By the time championship night rolled around at Berlin Raceway, the track’s Model Coverall Modifieds division was pretty much wrapped up. Driver Ben Welch ended up winning the division by 156 points after picking up eight wins with an additional five top-5 finishes.
But while the season seemed to go pretty swimmingly – "We didn’t really get caught up in any wrecks. It went pretty smooth," he said. – the end results made it seem like Welch had the track title in hand the entire season. It wasn’t always that way.
Welch started 2019 off great, but he faced health issues a couple of months into the season and didn’t know if he would be able to race the rest of the year. Luckily, when the issues happened there were four weeks between modifieds races at Berlin Raceway, a NASCAR Weekly Racing Series sanctioned 0.4375-mile oval asphalt in Marne, Michigan. After that month-long break there was an additional rain out, giving Welch an extra week to recuperate and be ready to get back racing in the second half of the season.
"It happened to all be perfect timing," Welch said. "The first week I was able to go back racing was the first weekend that the modifieds raced again. So it went from starting off really good to thinking I was not going to be able to race the rest of the year, and then all of a sudden I was cleared and could race the rest of the year."
Welch finished eighth in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Division IV national points standings, and had more wins than any other driver in the top 10.
Nate Walton won the track’s Division I Budweiser Late Models, while Joe Moody (Engine Pro Super Stocks), Austin Hull (Coors Light Sportsman), Corey Holtzlander (Four Cylinders), Ethan Hoekstra (Good Humor Mini Wedge 6-9), Elliott Davis Good Humor Mini Wedge 10-14) and Tom Boorsma (Vingate Modified) took home track crowns.
Holtzlander won the Division IV national title, and Tom Thomas edged Walton for the Division I Michigan championship.
This was Welch’s seventh season racing at Berlin, and his third in a modified. He previously raced a super late model for three years, and a street stock car for one.
Welch began racing go-karts when he was about five or six years old, during the same time his dad raced. When he was old enough, Welch moved to a dirt track car, and was offered a ride in a modified when he was 14, the same year he started racing at Berlin.
"Just the excitement and the adrenaline of it, I think once it’s in your blood it’s hard to get out. We just love it," Welch said.
While this modifieds championship was the second of Welch’s career, this one felt a bit different. During his championship three years ago he was racing for another team and owner. This year was his first with a modified he built himself.
"How the seasons went was about the same. Consistent finishes and always running up front, so the seasons felt the same but it was different being my own car," Welch said.
Welch got it done on the track thanks to a close knit crew that includes his two friends from high school who help with all things relating to tires on race night, and provide assistance in the race shop during the week.
"They’re into motorsports and like cars, so they started helping a couple years ago," Welch said.
Another cousin helps at the track and also takes all his photos and videos during races. Welch also has a friend, Butch Van Dorn, who helps with set-up and testing and getting the car fast week after week.
The final member of Welch’s team is the one who got the young racer into the sport to begin with. Welch’s dad helps with making changes to the car during practices, and serves as his spotter during the races, making race night more special.
"It’s cool that he got me into it and is helping," Welch said of his dad. "Especially because he’s a spotter, he can keep me calm at times."
Welch’s race career started at Berlin, a track he said is "right in my backyard," less than 20 minutes from his home.
But next year he’ll have to try something new. The Michigan track will be eliminating the modifieds division for the 2020 season, meaning, for now, Welch will be the track’s final champion in the division.
It also means he’ll have to race at a new track for the first time in his young career. His plan is to travel around the midwest and race in big shows next year.
"I’ve never raced anywhere else in a modified," Welch said. "It’ll be interesting. We’ll see how it goes."
Thankfully for him, Welch has a wealth of success to build off of as he continues his career in a new place.
"It was a championship season. Everything just kind of came together when it needed to. Everything just fell in place," he said. "It means a lot… It was an emotional year but it was a good year."