By CAMDEN PROUD
Holtsville, N.Y. talent Justin Bonsignore has won quite a few championships in his Tour Modified career. The NASCAR regular was the 2011 Riverhead Raceway Modified Champion, the 2014 Valenti Modified Series Champion and most recently the 2015 North-South Shootout Series Champion.
On Saturday evening, as part of the Indoor Auto Racing Championship’s return to New York State at Times Union Center in Albany, Bonsignore drove to an 11th place finish, but that wasn’t the story. Following a win to kick off the tour in Allentown, a third place finish the following evening, a third place finish in the Atlantic City Gambler’s Classic, and a solid seventh on night 1 in Albany, Bonsignore beat out three-time former champion Erick Rudolph by a considerable amount to win the 2018 Indoor Auto Racing Championship.
Driving for Bertrand Motorsports with support from Modified sponsors M3 Technology and Dunleavy’s Repair, Bonsignore, behind the wheel of his team’s No. 51 Lafler Chassis, joined Rudolph, Ted Christopher, Anthony Seseley, and most recently Ryan Flores as Indoor Auto Racing champions. The championship tour has only been around since 2010, so adding his name to the record books in honor of Christopher, who was tragically taking from us last September in a plane crash, meant a lot to Justin.
“It’s cool to add my name to the list of champions,” Bonsignore said in victory lane Saturday night. “There are so many different backgrounds of racing here whether its dirt Mod, pavement Mod, Supermod, so many different forms of drivers and its all the best of the best. To be able to come out on top for the whole series, there’s not a lot of people that have done this for the championship, so to win it with Ted’s honor on it is even bigger.”
One thing that Bonsignore will get to say that all of the best Modified drivers and teams in the country he competes in week in and week out will not, is that he already has a championship in 2018 before the outdoor season even started. It certainly will carry momentum into the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener which will take place next month at the Myrtle Beach Speedway.
“This is a huge accomplishment for me and my team,” stated Bonsignore. “For me personally its a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence built for all the stuff we are doing on the tour side to just roll out and say hey, we’ve already won a race, we’ve won a championship, and I’m just ready to get out there, get after it, and win some more races. I can’t wait for it to get started.”
So, clearly Bonsignore is not in the least bit in need of a break before the season starts after a rather busy past couple of months, but don’t expect to see the Phoenix Communications No. 51 Modified on the track at New Smyrna Speedway this coming week as part of the track’s ‘World Series’ events during Florida Speedweeks.
“I’m going to enjoy this for sure before we pick up the Modified stuff,” smiled Bonsignore. “But after you do something like this its time to kind of completely switch gears and prepare to get ready for all of the outdoor stuff. I think it’s going to be a pretty exciting season with all of the tour stuff as well. Myrtle Beach will be next, but I wish I was going on a plane to Florida tomorrow. We’re going to skip speedweeks this year to continue prepping all of our new equipment that we have coming, get our new crew chief situated, try to do a quick test somewhere before Myrtle to get the cars all shaked down, but Myrtle Beach will be the first race and I really can’t wait to get down there and wish it was tomorrow.”
If you were at the Albany Indoor race on Saturday night, you could definitely make out that one of the cars was having engine issues towards the end of the main event. Only 11 cars finished, and unfortunately, Bonsignore was at the end of the line and also the driver who was having the engine trouble, which you could hear distinctly as the yellow and flat black No. 51 went down the straightaways.
“I’m not really sure what the deal was tonight,” cited Bonsignore. “Something was up though, I just don’t really know too much about these engines or anything like that yet. We are still kind of new to this deal. It was definitely something in the motor though whether we jumped a valve, or whatever it might be.”
What was the strategy for Bonsignore, knowing that he didn’t have a fully competitive car and would need to limp to to the finish? About 50 points ahead of Rudolph prior to Saturday evening, he said, “I just had to count cars. I knew where we needed to finish and I knew that Erick (Rudolph) wasn’t leading the race so I kind of figured there wasn’t enough cars on the track at the time for him to beat me, even if he won, so at that point in time, it was just make sure that I don’t over rev it or make the thing blow up. I don’t even know how it lasted for 30-laps, but it did and we will count our blessings and just enjoy this championship. It’s a huge accomplishment.”
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour begins its 2018 season at the Myrtle Beach Speedway on Saturday, March 17. Bonsignore finished third overall in the tour’s championship standings for 2017.