Even though his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour career only has three races in the record books to this point, Tommy Catalano is off to a quick start.
Last year, he captured two NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championships in New York at Holland International Speedway and Spencer Speedway, and at the start of the 2018 season, Catalano thought it was time to take his racing operation to the next level.
“A lot of it had to do with the fact that we had a lot of success in New York, we checked a lot of our list last year, and we figured we would go try something new,” Catalano said of the decision to go Whelen Modified Tour racing. “With our divisions around here, we kinda run with the same drivers. We figured we would change it up, run with some of the bigger teams, and see how we faired.”
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With three races down, it’s fair to say his efforts on the track have been rather successful for a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender.
The Ontario, New York, native made his debut in the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and started 28th in the 36-car field with a goal of just completing all of the laps. He accomplished his intentions by slowly working his way through the field and avoiding some mid-race chaos en route to a 15th place finish in his debut.
In Stafford Motor Speedway’s NAPA Spring Sizzler 200, Catalano put himself in much of the same predicament, qualifying outside the top 20. Even though he only completed 196 laps, he was able to lockdown a 16th place run.
“(Qualifying) is one of our biggest struggles right now, we don’t do much qualifying in New York, we do heat races, so when it comes to qualifying we aren’t doing as well as we probably could,” Catalano said. “When it comes to the race, we do a lot better. We are able to capitalize there.”
Then, after a full month off in May, Catalano picked up plenty of momentum in the third race of his career, the Seekonk 150 at Seekonk Speedway this past Saturday night. He started 21st on the field, but pounced in the middle stages of the race, put his foot to the floor in the late laps, and came home with an eighth place finish at the tricky Massachusetts third-mile.
“It was huge for us, and was a big push of momentum. I think we had a car capable of a top 10 at Thompson and Stafford as well, but I left not knowing if we were good enough or not (because of the trouble we had). This was a true testament to say we will definitely have something.”
Three races down, and three completely different tracks now behind him.
“Stafford was probably the most tricky of the three, the way you drive it, it wasn’t like anything I have around here. Thompson, we have a few tracks that are similar if you blend them together, but we had some bad luck there with the brakes. We got in a wreck early at Stafford too,” Catalano said. “At Seekonk, we were a little bit more familiar with that style track, so it helped us.”
Going forward, his goal is strictly to keep finishing races, and hopefully improve his finish along the way. Next up? A return to Connecticut’s Thompson high-banks. With one race under his belt at the historic oval, he hopes to have a stronger setup under the hood right off the trailer.
“Now we have a chance to go there for the second time, so hopefully we can capitalize on that,” Catalano said. “I think going there on Wednesday, we should be pretty strong right out of the gate.”