The final race of 2019-2020 winter season for the Speed51 Elite Modified Tour gave the season the send off it deserved and then some, as another pair of Northeast real-world drivers battled to the last lap on the sim version of Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Tuesday night. In the end, it was Long Island Legend Car driver Ryan Lutz who claimed the final checkered flag of the season.
In a yellow filled 80-lap feature, the field would shake down to Lutz battling a red-hot Michael Christopher Jr. in the closing laps. Christopher, a Connecticut SK Modified driver who ironically scored his first Mod win at the real Thompson last May, threw everything he could at Lutz’s red 36, including one final dive into turn one. Ultimately, Christopher came up short of a back-to-back win, while Lutz scored a win to close the season out.
“Oh man, he was coming. He got into three really good, my car wouldn’t go over the bump, I don’t know if I was hitting it wrong or if I was entering too high, but he was closing fast,” Lutz said afterwards. “I knew if I just kept hitting my marks he would have one shot left. I saw him dip down into one, I was like ‘here it is,’ and I wasn’t going to throttle up because I knew he wasn’t going to make the corner. I figured it was coming at some point. Luckily we were able to avoid a collision and come out with a victory.”
Christopher meanwhile overcame poor qualifying and an early penalty by avoiding several wrecks ahead of him. While he felt he had the car in the end, there was not enough time, and perhaps too much patience on his end.
“First of all, I qualified terrible like always, but I’ve learned to use a strategy later in the season if I did qualify bad. I got the black flag and sent to the rear. Somehow, made it back to the front. I don’t know, I was just too nice. I know I had time and I wanted to do it kind of right. There was those instances when Lutz would hit the bump and move up the track and I would drive into him. Last lap was just a desperation move, maybe it looked good for the fans, but he saw it and checked up.”
While being frustrated over the race’s outcome, Christopher was even more upset that the season came to an end just as he had hit his stride, vowing to pick up where he left off in the next season.
“I’m pissed at myself for being too nice, could’ve won that race. But, I’m also mad that it’s over, this has been a great league, thanks to everyone that puts it on and Speed51 for broadcasting it. Not sure when it starts up again, but I’ll be ready for when that happens.”
Before Christopher Jr. rose to challenge him, Lutz had to deal with early leader and his best friend Brandon Wilkinson, who wanted to add a race win after he had locked up the season title in the penultimate race at Martinsville. This led to some intense restarts against each other.
“The restarts were treacherous, I lined up beside my best friend Brandon Wilkinson every restart on the outside. He would nail the side of me every time. It was tough to hold the car on the bottom when I was the leader, so I chose the outside to get a good launch off two. Brandon is a good racer and it’s Thompson racing the way the banking is set up,” said Lutz.
The battle would be cut short when Wilkinson spun on the backstretch with 30 laps to go. He was able to climb back to third, not getting a final yellow to put him back in winning contention. Still, it was a season ending performance that the real-world spotter from Rhode Island was able to hold his head high about.
“Congrats to ol’ Lutz on the win, I knew I kind of ran him up a couple of times, but I kind of had that one coming back to me. Just great to be able to rebound and finish third. That kind of showed what kind of season we had and we were able to overcome anything. All the guys at Epyk Media, and all the guys at The Posse, really appreciate them all,” Wilkinson said.
With the season now over, Wilkinson will savor his title while waiting for a chance to defend it in the months to come.
“This is phenomenal, we’ve never been able to put a run together like this to compete for a championship. It’s been kind of what happened tonight, checkers or wreckers, or you just kind of lose interest. But, Chad did a great job with Elite, bringing Speed51 and SymTV on, the interest was kept up for sure, and I’ve got a lot of awesome people behind me that I couldn’t do without.”
To watch a replay of the season finale click here.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT