Racing at Daytona International Speedway was not something Justin Bonsignore had on his 2024 bingo card.
The three-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion will get the chance to do just that when the ARCA Menards Series opens its 2024 season on Feb. 17 with the Daytona ARCA 200.
Bonsignore will make his ARCA and Daytona debut driving the No. 30 entry for Rette Jones Racing. He never would have reached this point if not for the Road to Daytona program, which gives NASCAR touring and regional champions the chance to turn laps at the legendary superspeedway during the annual ARCA pre-race practice.
Originally, the opportunity to take part in the pre-race practice was offered to 2023 Modified Tour champion Ron Silk. But when he was unable to fit the opportunity into his schedule, it was offered to Bonsignore, the 2023 runner-up.
“Obviously Ron Silk was unable to attend, and they reached out to me because I was next in line,” Bonsignore said. “I thought it was a really good opportunity to run laps at Daytona. I think that happened on a Thursday.
“On Friday and Saturday, I started thinking, ‘If I enjoy the test as much as I think I’m going to, we should probably try looking into seeing if we could put together a deal with a team.’”
Before he even made it to the pre-race practice, Bonsignore started making phone calls. One of the first he made was to fellow Modified racer Andy Seuss, who is a regular face in the ARCA garage as part of KLAS Motorsports.
“He gave me a lot of insight on what to look for at the pre-race practice and teams and this and that,” Bonsignore said. “He said, ‘You should call Mark Rette. I think he’s in need of a driver.’ I made a call to David Lewis at Roush Yates Racing Engines, my engine builder on the Modified Tour who does a lot of ARCA stuff. He reached out to Mark on my behalf immediately.”
Rette, the co-owner of Rette Jones Racing alongside partner Terry Jones, knew Bonsignore was big on the Modified Tour, but he didn’t know much more than that.
When Lewis connected the two, Rette did a little research and quickly realized Bonsignore is a three-time series champion who ranks fourth on the all-time series win list.
In other words, Bosnignore knows how to drive.
“I’m from the Northeast. I’m New Jersey born and bred guy. The Modified Tour, those cars, I love them,” Rette said. “I’d always known Justin’s name. I obviously have tried to keep up with those guys and watch them. Those cars are near and dear to my heart from my childhood.
“I started googling. I’ve known the name, I’ve known the Bonsignore name and watched him race. I never realized he won three Modified Tour championships and is fourth on the all-time win list. The things that he has accomplished most recently in the last couple years … wow. It was way more than I thought.”
Initially, Rette wasn’t sure he would have space for Bonsignore in his program at Daytona. He had been working with Frankie Muniz, who raced for the team during the 2023 ARCA Menards Series season, about potentially competing at Daytona again.
However, in the weeks following the Daytona pre-race practice, Rette’s deal with Muniz fell apart. That opened the door for Bonsignore to fill the seat and make his ARCA Menards Series debut at Daytona.
“Up until two weeks ago, we were working on a program to put Frankie in the car for some ARCA races. Frankie was wanting to go to Daytona, and we couldn’t get the deal put together. Fortunately as one door closes, another door opens,” Rette said. “I picked up the phone and called Justin. We talked pretty much every other day, anyway. I said let’s put this deal together.”
From a logistical standpoint for Bonsignore, things really couldn’t have worked out any better.
He’ll first travel to Charlotte for a seat fitting in the Rette Jones Racing ARCA car on Wednesday, Feb. 7 before making his way to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to compete in the Modified Tour opener on Saturday, Feb. 10.
He’ll then spend the next few days on vacation with his family, something that was planned long before the opportunity with Rette Jones Racing developed. Then, on Feb. 15-17 he’ll turn his attention to Daytona and the ARCA opener.
“For the last three or four years we’ve actually stayed and made a nice little vacation out of it,” Bonsignore said. “We’re going to spend the whole week there and then obviously the ARCA deal will pick up on Thursday and Friday with practice and qualifying.”
From an expectation standpoint, Rette believes Bonsignore can be a threat to win given his Modified experience combined with his maturity as a driver.
“My expectations are high. I think this guy can go compete,” Rette said. “Strength is in numbers with Venturini obviously having five cars, Rev Racing having two cars. Strength is in numbers when it comes to superspeedway racing. But I think if we put ourselves in the right position, I think we can go down there and compete and have a shot at it.
“It would be a storybook thing for Justin. Modified guy comes to Daytona, races at New Smyrna in a Modified Tour car on Saturday night, and a week later he’s competing for a win at Daytona. How cool is that story?
“I want to go win this thing.”
And to think, without the Road to Daytona program, none of this would have even been possible.
“Without the call from the NASCAR to be part of the Road to Daytona program, I never even would have considered pursing it any further,” Bonsignore said. “It’s something that came together last minute and very quickly, but it’s shaping up to be a very good opportunity in front of us.”