For even the most seasoned NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour operations, the path to a championship typically requires years of sacrifice and perseverance before a serious run.
Tyler Haydt and Joe Yannone needed just two seasons to reach that milestone.
With an all-star roster consisting of Ron Silk as the driver and Phil Moran as the crew chief, Haydt Yannone Racing put together an efficient year that saw the team win five races and lead 644 laps as an organization, all of which helped them claim both the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver‘s and owner‘s championship.
The euphoria from those accomplishments has yet to wear off for Yannone, who is elated about the progress he, Haydt and the rest of the organization have made in a short amount of time.
“It was really special,” Yannone said. “Everybody worked hard all year to get to this point, from the guys who worked on the tires to those who did the cooking. This is a special moment and something I‘ll never forget. I know Tyler feels the same way.”
The pairing of Yannone with Haydt is one that would seem unlikely upon a glance at their respective backgrounds.
Yannone never considered himself a motorsports fan growing up, but he was regularly surrounded by people who were involved with Modified racing in the northeast. This includes his friendship with Haydt, who had previously competed on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2005, earning a single top-five finish in 16 appearances.
All the stories Yannone heard about Modifieds gradually got him more interested about potentially getting involved with the discipline. When he met Haydt for lunch one day, he asked about potentially partnering up to form their own team.
The two officially had their first car one week later.
Both Haydt and Yannone were determined to build their program the right way. Being familiar with the grind of Modified racing, Haydt knew he and Yannone would have to start small and recruit people who had experience winning on a regular basis.
Silk‘s arrival in 2021 was a crucial step in Haydt Yannone Racing‘s early development. The other involved hiring Moran, who was moving on from Doug Coby‘s operation at the end of that same year.
“Talking to Ron about running some open races for me is how that all got started,” Haydt said. “We moved up a little bit and were eventually ready to run the Tour. We had the equipment but just needed someone to work on the stuff. I got in touch with Phil, met with him, and he‘s been doing an awesome job since.
“We were very fortunate to put those pieces of the puzzle together.”
With everything in place to be an efficient organization on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Haydt and Yannone set out for Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway in 2022 with the goal of winning as many races as possible.
The results were not exactly what Haydt or Yannone were expecting. Silk endured his first winless NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season since 2018, but he was still in the middle of a four-way title fight in the season finale at Martinsville Speedway, where he ended up finishing second in the standings to Jon McKennedy by just six points.
Yannone admitted the biggest obstacle preventing them from visiting Victory Lane was the natural process it took for everyone to build chemistry. Despite this, the consistency the silver No. 16 Modified showed throughout 2022 left the entire Haydt Yannone Racing team optimistic about taking another step forward the following season.
“[Coming in second] was a great boost of confidence,” Yannone said. “We knew everything was meshing, so when we went into the offseason, everyone rallied to get ready for Florida. We did well in Florida that first year, but it just got away from us.”
A victory could not elude Haydt Yannone Racing during their second trip to New Smyrna. Silk found himself in a heated battle with Justin Bonsignore in the final 25 laps but managed to secure Haydt Yannone Racing their first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour trophy.
The New Smyrna finish set the tone for the rest of the 2023 season. Silk racked off one victory after another during the summer but found himself under constant duress from Bonsignore, who matched him in nearly every category.
Even though Silk barely had any breathing room when it came to maintaining the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour points lead, Haydt never once doubted his team would be the ones celebrating on the championship stage at Martinsville in November.
“We pretty much led almost the whole time,” Haydt said. “Justin got the lead from us for a couple weeks, but the last three races, we knew it was going to be him or us.”
When it came time to settle the championship at Martinsville, Silk carried a 13-point cushion over Bonsignore in one of the largest gaps between the two all year. The night proved to be an adventure for Haydt Yannone Racing after they were involved in an early wreck, but Silk kept his car in one piece and settled inside the top 10.
A sixth-place run by Silk was all that was needed for Haydt and Yannone to fulfill a dream they set out for back when they had that fateful lunch just a few years earlier.
5 wins, 15 top fives, over 640 laps led.
Ron Silk, your 2023 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion. pic.twitter.com/CLJ2hYPbZN
— NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) October 27, 2023
Haydt still finds himself in disbelief over the idea of being a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour owner‘s champion. His one year as a driver saw him go up against names like Coby, Ted Christopher, Jerry Marquis and Tony Hirschman, all of whom worked tirelessly to become legends in the discipline.
Being able to reach the top of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour was an emotional moment for Haydt, who said the stellar year is reflective of the hard work he, Yannone, Silk, Moran and everyone else put in each day.
“It‘s kind of hard to explain,” Haydt said. “This is something you work toward the whole year, so to see it actually happen is cool. You don‘t ever know if the goal is attainable, and when you finally get over that hump, it‘s gratifying.”
Even though they are now champions, Yannone said there are still plenty of aspects the organization could improve upon.
Yannone said he and Haydt have no intention of growing complacent over their championship. Once the formal celebrations conclude, they will both turn their attention toward 2024 to try and stay one step ahead of Bonsignore and the rest of their fellow competitors.
“We want to try and do a little bit better at qualifying,” Yannone said. “I‘d love to see us get some poles since we didn‘t get any this past year. Other than that, we want to keep the momentum going and be consistent, because consistency is always the key.”
With Silk back in the driver‘s seat for 2024, expectations are high for Haydt Yannone Racing as they look to defend their titles and cement themselves as one of the best teams currently racing on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.