LIers sprinkled throughout field for Daytona's Battle at the Beach on Tuesday night
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Action at Daytona will take on a decidedly Long Island flavor Tuesday night, when seven Long Island drivers compete in the inaugural Battle at the Beach, a 33-car nationally televised NASCAR Whelen Modified Series event.
By virtue of 2012 victories at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway, Donny Lia of Jericho and Justin Bonsignore of Holtsville were locked into the field before Tuesday's qualifying on the .4-mile oval, which is tucked into the infield backstretch of Daytona Speedway's 2.5-mile track.
Long Island and southern New England are considered hotbeds for modified racing. "But to see this many Long Island guys come to Florida for a race is probably a little bit out of the ordinary," Bonsignore said. "Obviously, it's pretty exciting to race on the Daytona Speedway grounds. Everybody wants to be able to tell people they raced at Daytona."
Additionally, the $20,000 winner-take-all purse doesn't hurt, nor does the fact that the eyes of the auto racing world are on Daytona this week. Speed TV, SiriusXM Radio and the Motor Racing Radio Network will offer live coverage of the 7 p.m. main event.
"We know by their Twitter that a lot of the Sprint Cup guys enjoy watching our series because of the competition, so there is a little more emphasis to try to win a race that's run in front of those guys," Bonsignore said. "There are no [series] points on the line in this race. It's basically an exhibition, so it's win or bust. Nobody is going to remember who finishes second."
The Daytona modified layout bears no resemblance to the high-banked superspeedway track. It is completely flat and paper clip in shape, with extremely tight turns connecting the straightaways.
The small-block powered open-wheel cars, which turn 600 horsepower and regularly race at 130 mph at tracks such as New Hampshire and Bristol, could be hard-pressed to reach 110 mph on the newly constructed Daytona short track.
"There'll be a lot of beating and banging," Bonsignore predicted. "The track is very narrow and the turns are so tight, you're not going to be able to carry any momentum to the corners. With the race on the line, somebody might get a little brave and you might see a three-wide move, but it's going to be tough to accomplish that."
Bonsignore, 25, will drive the M3 Technology Chevrolet for Ken Massa, his owner since 2010 when he was Whelen Modified Rookie of the Year. Lia, 34, a two-time Whelen Modified champ, winner of 16 career modified tour events and a veteran of NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series (he won at Mansfield, Ohio, in 2009) will drive the Mystic Missile Dodge.
"There are at least eight or 10 guys who could win this race," said Bonsignore, who tabs former Whelen tour champion Ted Christopher (Plainville, Conn.) and short-track ace Ryan Priest (2012 series runner-up) as racers to watch.
Burt Myers, the 2010 Whelen Southern Modified Tour champ, and Danny Bohn, second on the Whelen Southern circuit last year, are also expected to factor.
Other LIers set to qualify Tuesday include J.R. Bertuccio Jr. (Centereach), Dave Brigati (Calverton), Eric Goodale (Riverhead), Ken Heagy (Calverton) and Cup veteran Steve Park (East Northport). TS Haulers Racing, which fields cars for 2011 NASCAR Whelen Modified champion Ron Silk, is also based in Long Island.