Racin’ With Jason: Wade Cole remembered as ‘racer’s racer’

  • Wade Cole, driver of the No. 33 car on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, died last weekend at age 67. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 3/19/2020 4:35:33 PM
Modified: 3/19/2020 4:35:23 PM

The New England auto racing scene is filled with good guys and gals. One of those is no longer with us, as he died doing what he loved.

Wade Cole was one of the mainstays of the Whelen Modified Tour. His No. 33 car made the field 371 times, eighth most since the Tour’s inception in 1985. Cole was a true racer’s racer, hauling his car on a flatbed truck, while most of his competition toted theirs in fancy haulers.

Cole was found dead Monday morning at age 67, in an accident while working on his racecar at his home in Hartland, Conn, according to multiple sources. He was preparing for another season as one of the true underdog stories in racing.

There was the aforementioned flatbed truck with six tires on the overhead rack. His crew was all volunteer. I ran into a couple of them in a restaurant after a race at Loudon, N.H., a few years ago and they were as humble and down to earth as the driver.

Cole was also First Selectman in Hartland, where one of his employees was my cousin, Patty. She told me of his death and was very emotional about it.

“So sad about the loss of my boss and friend,” she messaged me. “I loved that man.”

That’s a sentiment summed up by competitors and fans alike. Cole might not have been at the front of the field — his best finish was eighth twice — but he was a steady presence on the track. No matter where the Tour went, No. 33 was there on the flatbed truck in the pits, sticking out like a working-class sore thumb. Fans love it when you’re there consistently and you’re a hard worker. Wade Cole, who got his start in racing working on the No. 33 when his father drove it, was one of them.

“I’m old school,” Cole told Speed51.com in 2018. “That’s the way everyone did it in the old days and it’s just the way I’ve always done it.”

Cole will be missed on the Whelen Modified Tour this season, whenever it begins. The first three events, starting this weekend at South Boston, Va., have been postponed due to concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus.

According to the Hartford Courant, Cole began working for the town of Hartland in 1975 as a member of the highway crew, and he became foreman in 1991. He was elected First Selectman in 2003.

ON HOLD: As mentioned in the previous item, the first three Whelen Modified Tour races — South Boston, the Thompson Icebreaker and the Stafford Spring Sizzler — have been postponed due to the coronavirus.

The Thompson race will be made up May 15-16, while the Stafford event is set for May 30-31. No makeup date has been announced for South Boston.

The moves are part of a NASCAR-wide postponement of all events until at least May 3.

“The health and safety of our fans, industry and the communities in which we race is our most important priority, so in accordance with recent CDC guidance, NASCAR is currently postponing all race events through May 3, with plans to return racing in Martinsville,” NASCAR president Steve Phelps said in a statement Monday. “We appreciate the patience of our fans and we look forward to returning to the race track. We intend to hold all 36 races this season, with future rescheduling soon to be determined as we continue to monitor this situation closely with public health officials and medical experts. What is important now transcends the world of sports and our focus is on everyone’s safety and well-being as we navigate this challenging time together.”

While it will be tough for the NASCAR Cup Series to run all 36 races on its schedule, I believe it will try its hardest. The only problem with extending the schedule past its mid-November conclusion is cutting into an offseason that is already one of the shortest in sports. It will also take time away from teams working on and learning the NextGen car that will begin racing next year.

VIRTUAL COMPETITION: With races on hold, drivers and crew members needed their racing fix.

For some, the solution is simple: iRacing.

The computer simulation, on which participants can “drive” on a plethora of tracks, is gaining popularity. Last weekend, drivers raced at their scheduled track — Atlanta Motor Speedway — on iRacing. The move was so popular that NASCAR has sanctioned a series of exhibition races beginning this weekend at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series will mimic the Cup Series schedule and will include participants from all three national series and other NASCAR dignitaries such as retired star Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Christopher Bell are among those scheduled to take part.

But this is hardly NASCAR’s first foray into the world of esports. It has sanctioned the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series for 11 seasons, in which 40 of the best simulator drivers compete for $300,000 in prize money. Several famous drivers own “teams” in the series.

The topic of racing simulation is a polarizing one in the racing community, as some believe it should be taken as seriously as cars on asphalt. No matter what side you come out on, anything that brings drivers together can’t be too bad.

Jason Remillard is a copy editor and page designer at the Greenfield Recorder. He can be reached at jremillard@recorder.com and followed on Twitter @racinwithjason.

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