Justin Bonsignore was hoping to win Saturday’s NASCAR Modified Tour 200 at Riverhead Raceway and dedicate the victory to his 88-year-old grandfather who was buried earlier in the day.
Driving with a heavy heart after having attended his grandfather’s funeral, he was running third when a yellow was thrown with five laps remaining giving him one more shot. Engine problems, however, developed on the final lap of the green-white-checkered finish.
Instead of hoisting the trophy in the air in victory lane and pointing to the sky in memory of William Bonsignore Sr., he finished fifth with the left-rear of the Ken Massa No. 51 badly damaged and possible motor damage under the hood.
“It’s been a tough week,” said Bonsignore. “I wanted to win in his memory so bad.”
Bonsignore is from nearby Holtsville, N.Y. His father and mother, however, relocated to North Carolina with his grandfather a few years back where his dad’s two brothers live.
Justin’s father, Tom, has always been very involved in his son’s racing efforts since his days in Go-karting. His dad’s brother, Bill Jr., also races with his son Kyle who competes in Modifieds as well. A third brother, Frank, is a tire specialist working for Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR Cup racing teams.
Surprisingly, Justin’s grandfather had little interest in racing. After his death in North Carolina his body was flown back to Long Island for a military tribute burial on Saturday morning.
Justin was given special permission from NASCAR to miss the driver’s meeting if he was late arriving to the track so he could attend the burial.
“We’ve knew for some time that my grandfather wasn’t doing well fighting that evil dementia disease. It’s been tough, especially on my parents, aunts and uncles. Now he’s at rest, no more suffering or pain. It wasn’t the place I wanted to be today, but I know he was watching over us and we had a pretty good run.”
Justin has always done well at Riverhead. He was a track champion before moving on to the NWMT. In the last two years he’s won three of the four tour events with a second place finish last year to Saturday’s winner as well Timmy Solomito.
While the late yellow gave Justin a shot at Saturay’s win, it wasn’t what he wanted to see.
“I would have rather seen it play out without a caution at the end,” said Bonsignore in hindsight. “Something happened to the motor coming to the checker. It stumbled off of (turn) two and it died off of four going for second.”
The year has been a struggle for him and the team led by first year crew chief Danny Laferrier. While they sit fourth in Tour points, he’s registered no wins and Saturday’s fifth place finish was just his second top-five of the year.
“We’ve had a so-so season but showed speed tonight,” said Justin. “Hopefully we can go to Loudon (N.H.) where we had a great car and won last year and do it again.”
At the recent non-sanctioned Islip 300 at Riverhead, a small part in the motor broke and caused extensive, costly repairs.
“We made a crew chief change over the winter and we’re still trying to get things sorted out. We’re headed in the right direction, hopefully Loudon will be the place we break through,” he emphasized.
Justin timed seventh fastest on Saturday. When he passed Ryan Preece for second with 50 laps remaining he thought he still had a chance to catch and pass Solomito for the win.
“When I got to Ryan I saw he was struggling,” said Bonsignore. “When I got under him he was nice enough to let me go. I could still see Timmy at that point so I was hoping to get up there and make a charge at him but we just got way too free.”
Afterwards Bonsignore sought and congratulated Solomito, another local Long Island racer who grew up at Riverhead and has now moved on to the Tour. “Typical Riverhead,” said Bonsignore of Saturday night. “Usually one guy will hit it and Timmy did tonight. We’ve had two solid years here so it sucks not winning again.”