499 and counting ... Tomaino on verge of historic 500th Tour start When the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour begins the 2009 season at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway on Sunday, April 5, more than just the series' Silver Anniversary will be...
499 and counting ... Tomaino on verge of historic 500th Tour start
When the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour begins the 2009 season at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway on Sunday, April 5, more than just the series' Silver Anniversary will be celebrated. For one of its stalwarts, taking the green flag will be a historical accomplishment.
When the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour held its first race at Thompson on March 31, 1985, Jamie Tomaino started in the third row right behind the legendary Richie Evans. When the series held its first superspeedway event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 1990, Tomaino finished third to strengthen his title bid. When the NASCAR Modifieds ran a road course for the first time in 1996 at Watkins Glen International, Tomaino qualified 19th. And when the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour celebrated its 500th race at Martinsville Speedway last September, Tomaino turned in a top 10.
In the first 24 years and 503 races that comprise the history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, about the only thing as predictable as the actual waving of the green flag to start a race, is that Tomaino would be cruising down the frontstretch, ready to put the pedal to the metal.
Of those 503 races, the Howell, N.J., driver has not started in only four. His total of 499 starts is 60 more than any other NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver. When he takes the green flag at the Icebreaker next Sunday, Tomaino will officially become the first driver in any of NASCAR's current touring series to reach the 500-start milestone. In fact, no driver has compiled that many starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series either.
Perhaps just as interesting as the 499 races that he has made in the last 24 years, however, are the four that he did not. It is worth noting that while his start percentage is 99.2, his race attendance is 100-percent, and that doesn't even take into account all the times he's been at the track when a rainout has occurred. Here is a recap of the four starts Tomaino didn't make, in his own words:
April 14, 1985 -- Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway
"I didn't qualify on time as they only took 10 cars. As far as I remember, I might have qualified 11th. Then in the heat race, which I had to run, I was winning and got a flat tire. You couldn't pit because the pits were on the outside at that time. Then in the consi they took two cars, and as far as I can remember, I finished third. The funny part about that deal is, I was leading in points going into that race because we had two races before the Spring Sizzler, but I didn't even get into the race because there was no such thing as provisionals."
Tomaino then made 243 consecutive starts before he missed the cut twice in 1995.
June 24, 1995 -- Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway / July 19, 1995 -- Riverside Park Speedway, Agawam, Mass.
"The second time I didn't make a race was at Riverhead and there were no provisionals at all. The third time, that same year at Riverside Park, they had provisionals, but no champion provisionals, and this was after I had won the championship [in 1990]. So after that race, NASCAR says they have to have championship provisionals for something like that. NASCAR did that, but believe it or not, that backfired one more time on us."
After missing the starting lineup by one position at Riverside Park in 1995, Tomaino made 199 starts in a row before the situation he alluded to occurred a decade later.
August 6, 2005 - Riverhead
"They gave the past champion's provisional to a guy that had raced no races all year: Wayne Anderson [1994 champion]. So after they realized that was a mess-up, there was a new rule that the champion's provisional went to the champion that had the highest ranking in the current points standings."
Tomaino now carries a streak of 56 straight starts into the 2009 season.
While the 1990 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship is undoubtedly the highlight of Tomaino's career, the fact that he has been at the track in every race in the series' history, and participated in all but four, also serves as a source of pride for the 53-year-old racer.
"I would have to say it is," Tomaino said. "I'm fortunate because I'm healthy, and to be able to attend every race is something that's very hard to do. I've been through some crazy aspects in my life as far as crashes on the highway and on the track, but we've made it."
One of those events that nearly kept Tomaino from the racetrack was a potentially horrific crash that took place as he headed to the now-defunct Shangri-La Speedway for an open show in 1992. While refueling at a gas station, his truck and trailer was rear-ended, causing it to be pushed up onto the gas pumps, which consequently exploded. Fortunately Tomaino, his son Trey and two crew members were able to escape unharmed other than a few stitches for Trey.
"Thank God nobody got hurt, but by the same token, I lost everything I owned: the truck, trailer, race car and all the contents of the trailer," Tomaino said. "The following week was a [NASCAR Whelen Modified] Tour show, and with the help of Tim Arre and a couple other people from Wall Stadium, I borrowed a truck and trailer and Arre's race car so I could be at the next race."
Another close call took place in 1996. Tomaino had a bad wreck while competing in a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at Jennerstown (Pa.) Speedway that sent him to the hospital that day and had him laid up for the majority of the next week at home. Once again without a usable race car, Tomaino received a helping hand from fellow competitor Doug French, who loaned him a car to go compete the next week at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway.
"I was beat-up pretty bad," Tomaino said. "Once I got in the car it was very hard to get out because I had so many bumps and bruises, but I raced the race and had a top-10 finish, and by the following week I was almost 100-percent again."
As the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour heads to Thompson for the Icebreaker, things will have come full circle for Tomaino. He has teamed up with car owner Howard Harvey for 2009 season, a reunion three decades in the making.
"I drove my first Modified race ever for Howard Harvey in 1976 at Trenton (N.J.) Speedway in the Race of Champions," Tomaino said. "I've never got to drive a (NASCAR Whelen Modified) Tour race with him. I've won a Martinsville race with him and I've won Turkey Derby with him, but I've never ran a Tour race with Howard Harvey. So it's neat that this year I'll be making my 500th start with Howard Harvey."
Tomaino will be honored during Thompson's opening ceremonies this Sunday for his milestone and dedication to the series. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour's 150-lap race, the final event of the 2009 Icebreaker, is set to start at approximately 3:15 p.m.