What a way to start the 2014 National Whelen Modified Tour.
Luke Fleming of Mount Airy raced to a third-place finish at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 18 at the UNOH (University of Northwestern Ohio) Battle at the Beach.
Fleming, the rookie of the year last season on the tour, started the year off with a bang on the short track at “The World Center of Racing.”
“I hate to come out and say it, but I didn’t expect to have a car capable of running that close to the front,” Fleming said. “Once I qualified, I knew we were a little better than that. The car just ran great. I was just really excited. Dad and the rest of the crew got to come out on the track. I was really speechless. I wasn’t expecting to do any interviews. I was so excited, especially on that stage.”
Fleming said he had some doubts going into the race.
“Last year was our first race down there. I had a really good car last year. I got into a couple bump-ups,” he said. “This year we set up the car the same. I went down there with really high hopes. The car was a little bit off. I struggled in practice and got down on myself. Dad and Uncle Frank said, ‘You’ll be all right.’”
Fleming qualified ninth out of 33 cars for the 150-lap race, which featured a lot of cautions on the tight track, and Fleming said it was “basically just survival” for the majority of the race.
He rode anywhere from seventh to 10th all night. With 30 laps to go, he made a push toward the front. Fleming finished behind Doug Coby of Milford, Conn., and Jason Myers of nearby Walnut Cove.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour opens the championship points season April 6 at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park. The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour kicks off March 9 at Caraway Speedway in Sophia.
The non-points event at Daytona was televised live on Fox Sports.
“Probably the biggest stage of the year,” Fleming said. “Not a lot of people get a chance to run at Daytona. It was a big deal for my career. The top three finishers in the race go through an interview process. I had a couple interviews by MRN (Motor Racing Network) radio, then a Sirius Satellite Radio interview. It was really neat. It made me feel like a Sprint Cup star.”
Fleming said he couldn’t have been successful without the support of his dad, Chris, uncle (Frank Fleming), and his many sponsors. Chris and Frank Fleming plan to run in the modified division at Bowman Gray Stadium this year. Luke’s brother Jordan also races.
Luke Fleming, who started racing go-karts at age 8, won the first ever tour race he entered at Bowman Gray Stadium in 2010. He ran his first full tour last season. Fleming said 2013 was a learning year for him.
“This year we are going to run a little harder,” he said. “I had to be very careful to make sure we finished the races to get the maximum amount of points. This year is going to be way different. I’m going to go all out to try to win every race this year.”
The race at Daytona featured only a handful cars from the Southern Tour, which made the strong finish that much more satisfying for Fleming.
“We were running with the best cars in the country,” he said. “It’s a big confidence booster for me. I feel like I can definitely win this season on the Southern Tour. We are pumped up and motivated. We are planning on carrying that momentum throughout the tour, and we’ll try to win several races this year.”
Jeremy Moorhouse may be reached at 336-719-1945.