It took longer than planned but Tommy Catalano successfully defended his NASCAR Pro Modified season championship crown this season at Holland International Speedway. Now he seeks success in multiple divisions of this weekend's 29th annual U.S. Open Weekend at Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway.
The U.S. Open is Lancaster's most prestigious multiple-day stock car event and Catalano, 19, will compete in an eye-opening four classes.
Catalano emerged as the 2015 NASCAR Pro Modified titlist at Holland and figured he would get a chance to defend his championship the next season. But during the ensuing offseason, Holland management threw Catalano and his fellow NASCAR Pro Modified racers a curve ball when they cancelled the class for 2016, citing poor car counts. The decision was somewhat surprising considering the class was averaging a respectable 15 cars a week in 2015.
The move delayed Catalano's title defense plans for a season. Holland officials decided to bring back the NASCAR Pro Modified division for 2017 and albeit a bit later then expected, Catalano finally got his shot to defend his crown. Due to limited scheduling, rain and other factors, the NASCAR Pro Modifieds ran just five events out of the nine scheduled, but Catalano used top-three results in all but one of them to capture the title.
"I was definitely really surprised when Holland cancelled our class," Catalano said. "It was a fun track to race at and it was good competition and when I found out I was kind of sad. The only thing we could hope is that eventually down the road they would bring the class back, which they eventually did. And when it happened we decided to take the opportunity. And although it wasn't back-to back years, we went and defended the championship. I was actually able to win it this season. It was pretty amazing to do that. It wasn't back-to-back as far as years but for our class it was."
With only five races counting toward the points title, drivers could not afford a bad race. In his five point races at Holland this season, Catalano earned a pair of second- and a pair third-place results as well as a seventh.
"I think that goes to how I ended up pulling it off and doing so good," Catalano said. "Up until the last race night, which we struggled in, I had yet to have a finish outside the top-three so that was huge for defending the title, especially when it was a shortened season."
He also earned his first career Sunoco Modified championship this season at Spencer Speedway in Williamson. Catalano is a mechanical engineering major who is finishing up his sophomore year at Monroe Community College before transferring to RIT.
With his Holland title defense off his bucket list, Catalano turns his attention to the U.S. Open. He will compete in the open-wheel ROC Modifieds and Sportsman, as well as the full-body Late Models, all on the outer oval. He'll take to the inner oval for the open-wheel, open-cockpit NYPA TQ Midget category.
The ROC Modified and Sportsman are family-owned machines while the Late Model and TQ Midget Catalano campaigns are owned by veteran driver/owner Joe Brainard.
Driving four diverse types of race cars on different ovals at Lancaster certainly commands a lot of driving skill, versatility and a clear mindset on the part of the driver.
"It's amazing going to the U.S. Open knowing I have four different shots to win," Catalano said. "When I first started driving multiple classes, I would tend to do good in the first one and struggle in the second or do good in one but not the other. I kind of learned that the best thing to do to be the best I can be in every division is when you get out of one car and into the other just clear it all out of your mind and let yourself be free and try not to remember anything you just did in the other car because that means you've got a clean slate and you're not confusing one car with the next."
The U.S Open activity will begin Friday with an all-division practice at 6 p.m. and an event kick-off party at 9:30. Racing commences Saturday at 4:30 p.m. with the night capped by 25-lap feature races for the 4-Cylinders and NYPA TQ Midgets on the inner oval, followed by a 30-lap Race of Champions Super Stock and a Sportsman 75-lap contest on the outer oval.
Sunday's green flag flies at 2 p.m. with heats and then main events for the Street Stocks, (35-laps), the Late Model 30 and the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series 125. Prior to U.S. Open activity, Lancaster will host an IHRA drag racing show at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Area race community remembering Jim Pierce
Wyoming County International Speedway has taken steps to honor Jim Pierce, a popular area racer who died Aug. 5 at age 47 from a heart attack.
WCIS runs its biggest event of their season, "The Shootout at the Bullring Weekend," Oct. 14-15. WCIS promoter Jim Majchrzak has renamed that weekend's Oct. 14 featured attraction for the SST Modifieds the Jim Pierce Memorial SST 100. Pierce was the WCIS 2007 SST Modified champion. His son Jim Pierce Jr. competes in the track's 4-Cylinder class.
"We are truly honored to be able to show tribute to not only a fellow racer but a friend by running the formerly named Shootout SST 100 as the Jim Pierce Memorial SST 100," Majchrzak said. "Jim was a respected competitor at WCIS who was not only a great racer but one of the good guys in racing."
In conjunction with the Pierce race, family friend Lori Overdorf has coordinated a lap sponsorship program. Lap sponsorships are being sold for a minimum of $26 per lap in honor of Pierce's race car number. All lap sponsorship money raised will be given to the drivers who compete in the race based on "Lucky 15" program. For more call Overdorf at 716-207-2824.
Chris Leone (4-Bangers) and Cameron Tuttle (Novice Sportsman) took their respective divisional season point championships this year at Ransomville Speedway.