(PRESS RELEASE FROM NASCAR INTEGRATED MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS)
John-Michael Shenette’s Modified Tour debut at Langley is the ultimate bucket-list checkmark
John-Michael Shenette’s road to Saturday night’s CheckeredFlag.com 150 at Langley Speedway was neither short nor straight. His tale is one of dedication and determination to chase a goal that seemed out of reach.
The 37-year-old from Thompson, Connecticut has dreamed of racing on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour since he was 10. Almost three decades later, he will realize that dream when the green flag flies at the Hampton, Virginia NASCAR Home Track.
The moment will not be lost.
“When I was younger, [the Modified Tour] was the division that was always untouchable,” Shenette said. “It was a goal I never once thought I could obtain and achieve.
“At 37, I kind of looked at the bucket list of things I haven’t checked off in my life, and I thought, ‘That’s the one I need to go do.”
Shenette started racing when he was 7; his parents purchased his first quarter midget car at a Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park swap meet. He said racing “has been a passion on and off” ever since that day, depending on when the family was able to fund his racing efforts.
Shenette raced that quarter midget at Little T Speedway located behind Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. From there, he progressed to racing Super Late Models across the Northeast.
Fast-forward to 2016. At this point married, Shenette was still pursuing his racing dreams. He and his wife Nicole decided to move to North Carolina in search of a better climate, additional racing opportunities and a more fulfilling life.
“When I moved to North Carolina, I quit my job,” Shenette said. “I moved on my 30th birthday. I’d had enough of the corporate world up North, and I said enough is enough.”
The couple packed their bags, loaded Shenette’s race car into an enclosed trailer and made the drive south from Connecticut. Within a few days of arriving in North Carolina, Shenette raced at the now-defunct Concord Speedway.
Many things went Shenette’s way over the years that followed, but his racing opportunities became few and far between. He eventually sold his race car back to Dale Shaw, the man who built it, with the agreement that he would lease the car and race it occasionally in the Northeast.
His last race to date came in 2019 at New Hampshire’s Claremont Motorsports Park in that very race car. But the event didn’t go as planned. A violent crash at Claremont left Shenette reassessing his priorities.
“I popped an ear drum; it was a tough race,” Shenette said. “My daughter at the time was 6 months old. My wife watched the wreck on television from home in North Carolina. She kind of freaked out, and I said, ‘I’m not doing this. Not with a 6-month-old child at home.’”
Shenette took a hiatus from racing so he could focus on his family and business. He’s since enjoyed a successful career; he owns a general contracting company that has given him the freedom to enjoy life the way he sees fit.
Yet buried at the back of his mind remained Shenette’s dream of racing on the Modified Tour. That dream returned to the forefront when he took a trip to Bristol Motor Speedway in 2021 to watch the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race.
“I went with my dad,” Shenette said. “I walked into Bristol and, no joke, I got butterflies and choked up a little bit.”
That’s when Shenette decided to live his dream, and he was going to do it on his terms. He began the process of acquiring everything he would need, including a new race car from LFR Chassis and an engine from Tony’s Competition Engines in Albemarle,
The process took more than two years, but Shenette is finally ready to race a Modified.
“Ten-year-old me didn’t think I was talented enough to go race the Whelen Modified Tour,” Shenette said. “Thirty-seven-year-old me doesn’t even think about that. My path is very different. I didn’t get discovered at a race track or anything like that. The chances of that actually happening are very slim.
“My path — and I always knew this — was if I went to school and got a degree and worked hard, and I went out there and built a business and all that, then I could do whatever I want. I knew my path to racing was success in the classroom.”
Shenette heads to Langley this weekend as confident as he’s ever been, but he knows he’ll face some growing pains during his first Tour race. He’ll work through those unknowns alongside crew chief Scott Morin, as well as his spotter Angel Jaime, his father John Shenette and fellow crew members Mark Connolly and Stephen Robinson.
“I’ve never raced a Modified,” said Shenette, whose car will carry sponsorship from Heintz Performance and his own business, Eight-Two Services General Contractor. “We’ve practiced it a bunch of times. But I truly do believe with the car and the people we have, we can bring this car to the track on Saturday and compete — and compete really, really well.
“If you want to go race with the best, you go race with the best.”
Beyond Saturday’s race at Langley, Shenette hopes to join the Modified Tour for two more races this year, the Brushy Mountain Powersports 150 at North Wilkesboro Speedway and the season finale at Martinsville Speedway.
Shenette wants his story serves as inspiration for anybody who still yearns to make a career for his or her self in racing. That includes his 5-year-old daughter, who has already informed her parents she has big plans for her future.
“I get to watch my daughter grow up, and she told me the other day — I don’t know whether she’s going to do it or not — she told me she doesn’t want to grow up and go to college,” Shenette said. “She wants to be a professional race-car driver. That’s what she told me and her mother. I was like, ‘Well, if that’s truly what you want to do, then we’re going to try and make something happen.’
“It’s hard work. It’s understanding how cars work, and it’s understanding how to set up a race car and understanding the nuts and bolts and pieces that go into making it so that you can go build a lifestyle that allows you to go racing.
“If it’s truly a passion, find ways to get involved. Become a spotter, become a crew member, jump on a team. Just be around the sport, soak it in, learn as much as you can. Then go bust your ass to go figure out how to make it work for you.”
Once Shenette realizes his dream and races his Modified at Langley, he’ll embody that mindset.