DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will have a new full-time team in 2010 with the formation of Heinke-Baldwin Racing.
Al Heinke and Tommy Baldwin announced in a press release that they have partnered to field a full-time entry in the coming season with driver Erick Rudolph. The pair joined forces last year for the UNOH Perfect Storm 150 at Bristol Motor Speedway with Heinke as the car owner and Baldwin as the crew chief of the entry driven by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Kasey Kahne. Baldwin was also the crew chief for Kahne's Whelen Modified Tour debut in last June's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Heinke has a history of involvement in a variety of northeast racing series as a driver, owner, crew chief and engineer. Baldwin has forged a successful Sprint Cup Series career as a crew chief, and now as owner of Tommy Baldwin Racing. He is the son of the late Tom Baldwin Sr., who had a long and distinguished driving career in the Whelen Modified Tour.
Behind the wheel will be Rudolph, who will turn 18 in January. From Ransomville, N.Y., Rudolph made his Whelen Modified Tour debut with nine starts in 2008 and registered five top fives in his family-owned car. Last year he competed in all 13 races in a split schedule that included his family car, and the No. 59 of owner Ed Bennett. Rudolph became the youngest driver in Whelen Modified Tour history to earn a victory when he took the checkered flag at Spencer Speedway in July, and he finished 12th in the standings.
Heinke-Baldwin Racing (HBR) also plans to field a second car for half of the 14-race 2010 schedule. Kahne is expected to be in the second entry for Bristol and the June New Hampshire race and they plan to put Bobby Santos in the car at least five times. Kahne had finishes of 28th and 31st in those two races last year, while Santos has a win and 12 top 10s in 29 career Whelen Modified Tour starts.
The Whelen Modified Tour teams are part of HBR's long-term goal of driver development, which also includes fielding a Modified on the dirt circuit with driver Jimmy Phelps.
"I'm really excited to get back into the short track program," Baldwin said in the press release. "This new team is really important to us because we've got some young and talented drivers with Erick Rudolph, Bobby Santos and Jimmy Phelps, and we want to develop a program which allows us to nurture young talent and to groom them into top-level stars, hopefully getting them into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ranks with Kasey Kahne someday."
• Chuck Hossfeld will get behind the wheel of Bennett's No. 59 in 2010 after making just a pair of starts in his own car last year. Bennett, whose previous involvement as a car owner has been on a partial schedule basis, plans to field his No. 59 full-time for Hossfeld, who will have his own car available to race if needed. Hossfeld has seven wins and 66 top 10s in 113 career starts and has finished in the top five in points in four of the six seasons in which he has competed full-time. The No. 59 was piloted by Rudolph in 2009, and Matt Hirschman prior to that.
• Ron Silk has been tabbed to take over full-time for owner Ed Partridge. Silk made two starts for Partridge in 2009 that resulted in a win in the September New Hampshire race and the pole at Martinsville Speedway. Silk has four wins and 30 top 10s in 67 career starts. Keith Rocco finished 2009 in Partridge's No. 12 after he took over for Jimmy Blewett, who departed from the team mid-season. Partridge plans to run No. 6 on his Modified with Silk in 2010.
• Hillbilly Racing team manager David Hill has confirmed that James Civali will be back in the No. 79 in 2010 with the goal of competing for both the NASCAR Whelen Modified and Whelen Southern Modified Tour championships. There are just two schedule conflicts that will challenge the team in their quest to run both Tours. Hillbilly Racing also plans to enter a second car with Corey LaJoie behind the wheel in select races across both Tours. LaJoie, the son of two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion Randy LaJoie, made three starts in the NASCAR Camping World Series East last year with a best finish of third in the season finale at Dover International Speedway.