The SMART Modified Tour spent the duration of 2021 re-establishing the presence its predecessor once had in the southeast.
A competitive season for the revived series featured a diverse schedule that saw nine different drivers take home victories in 12 races, all of which culminated with Modified veteran and 10-time Bowman Gray Stadium track champion Burt Myers claiming the title over Brian Loftin and John Smith.
SMART Modified Tour director Chris Williams anticipated some growing pains for the series in its first full year but even he was surprised by the tour’s quick rise in popularity amongst tracks, fans, and drivers.
“Everything went pretty good,” Williams said. “The car count was extremely great, and it got better as the year progressed. The tracks we went to had great races and the fans really liked the format we put out. This is something tangible we can grow with, and we beat our expectations.”
One goal Williams had entering 2021 was to establish credibility so that the current iteration of the SMART Modified Tour could have its own unique identity compared to the version that ran from 1989 up until 2004.
Williams knew concerns would be prevalent regarding revenue and sufficient car counts following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he worked strenuously to create an atmosphere equally appealing to drivers and fans.
To incentivize competitive on-track action, Williams implemented a two-segment format across every SMART Modified Tour race. The top three drivers each received bonus money at the stage break while they and the rest of the competitors had the opportunity to use an extra tire or adjust their cars under the ensuing caution.
This strategy paid dividends for the SMART Modified Tour, as the series was able to generate solid attendance at nearly every race while also attracting a plethora of drivers that came from various racing backgrounds.
Familiar faces from the old SMART Modified Tour returned to support its revival like Myers, Loftin and Smith but outsiders like 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ryan Preece and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte not only entered races but also managed to visit victory lane at least once.
Williams said that having drivers like Labonte, Preece, Myers and many others commit to the SMART Modified Tour helped tremendously in generating momentum for the series in 2021, adding that their feedback has been valuable when it comes to sustaining that growth over the rest of the decade.
“The Modifieds are something that just about any driver has an inkling to do,” Williams said. “One thing I do is get ideas from guys that run multiple different tracks and pick their brains on what they would like to see happen. Part of the credibility is listening to the racer on how to evolve.”
Seeing so many different drivers visit victory lane in 2021 and being able to hoist the official SMART Modified Tour race-winning trophy in the SMARTY was a highlight for Williams, who had several drivers tell him that the SMARTY was one of their favorites.
Williams was also thrilled to see Buddy Ellis bring home the SMART Modified Tour owner’s championship with Smith, Danny Bohn and Jonathan Brown all splitting seat time in his No. 24 during the regular season.
Numerous races stood out to Williams across the season, but he said having the SMART Modified Tour establish a presence in Virginia while also bringing in healthy car counts for those races only highlighted the determination everyone put in towards providing notoriety and energy for the series.
“There were multiple moments that were just cool,” Williams said. “We went to tracks like South Boston and Motor Mile that haven’t seen Modified racing in a while and that really put a smile on the competitors' faces. The crowds that showed up only proved that going back to these places was the right thing to do.”
While Williams is proud of the progress the SMART Modified Tour enjoyed in 2021, he said the series still needs to improve in several aspects.
Along with continuing to listen to driver feedback, Williams wants to increase the overall purses for 2022 so that competitors do not feel as much of a financial strain whenever they decide to travel for a SMART Modified Tour event.
Williams also hopes more fans will become invested in the SMART Modified Tour as the series continues to expand its presence in the southeast.
“We want to reach more fans by going to a few different tracks,” Williams said. “Once you get to witness a Modified event, you get hooked. The goal is to broaden ourselves as much as we can to get fans introduced to the sport and going to different events is the catalyst for us moving forward.”
With several drivers already expressing an interest in competing on the SMART Modified Tour next year, Williams is confident that the series will have no issues with providing top quality racing and proudly carrying on the legacy of its predecessor.