Race car driver Justin Bonsignore will be the first one to tell you that speed is relative. True enough, but any way one cuts it, he has been driving pretty darn fast, speeding past many cars and winning plenty of auto races over the years.
In fact, three of the last four NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championships have been claimed by Bonsignore, a fine run, to be sure. The defending champion knows consistency is key.
“We’ve won them all different ways,” he said. “The first one we won it in half the races. Last year we only won two races, you know. Most importantly, it’s minimizing your bad days and try and run in the top three, top five each and every week, and if you do that every week, most likely you’ll be in contention to contend at the end of the year for the championship.”
This season has been a mixed bag for Bonsignore, with highs and lows. He has won two of the seven WMT races this season, had three top-five finishes and five top-10s. That currently leaves the Holtsville driver in fifth place with 239 points, 33 behind the leader, Ron Silk of Norwalk, Ct.
But Bonsignore knows there isn’t much room for error when it comes to winning a championship.
“We had two mechanical issues that took us out of the races, just, you know, freak things that usually don’t happen, but we’ve had a really good last four or five years and, you know, this thing, this sport, it comes full circle and you know, it’s all going to even itself back out,” he said. “So we just hit a little bit of a bad streak, but we’ve also won two races out of [seven] so, you know, we’re in good shape as far as that’s concerned. And you know, we’re really confident in our team and we’ll get it sorted out, you know, hopefully quicker than later.”
Ken Massa, owner of Kenneth Massa Motorsports, which Bonsignore races for, said the team had no mechanical failures the previous four years, “so that is what makes that difference, you know, because on this tour, once you have one, it’s only a 16-race tour. So you have one bad outing, it’s hard to get back in” contention.
The value of a good crew chief should not be underestimated. Prior to the 2018 season, crew chief Ryan Stone joined the Kenneth Massa Motorsports team. “He was just the missing piece that we needed,” said Bonsignore.
Bonsignore travels up and down the East Coast, competing in WMT races from New Hampshire to Florida. Over the course of his 16-year career, he has 33 wins from 183 races, 99 top-five finishes and 132 top-10s to his credit. He has driven a total of 26,736 laps.
Bonsignore’s entry into motorsports began when he started racing go-karts at the age of 8.
“I was born into it,” he said. “My dad and his two brothers owned a go-karting business, sold parts, built engines. So since the day I was born, I’ve been around a racetrack and I grew up watching them race and as I got older, me and my cousins and my brother, we all started racing go-karts.”
One cousin, Kyle Bonsignore, also races on the tour and sits only two places behind Justin in the standings.
Justin Bonsignore made the second of three scheduled appearances this season at his home track, Riverhead Raceway, for the Buzz Chew Chevrolet 200 on June 25. He led the race before Kyle Soper of Manorville went in front with 10 laps to go and grabbed the victory. Bonsignore had to settle for second place.
Riverhead Raceway holds a special place in Bonsignore’s heart. He was 17 when he began weekly racing at the short track.
“It’s demanding,” he said of Riverhead Raceway’s quarter-mile track during an interview in his air-conditioned trailer before the Buzz Chew Chevrolet 200. “A lot can happen real quick. It’s hard to stay out of trouble here. There’s really no place to hide and just ride, you know, in a good, safe spot.”
Bonsignore drives a FURY powered by a Chevrolet LS2 engine. That No. 51 car has driven as fast as 150 or 160 mph on a one-mile track in Loudon, N.H., said Bonsignore.
No. 51 has been associated with Bonsignore for about 13 years, ever since Massa told him he could pick whatever number he liked. Bonsignore went with 51, the number his father, Tom, used when he raced go-karts. No. 51 has been good to him.
Does Bonsignore have a specific goal for his racing career?
“I’m pretty old as far as racing is concerned at 34, you know,” he said. “To move forward and do anything else at the national level, they’re looking for young kids and at this point in my career, I’m really content with racing on the tour for as long as I’m competitive. I’d like to do it into my 50s if I’m competitive with it, but now I have no aspirations to do anything any further anymore. Those days have come and gone. I own a [fiber optic cable contracting] business now and just more focused on that and just having fun with my friends on the weekend going racing.”
It was through racing that Bonsignore met his soon-to-be wife, Taylor, and he still enjoys the thrill of competition.
“Right before you fire the engine up to go, you got that adrenaline rush and all that comes with it,” he said. “There’s really nothing like it.”
So, what about Bonsignore’s chances for another championship this year?
“With the bad luck we’ve had, we got ourselves in a little bit of a hole, but you know, we’re not out of it by any means,” he said. “We just have used up all our mulligans as far as that’s concerned and we used up more than we should have, so it’s going to take some good luck on our part. It’s going to be a tough hill to climb, and if we do, it will be that more satisfying.”