked up his 10th USMTS National Championship. The way Hughes his running right now it would be hard to pick against him but I think I’ve got the guy to do it. My prediction to win this year’s finale at Deer Creek is Watertown, South Dakota veteran Jon Tesch. Tesch, night in and night out, is one of the toughest competitors in all of racing. His versatility on the tack and the slick make him a can’t miss pick. My darkhorse pick to win would be local product Jason Cummins.
With all the great Modified specials that take place all over the country, it’s impossible to diagnose them all. I decided that I’d pick 10 to take a look at just for fun to see if I even got one right when these specials finally take place. The greatest part about it is 15 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to find 15 big Modified specials in the entire country much less whittling a list down to 10. In the future we will definitely take a look at some of the other big Dirt Modified events that take place each and every year.
In closing I’ll leave you with a list of drivers I’ve picked to win the traveling Modified Series’ crowns. Because I am the Series Director of the RACEMN Modified Series, I had my Dad pick the driver he thinks is going to end up the victor at the conclusion of our (RACEMN) five races.
Traveling Modified Series:
RACEMN Modified Series: Eric Martini #24 (Avon, MN)
Como Modified Series: Joey Jensen #V2 (Forest Lake, MN)
Hawkeye Dirt Tour: Richie Gustin (Gilman, IA)
USMTS Hunt for the Championship: Jason Hughes #12 (Westville, OH)
USCS Modified Tour Championship: Chris Moore #17 (Nesbitt, MS)
American Modified Series Championship: Bryan Barber #10B (Greensburg, KY)
Larry Shaw BST “Kansas” Championship: David Murray Jr (Oberlin, KS)
Larry Shaw BST “Colorado” Championship: Justen Yeager #33w (Green River, WY)
Wild West Shootout Northern Series Champion: Justen Yeager #33w (Green River, WY)
Barnett Harley Davidson UMP West Modifieds: Royal Jones #131 (Las Cruces, NM)