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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour


by Polly Reid

When Jamie Tomaino unloads his Dunleavys Repair/Atlantic Sprinkler sponsored number 99 modified on Saturday May 14th at the New-London Waterford Speedbowl for the NWMT New England Cycle 161, the Howell, NJ driver will carve a new high mark in the history books with an unprecedented 600th career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour start.
Of course, thats just counting the Tour, smiles Tomaino. I was racing before that.

A lifetime career in the sport of modified racing that began with the first NWMT race in 1985 at the age of 29, Tomaino has pulled away from the competition, with no one even a close threat to making that number. Jason Cunningham, NASCAR Communications for the NWMT, did a little digging and came up with the top five- Mike Stefanik is credited with 452 NWMT starts, Ed Flemke Jr. at 439, Rick Fuller at 438 and Reggie Ruggiero at 419. Tomaino at 600 ranks off the charts.

Think about that number again, 600 starts- compare that to two sports that have a similar number of events each year. In golf, Tiger Woods has 327 PGA Tour appearances in 23 years. Jack Nicklaus is closer with 595 starts however his career spanned 48 years. How about this one? If you combine the NFL career starts of Brett Favre, 302 and Peyton Manning, 266, that adds up to 568 games. The 600 marker for Tomaino makes that number even more impressive.

Talking with Tomaino at the Thompson Icebreaker in April, yes it will be 600, but he was at all 604 NWMT events dating back to the inception of the series in 1985, missing the field only four times.

Out of 598 races, I guarantee you we were rained out 100 times. That means I had to go back, its a lot more than that. I remember we were at New Hampshire, we got snowed out, twice. We never got to race so look at that trip how many times.

I was very fortunate when the Tour began, the gentleman that was backing me wanted to travel. If it wasnt for him, I dont know if Id still be going but he gave me the drive and back then, we had 35, 36 races on the schedule the first three years. On top of that, we still had all the other tracks still racing Saturday night, even though they had a Tour show, the modifieds would actually run races also. My hometrack was Wall Stadium so if there was nothing going on Saturday, Id be at Wall Stadium racing.

His 32nd season with the Tour, the energy surrounding Tomaino is infectious, still one has to ask, what keeps the 1990 NWMT Champion going? I just know that Im so lucky, to be able to do what I wanted to do. Of course, I always wanted to be a Cup type style driver like Brett Bodine ended up being. At the same time, I look at it and he did make it, he did win a Winston Cup race and stuff, but now hes a pace car driver. And Im still racing. I may not be on top of my game as I was when I was younger but Im still half way competitive, I have a good time, my family has a good time and I still like going.

The support from his family has been key in his career. My wife Cheryl, shes been with me since the beginning. When she was a stay at home mom, she didnt get to go a lot. Then as the kids got older, little by little, they were coming to help me. As a matter of fact, my older son Jamie, at Tommy Baldwin Racing, hes the boss in the shop. And my other son Trey also works there as the head interior specialist. My daughter Brittany, shes still with me, she jacks the car. When the Tour started, Cheryl was there, she handles a lot.

Cheryl Tomaino has been through it all 600 and counting. Im real proud of him. Jamie has been present for everyone of the races since the beginning of the Tour. He might be getting his 600th race at Waterford but hes been to all 604. Thats something Im very proud of. Cheryls support continues to be the fuel for Jamies passion. I cant wait for that 600th race. I think its something that Jamies so proud of. And I know nobody else is going to get that because racing today, you only run what, 18 races? Back in the day, we raced tons. I like getting out, going racing, having fun, I know a lot of these people- were getting older and I like the thought of keeping young by keep doing things. The fact that we can still do it, I want to do it. I love racing, racing is what I know.

Jamie paused from checking over his car at the Icebreaker to talk about something else hes proud to be a part of. I was lucky enough last year to get hooked up with the Dowling family. I didnt know them that good, then the son helped me pit my car for a couple of races. Im usually short help because nowadays, everyone gets paid he helped me pit my car and during the off season, Dunleavy came to me, I always have two race cars- he came to me and asked what are the chances you let the Dowlings have your other car so the kid can race because nobody is giving him a chance. He told me the kid had won a race at Stafford at 16 years old. I thought about it and I said, lets do that. Lets give this kid a chance. Everything went excellent last year and he ended up being Rookie of the Year, and guess what? Everybody knows who Chase Dowling is now. I hope he excels, I think he will.

Things have changed over the years, no question about that. But what hasnt changed is the drive that Tomaino has to still compete. I feel my car is as good as anybodys but because I dont have the man power to help me, pay a crew chief and all that kind of stuff, it hurts me and I know that. Today, Im content if I finish 15th and my car is in one piece, Ive had a good day. Of course, thirty years ago, I wasnt but most of the time I was either crashing or I was out in the front. Now I know what Im up against. Itd be easy to quit. A lot of people say Im too old or why are you still doing this or whatever, I understand that, but Im content with it. When this race is over tonight, well load the car up and Ill get in the truck and drive the truck home just like we did in the old days. But actually, in the old days, you used to leave here and go somewhere else to race.

Approaching 60 in July, doing something else is not on Tomainos radar however he is aware that down the road, that could change. Ive got two grandchildren now with my son Jamie, they are six and seven years old now. As soon as one of them gets in my car and says Grandpa I can reach the pedals, can I drive it? Then I would say OK and Im going with him.

For now, this Saturday at the New London Waterford Speedbowl, its hats off to Tomaino and the whole family as they celebrate the historic milestone. Heres one last look at just how big 600 is with this: Based on a 17 event a year race schedule, if eighteen-year old Chase Dowling races every single Tour race for the next 34.4 years, IF he does not stop or miss any races - Dowling has an outside shot of tying Jamies record of 600 starts. Whoever is around in year 2050, please congratulate 52 year old Dowling on catching this milestone. Then please, write about it. These things only come along once in a lifetime.
Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
: May 9, 2016

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