SMT: Season opener preview

OPENING NIGHT: NASCAR WHELEN SOUTHERN MODIFIED TOUR MAKES DEBUT MARCH 26 * Walkertown, N.C. Driver Michael Clifton Looks Forward to Tour Opening * NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Drivers Christopher and Tomaino Headed South DAYTONA ...

OPENING NIGHT: NASCAR WHELEN SOUTHERN MODIFIED TOUR MAKES DEBUT MARCH 26

* Walkertown, N.C. Driver Michael Clifton Looks Forward to Tour Opening

* NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Drivers Christopher and Tomaino Headed South

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 24, 2005) -- There are a few dates that stand out in NASCAR history: June 19, 1949. ... Feb. 13, 1982. ... Feb. 5, 1995. Those dates mark the first races for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (1949), NASCAR Busch Series (1982) and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (1995). March 26, 2005 will be written into the record books as another NASCAR first: the inaugural NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour event, at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C.

The all-new Tour is the latest regional racing series to be sanctioned by NASCAR, which also operates the northeastern-based NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and six other regional racing series throughout the United States. Modified cars feature a unique open-wheel design, and at 2,600 pounds they are among the lightest NASCAR race cars on the track today.

The Whelen Southern Modified Tour kicks off its inaugural 2005 schedule with a 150-lap race at Caraway, which will host the Tour on five more occasions this season. Bud Pole qualifying will be held at 6:30 p.m. and the race begins at approximately 8:00 p.m. Caraway's NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Late Model Stock Car division will also compete in a 50-lap race on March 26.

For Walkertown, N.C. driver Michael Clifton (No. 50 Clifton Plumbing Co. Chevrolet), the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour is a welcome addition to his racing schedule.

"I'm really glad that NASCAR has started this Tour," said Clifton, who competed in the Southern Modified Auto Racing Teams (SMART) Tour in 2004. "I'm looking forward to getting back in the seat and doing what I like to do."

Clifton, a regular NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Modified competitor at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., won last year's season-opening SMART Tour race, also held at Caraway, and says he'll be there to contend for the first NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour victory this year.

"Last year I started 15th and rode around until the last 50 laps," said Clifton. "I was in a situation where I had an opportunity to win the race. My driving style, I take it easy. I don't try to go out there and lead the first laps. I know that the money lap is the last lap. I let 'em race until say, the last 30 laps, and then I'm going to be there," Clifton said.

Clifton will be joined in the race by several other North Carolina drivers, such as Clayton's Kevin Eckrich (No. 76 EE&C Chevrolet), Walnut Cove's Burt Myers (No. 1 Chevrolet), Mount Airy's John Smith (No. 25 Tutterow Surveying & Johnson Granite Chevrolet), Lexington's Bobby Hutchens (No. 14 Chevrolet) and High Point's Jay Hedgecock (No. 41 Kernersville Motorsports Chevrolet).

A few northeastern NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour drivers are also scheduled to compete in the March 26 season-opener at Caraway, notably Jamie Tomaino of Howell, N.J. and Ted Christopher of Plainville, Conn. Tomaino, the 1990 Whelen Modified Tour champion, will drive his usual No. 99 Perth Amboy Spring Chevrolet (owned by Joseph Venezian) while Christopher is slated to drive the No. 79 Hill Enterprises/Sunoco Pontiac, owned by Roger Hill of Westfield, N.C. Hill is a full-time car owner on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour with driver Eddie Flemke of Southington, Conn.

NASCAR Sponsors to Support Whelen Southern Modified Tour ... NASCAR's family of sponsors has stepped up to support the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour in its inaugural season. Budweiser, which sponsors the Bud Pole qualifying award in every NASCAR series, will award $100 to the driver who records the fastest qualifying lap at each Whelen Southern Modified Tour event. Featherlite will award $100 for its "Most Improved Driver" award at each race while POWERade offers $100 per race for its "Power Move of the Race" award.

Fast Facts

What: NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour 150

Where: Caraway Speedway, Asheboro, N.C.
When: Saturday, March 26 at 8:00 p.m. (approx.).

Posted awards: $18,883.

Race length: 150 laps, 68.25 miles
Track layout: 0.455-mile oval.

Pre-Race Schedule: Registration begins 12:00 p.m., Practice 3-5 p.m., Bud Pole qualifying 6:30 p.m.

Online Info: carawayspeedway.com or nascarregionalracing.com

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Ted Christopher , Burt Myers , Michael Driver