It took nine seasons of full-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour racing for Justin Bonsignore to capture his first championship. Two years later, the Long Island native is celebrating once again.
The season was put on hold until late June due to the coronavirus pandemic. But once it began, there were nine contests for the approximately 20 full-time drivers to chase the title crown.
Bonsignore, who hails from Holtsville in Suffolk County, set himself apart in 2020. His No. 51 car soared to the front of the field in the first race of the season at Jennerstown, leading each of the 133 laps. He went on to win two more races, giving him 29 career Whelen Modified Tour wins in 162 events.
The 32-year-old racer won the championship by 40 points over runner-up Jon McKennedy.
“It’s pretty special,” Bonsignore said. “The first one was special, too. To get back to winning another championship is important. It shows we can contend year-in and year-out. We executed and did it with everything going on—COVID and the short schedule—and that makes it even more special.”
Bonsignore’s team is owned by Ken Massa, who has been fielding cars at Riverhead Raceway since 2009. Massa owns and operates the Bellport-based M3 Technology, an aerospace firm that also focuses on defense solutions.
“To not be able to go there [Riverhead] was tough and disappointing,” Bonsignore said. “It’s your home track and all of your friends and family come to see you race. Hopefully, we get back there next year as things get back to normal.”
He also credited crew chief Ryan Stone for the team’s success in 2020.
“Our cars are well prepared,” Bonsignore said. “They bring fast cars to the track each week. We can work on the important things that we need to help the cars for the race.”
Bonsignore never finished worth than fifth in a race this year. He’s the only driver in 2020 to finish inside of the top five in every race.
Miller Place’s Craig Lutz finished fourth in the championship standings, earning a pair of wins. It’s the first time he’s won multiple contests in a single season. And Riverhead’s Dave Sapienza ended the year seventh in the standings.
En route to Bonsignore’s first championship, he won eight of 16 races. In 2019, he picked up six triumphs, but it wasn’t enough to defeat Doug Coby, who took home his sixth title. And if he’s fortunate to win a third championship, the celebration would truly be spectacular.
“The Modified Tour will be my home for as long as I’m able to race,” he said. “My goal is to win as many races as I can and contend for the title each year. All you can ask for is to have a shot at it at the end of the year. We’re trying to continue this stretch that we’ve been on for three years. As long as we can keep our team together, I think we should have a shot at winning a few more.”