While the focus for most race fans in Atlantic Canada is the Pro Stock division and the major Late Model shows, one travelling division continues to provide a unique brand of entertainment.
The racing Atlantic Modified Tour provides could not be stopped through a pandemic as they were the only touring division to produce a point championship season in 2020. That should come as no surprise as they have been riding out the ebb-and-flow of the motorsports industry in the Maritimes since 2003. In 2021, the Atlantic Modified Tour will celebrate 19 consecutive seasons of entertaining fans throughout the Maritimes and Northern Maine. While the faces in the cars and the venues may have changed through the years, the series is strong as it enters a year that sees the world rebound from a pandemic.
The idea of a competitive but affordable class of open wheel cars that ultimately spawned the Atlantic Modified Tour of today came from Jim Duke. The region had seen open wheel divisions before, predominately the one held at Scotia Speedworld in the 90s, so the idea might not have been too farfetched. With the help of Dave Burnham, the first car was fabricated and the rest, as they say, is history.
From an organizational standpoint, the Atlantic Modified Tour is one of only two oval-based touring series in Atlantic Canada that is a society and has an elected executive and board of directors. Unlike their Maritime League of Legends Tour counterparts, the executive is comprised of drivers and car owners, not allowing anyone outside of the driver’s seat or owner’s box to ultimately influence the direction of the series. In the winter of 2021, the members elected Doug Matchett as president of the series. Previous president Joe Hoyt continues to serve as vice president.
The cars on the Atlantic Modified Tour are minimum 108” wheelbase, open wheeled powered by a 305 cubic inch motor. Teams are allowed to run different body styles and this season the tour switched to a used Hoosier 1070 “Pro Stock” tire due to the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the ability for modified teams to get used Hoosier tires from Pro All Stars Series teams. They sound like a race car and fans can “feel the thunder” every time they race onto the track. It is not uncommon to see the drivers push their cars to the limit and go two-and-three wide for multiple laps at a time, leading to some exciting shows from green to checkered.
The series hit the ground running in 2003 and has seen some familiar names in the region come through its gates. Similar to what the legend division has become in Nova Scotia, it has served in recent years as a melting pot of talent. Arguably its biggest export has been Ryan Messer. Messer would go on to win a Pro Stock 250 at Speedway 660, championships and major wins in the Late Model Sportsman and compete part time on the East Coast International Pro Stock Tour following a championship in the modifieds. Justin Beers, who has gone on to success in the late model sportsman ranks at Petty International Raceway, has also won a championship in the series on his way up the ladder.
While young drivers have made this division a stop up the ladder, several veteran drivers have called this division home. Former late model sportsman drivers Zean Dutcher and 2020 tour champion Yves McCray have settled into a modified over recent years. In the past, Larry Gulliver, Tom Betts and multi-time series champion Mike “Sparky” Raeburn settled into the series in their later years behind the wheel. Rumor has it that Darren Sherwood has found himself a ride in the series after racing in various divisions over the past three decades. While not as “experienced” as some of their counterparts, Braxton Stafford and two-time champion Brandon Skidmore now call the Tour home after several years in various cars including Pro Stocks.
Ok, so the names might not carry as much snap as Sommerville, O’Blenis, Flemming, Tucker, Turple or Slaunwhite. If you’re a late model mainstay, hear me out. The Atlantic modified tour might not be the main draw on the night of racing but the product that is on track is just as competitive as any division on the card on any given night.
Like any division in motorsports, the car count has ebbed and flowed over the 19 years of racing. Like many divisions, the early-to-late 2000’s saw a boom in cars. With the industry seeing an upturn combined with the “new” factor of the car and division, the series was a must-see. The track visited many of the region’s top tracks and took part in many of the Maritimes marquee events, including a stop at the IWK 250 at Riverside Speedway in the late 2000’s. The track has visited Prince Edward Island and even make a trip to Lake Doucette Motor Speedway outside of Yarmouth, N.S. in its past.
In recent years, the Atlantic modified tour has found a home in New Brunswick, with a majority of the drivers hailing from the province and all four major ovals within N.B. hosting events. In total, the 2021 schedule sees 12 point races and two exhibition events for a total of 14 shows over 12 weekends. The tour still visits the big events within the province, including SpeedWeekend at Speedway 660, the Mike Stevens Memorial at Petty International Raceway, the Very Best Fall Shootout at Speedway Miramichi and the Atlantic Championships at the CENTRE For Speed. For a Series that falls under a support class touring division, they are at the big shows in front of the big eyes they deserve to be racing in front of. It just goes to show the respect that the tracks and their fans have for the series and the hard work that goes in from the series executive.
As mentioned, they were the only touring division to officially crown a champion in 2020 – and it was a new champion at that! The advantage of most of the drivers being New Brunswick based, while border restrictions are a hinderance, they are not the end of the world for the Atlantic modified tour. While other series sat idle due to border restrictions and gathering limits from COVID-19, the modifieds got seven races in with six of those counting toward the point championship.
Logan Power, a Street Stock Champion at Petty Raceway, started off the season strong with two wins in the first two races but the wheels quickly fell off of a championship run in September. Enter Yves McCray, who was consistent behind Power in his victories and was able to crack victory lane for the first time during SpeedWeekend 2020 at Speedway 660. The Neguac, N.B. driver followed it up with a championship clinching victory in the Keswick Kitchen Season Finale at Speedway Miramichi. While Miramichi drivers Zean Dutcher and Travis Conroy closed the gap heading into the sixth event of the year, they had to settle in behind the Sarkis Collision Centre sponsored modified. For a sportsman driver that had seen plenty success and a family who has shelves full of hardware, they had one more line to add to their resume.
In six point races, the tour saw four different winners in 2020. Power and McCray each won two races, while Joe Hoyt and Chris Wilson each picked up a win at Speedway Miramichi and Petty International Raceway, respectively.
Should McCray repeat as champion in 2021, he will become only the third driver in the 19-year history of the series to do so. Mark Price won championships in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009. Mike “Sparky” Raeburn won four championships in five years from 2009 to 2013, broken up only by a Hoyt title in 2011. Raeburn has the most Atlantic modified tour championships with five, with his latest coming in 2017. “Sparky” has since retired from driving on the tour but served as race director for the series for a one-year term in 2020. Hoyt and Brandon Skidmore each have two championships to their credit but not in back-to-back seasons.
With the emergence of the veteran drivers prevalent in the series, it was Travis Conroy who struck first in the 2021 season. Amid closed borders and next to empty grandstands, Conroy was able to hold off McCray at Petty International Raceway on June 5th for his first career Atlantic modified tour victory. McCray’s second place finish is the second year in a row he finished a bridesmaid in the season opening feature and we ultimately know how that finished up in 2020.
As of press time, the border restrictions are starting to lift around the Maritimes and, maybe more importantly, the province of N.B. is re-opening from the COVID-19 pandemic. With increased gathering limits and crowds at race tracks, the Atlantic modified tour will continue to put on shows for their loyal fans and perform at big events around the province throughout the 2021 season. Their perseverance through the pandemic earned them the attention of readers of Tim’s Corner Motorsports when they voted the Atlantic modified tour as the fan favourite touring series in Atlantic Canada, defeating the perennial favorite east coast International Maritime Pro Stock Tour.
With the 20th Anniversary of the Atlantic modified tour upcoming, the series has plenty to celebrate. First though, they have a 2021 champion to crown. If you find yourself in New Brunswick, get out to a race track and check out the series. For complete information on the series, you can visit AtlanticModifieds.com.