On Saturday, Ryan Preece lived out a dream he’s had since he was six years old. His dream has been to race and win at NASCAR’s highest levels. Preece, in dominating fashion, accomplished that goal by winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.
But that was Saturday. Now it’s race week again, and Preece is back at work in his shop getting his hands dirty while preparing his No. 6 Modified for Friday’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut.
“I’m a racer. It’s my job. This is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Preece told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “This is what guys used do back in the day to get rides. I’m just trying to win races, which is what racing is supposed to be about.”
The desire to win races is what led to Saturday’s race at Iowa.
Let’s go back in time to 2016. Preece signed a deal with Johnny Davis Motorsports to race their No. 01 full-time in the Xfinity Series. While it was a good deal for Preece at the time, the JD Motorsports car is at best a mid-pack car on Saturdays in NASCAR’s number-two division. Preece had one top-10 finish, a 10th at Darlington, in that 01 car.
In January, Preece made the decision to not return to JD Motorsports for 2017, even though the offer was there, and went back to the Modified racing full time. Preece said he believed he could win races if he was in a car capable of winning he races. He didn’t want to get lost and forgotten by racing a mid-pack car.
— Ryan Preece (@RyanPreece_) August 1, 2017
At the start of July, Preece and Joe Gibbs Racing announced a two-race deal. He would race at his home track of New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway. Preece finished second at New Hampshire to Kyle Busch. Then he went to Iowa and won.
“I proved to myself that I could do it. I always believed that I could, but now I’ve done it and nobody can say otherwise,” Preece said. “If they had any doubt, well now I’ve succeeded. So that was really cool. It’s really special to be honest with you. It’s something that a lot of racers that go on Speed51 dream about. So to be able to pull that off and do it is a huge accomplishment.”
His win has captured the attention of just about everybody in stock car racing. The whole NASCAR world is talking about the 26-year-old from Berlin, Connecticut. Dale Earnhardt Jr. even spent close to 15 minutes talking about Preece’s win on his podcast.
But Preece didn’t know that. He was busy preparing his car for Friday’s race at Stafford’s flat half-mile oval. Preece is his own crew chief. His TS Haulers car is owned by Eddie and Connie Partridge who live in Calverton, New York on Long Island, but the cars are stored in a garage behind Preece’s family’s house in Berlin and set up and maintained by Preece.
Learning how to setup the cars is something Preece has taken great a deal of pride. He decides what to do at the shop to have the car fast when they unload. And more often than not, Preece is fast. He’s led his team to two NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour wins this year, the Spring Sizzler at Stafford and at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT).
Preece currently sits sixth in points, 39 points behind leader Rowan Pennink. He’s missed one race this season because he married his long-time girlfriend, Heather. He may not win the championship this year, but he said the 2017 season will still mean a ton to him because of what he’s been able to accomplish.
In addition to racing the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour full time, Preece has also made starts with the new Modified Touring Series, Southern Modified Racing Series, in weekly racing at Riverhead Raceway in the NASCAR Modifieds and at Stafford and Thompson in the SK and Sunoco Modifieds. Preece has two MTS wins this year, as well as multiple wins at Thompson, Stafford and Riverhead. He also won the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing Tour-type Modified championship for the third year in a row back in February at New Smyrna Speedway. He set up the cars he drove for all of those races.
“I’m more excited about it because I’m proving things to myself when it comes to these race cars with what I’m feeling and what I’m able to do with them,” he explained. “I’m having fun with it. I enjoy setting these cars up and showing up to the race track and knowing I’m good. Once we roll off the truck typically we’re pretty good. That’s something I’m excited about.”
Since missing the May 13 race at Langley Speedway (VA) for the wedding, Preece has finished no worse than fourth. He won the next race at Thompson, finished fourth at Riverhead Raceway (NY), and finished second at New Hampshire. He also won the non-points All-Star Shootout at New Hampshire.
He had momentum on his side before the Iowa win, but now Preece is riding on Cloud-Nine.
“I think it’s huge because momentum is everything in racing. If you’re in a bad slump sometimes you feel you can’t get out of it. But I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
While making up 39 points seems to be an almost Herculean task, anything at this point is possible. When the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour left the Langley Speedway with Timmy Solomito celebrating his win in victory lane and Preece celebrating his marriage in Massachusetts, Preece trailed Solomito by 66 markers in the standings. In just three races, Preece has made up 27 points to the leader, Pennink, with nine races still left on the schedule.
Of the seven tracks remaining on the schedule, Preece has a race win of some sort at five of them. The only tracks Preece has yet to win at in any form of competition are Seekonk Speedway (MA) and Oswego Speedway (NY) though he’s come close with second-place finishes at both tracks in other touring divisions.
“We have some really good tracks coming up. The only one that is kind of a variable is Seekonk, but I’m putting a package together that I really think is going to help us there. I’ll probably try to test there within the next week or so, but I really think we’re going to have something for the second half of the season that hopefully we can go out there and dominate and win races and lead laps and get poles.”
If Preece is able to pull off the unthinkable and win the championship at the World Series in October, it would cap off an unbelievable year for him personally and professionally.
“If we’re able to win that championship it would be insane. There would be a heck of a party at the World Series. It would take a lot of heart to get something like that done. It would go to show you that anything is possible and sometimes you have to be willing to risk things.”
If Preece does not win the championship, he’ll still be back next year. He’s a racer. He races. And at the end of the day, he’s proven to himself and everyone out there that he has the talent to get it done anywhere against anyone. That’s what has him the proudest.
“I think it’s one for every short track driver out there. I know it’s cliché saying that, but there’s a lot of guys out there that dream about it and more than likely won’t be able to. So to be able to do it, it’s nice to say that there’s guys out there that can do it. Go to your local short track. I promise you.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Featured Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images