The tradition that is New Smyrna Speedway in February is set to continue once again this week as the 2023 World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing will see several classes of pavement short track racing competing over nine straight nights. For some drivers, it is an opportunity to test their skills in different race cars, on occasion for the very first time.
For Tour-type Modified driver Tommy Catalano, he is doing just that starting this Thursday with open practice, and then race day on Friday night as he makes his debut in Super Late Model competition.
But don’t think he’s turning his back on Ground Pounders any time soon. Once again, the racing family from Ontario, New York will be bringing an armada of horsepower south to Florida. The Super Late Model, another example of Toby Nuttleman’s handiwork, was delivered to Western New York in late 2022, and will finally roar in battle for the first time.
“It’s going to be a busy week, but that’s why we’re going. Hopefully we’ll keep everything in one piece between the Super Late Model, the Mod, my mom’s and brother’s cars; it’ll make the week go a lot smoother. We got a Toby Car, we got one guy helping us out with that, plus the family. We’re traveling light, everyone’s going to have to pitch in during the week,” Catalano told Racing America.
While this week will mark Catalano’s SLM debut, it is not his first time in a Late Model. In fact, the card-carrying Mod Squad member has a few trophies from being behind the wheel of one in Race of Champions competition in his neck of the woods.
“I’ve run a Pro Late Model in the RoC Series for Joe Brainard, who’s the owner of the Super we have now. The first year they ran it back in 2017 we won the championship, we won on U.S. Open Weekend at Lancaster in 2018. Since then, we’ve been so focused on all of our Modified stuff, even though we’ve kept the Pro Late Model. We just want to hit some of the bigger shows that fall in between Modified races, that’s what sparked it.”
Those observant may have seen Tommy Catalano on the entry list for the most recent Snowball Derby this past December, only for him to no-show. While the Super Late Model was ready to take Five Flags Speedway, ultimately the driver and crew felt they were not.
“We were on the entry list for the Snowball Derby, but then we decided that it would be better to run New Smyrna first, a track we’re familiar with and have all these days to practice and race, really figure things out. It’d be better than going cold turkey to the Snowball Derby. Depending on how it goes the next two weeks and the rest of the year, maybe we’ll be at the Derby this year.”
With many months between the SLM World Series-ending Orange Blossom 100 at New Smyrna Speedway and the 56th Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Catalano isn’t ruling out taking an opportunity to hit the road and try their hand at a major Super Late Model event. However, the tradition of Modified racing still comes first.
“So far we haven’t circled any on the calendar, but we’re looking at few where there’s no Whelen Tour, RoC Series, or Open race, that we might load the Super up and go for it. Also got some other stuff we’re looking at if we can get backing, maybe some Supermodified stuff. We’ll play it by ear. We’ll see how things start with the Whelen Tour, same with the RoC Series. I want to do more open shows whether it’s Stafford, Thompson, the Tri-Track Series, we’ll just have to see.”
While the goal with the Super Late Model over the nine nights is to learn, Catalano’s goal on the Modified side is to win. He’s been close at New Smyrna before, but has yet to claim that first World Series trophy. Whether it has been getting caught in another driver’s mess, flat tires, engine failures, it has always gone sour for Tommy Catalano in February down in the Sunshine State.
The No. 54 Tour Mod will first see action this Saturday in the season opening Visit New Smyrna Beach 200 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, before beginning the five-night long odyssey for the World Series title starting next Monday. Mother Amy Catalano and brother Tyler will also be in the Tour-type World Series races; brother Trevor will be in 602 Modified races, plus, of course, the seven SLM races.
But the goal across the board is the same, stay out of trouble and eventually go for a win.
“That’s the goal this year, get through the week unscathed. Keep the cars clean the first few nights and start to build on momentum instead of rebuilding cars or engines, whatever. We’ve been strong, it’s just every year the luck hasn’t been there. Hopefully this is the year we turn it all around. We got three Tour Mods, a 602 Mod, and of course the Late Model. A little bit of luck will certainly go a long way.”
-Photo credit: Tommy Catalano on Facebook