When the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour kicks off its 2013 season at Thompson International Speedway in April, a new face will be at the helm of the series.
The 37-year old Wilson, an Orlando, Fla. native, comes to the Modified Tour after two years as the series director for the Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
Thursday Wilson talked about what he sees in the series and his vision for leading the division.
Question: When you look at the Modified Tour right now, what do you think are the best aspects about it?
Wilson: “I believe the people. Modifieds are surely known for their very passionate people and passionate racing. I think that’s a very unique aspect of it. Obviously that passion leads to really good racing on the track. I’m originally from Orlando, Fla. and growing up the only time that I got to see the Modifieds was at New Smyrna [Speedway] during Speedweeks and I just always loved the cars. To be the director of the Modified Tour is pretty neat.”
Question: What are the biggest challenges being faced by the Modified Tour right now?
Wilson: “The biggest challenge that faces racing in general right now, that I believe is the underlying problem of everything, is the economy and people not having the cash in their pockets that they would like to have to go out and to do what they did five years ago or ten years ago. With that being said, you have to look for unique ways to try to keep the costs down but also have the balance to where teams can still have the ingenuity to be free in areas where they want to be creative. The bottom line is it’s the economy, it affects all of us.”
Question: How do you improve car counts on the Modified Tour?
Wilson: “Speaking for the Southern Modified Tour, over the last two years. I came on board in 2011. In 2011 we were around, our lowest point was about 13 or 14 cars a race and our highest point was around 20. In 2012 we saw a high of 27 cars at South Boston [Speedway], which I believe is one of the highest car counts the Southern Mods had had since being under NASCAR. So overall the number was up. The only thing that we did from an officiating side of it was treat everyone the same from one end of the garage to the other, which is something NASCAR is known for. We just did what we’re supposed to and we had success with it. Speaking for the Northern Modifieds, it’s a much harder question to answer. Sitting here right now, I don’t have all the answers. That’s something that I guess, when I get up there and start working with the owners more and with the people I’ll probably get a better idea and have a better sense of direction. But the main thing is to keep our competition level where it is. When you go to a Whelen Modified Tour race you’ve got probably 12 cars that can go out and win a race. I’m just grabbing a number there, but I don’t think I’m too far off. That’s a really good thing to have. We need to make sure that we maintain that and we need to make sure that everyone feels like they’ve got a chance from one end of the garage to the other. But as far as what the magic carrot is to put cars back at the racetrack, I can’t sit here and tell you what’s going to do it right now. The only thing I know to do is just go in there and have dialogue with everybody and see what we can do.”
Question: Where do you stand on the SPEC Motor issue with the Modified Tour?
Wilson: “It’s an option that a team can run as cost saving deal. Will it work for every team? You don’t know. You’ve got different teams that have builders that they’ve been working with for years, but you might have a team that it fits their pocketbook just right. What NASCAR has to do is make sure that you’ve got the parity between the two, that the SPEC motor doesn’t dominate the built engines and the built engine doesn’t dominate the SPEC engines. That’s one thing that we’ll make sure that we do. The misconception that happened last year was people were thinking we were just going to shove this engine down everyone’s throat. That was not the case.”
Question: What are the biggest things you learned in your years as the Southern Modified Tour director that will help you in your new position?
Wilson: “Being with the Southern Modifieds the last two years, good group of people, great group of competitors, we had real good officials and it was a good opportunity for me to come in and learn the NASCAR system as far as we go about operating the event. Now I’m going to carry where I learned there and come North. But the biggest thing that’s going to help me right out of the box is that over the last few years I’ve come and worked several of the Northern races. Last year I believe every Northern race except for maybe six of them. So I already know most of the people, I know a lot of the tracks and I think that’s going to be my biggest help going into 2013.”
Question: How do you fight the feeling by some owners and competitors that NASCAR has left the Modified Tour behind in its regional structure?
Wilson: “One of the things that I’m most proud is that before I came back to work for NASCAR in 2011 I was with the Hooters Pro Cup Series with a much smaller staff. When you go to work every day you’ve got a lot of passion, wanting to do things that are right for the racers and good for the sport, the things that you yourself would want to see as a fan if you were paying your hard earned money to go to the track to watch a race. And after coming back to work for NASCAR, you’ve got a lot more people that have been in this sport for a very long time, but every day that I go to work at the R&D Center, everyone’s got the same passion about the sport, top to bottom, that I do. It’s a huge company from the Sprint Cup Series all the way down. It’s certainly not the case that the Modifieds have been left behind or anything like that. They are at the forefront. It’s the oldest division in NASCAR, it’s what started the sport. However, the only thing that I can do for anybody anytime, which I do, is my door is always open. If someone has a question or a comment or a complaint, I want to hear it from the competitors. Whether it’s trying to better the series in general, the best thing that you can have is communication. We had a lot of experience at the R&D Center to come up with these rules and also have that dialogue with the people out in the field – the crew chiefs, the car owners and the drivers, the crew members, the guys where the rubber meets the road – to make sure that we’ve got the best information out there. We may come up with something but it may be an inch off or off on what we need it be, so you’ve got to have that dialogue back and forth so that the people with the passion, everybody is involved at the end of the day. Hopefully people don’t feel like they’ve been left behind or anything of that nature.”
Question: The Valenti Modified Racing Series has made some strides in previous years. Last year, for the first time, a former Whelen Modified Tour team owner won the championship. How much of a threat do look at that series being or can everybody coexist peacefully?
Wilson: “I don’t really look at any other series out there as far as trying to go head-to-head against anybody. In racing in general, there’s a lot of racetracks out there, there’s a lot of different ways to do things and that’s where different series’ come about. It’s one of those things where we do what we feel is best for the Whelen Modified Tour and for the sport in general and make the best decisions possible. As far as looking at any other particular series, we don’t really do that or look at something as being direct competition. At the end of any day, a racer has got a choice to make whether they want to run a Tour like the Whelen Modified Tour or run their local short track or whatever. We put the package out there. We certainly want anyone and everyone to come and compete with us, but at the end of the day it’s the racers decision what they do.”
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