Even though it was Andy Jankowiak standing on the top step of the podium in Trenton, New Jersey in December, everybody wanted to talk about the man who finished in second. Ryan Flores surprised almost everyone that runs in the racing circles of the Northeast when he crossed the line just behind Jankowiak.
But why was it so surprising? This is a guy that swept the Legends features in New Jersey at Wall Stadium Speedway’s Turkey Derby a few years back. He’s won at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Summer Shootout, too.
“I hadn’t sat in a race car, other than go-kart stuff, since I broke my wrist at Turkey Derby in 2013,” Flores told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I haven’t run a weekly series in nine years.”
Flores, now 27, grew up near Wall Stadium Speedway in the beach town of Manasquan, New Jersey. He now lives and works down in North Carolina for Team Penske. He believes that even though he doesn’t have the opportunity to race all the time, his job gives him a bit of an advantage over the guys he’s racing against.
“The thing that helps me is a lot of the guys that race every week have to go work,” Flores said. “They build houses or something. All I do is work on race cars. My only job is to make race cars go fast and I get to do that on the grandest scale with the best equipment in racing.”
There is another reason why his run in Trenton was so impressive. That weekend marked just the second time Flores had ever sat in a TQ Midget.
“I ran Atlantic City three years ago,” he said. “I went there and hadn’t even sat in one. I was really fast in practice, qualified ninth and got wrecked in both of my heat races. We started last in the B-main. Had to finish second but we ended up finishing third. We were the fastest qualifier to not make the show. That was my only experience in one before we went to Trenton.”
Fast-forward a couple years to December, 2014. Flores came back to the TQ world and struggled the first night of the double-header weekend. He wasn’t fine with that, per se, but he wasn’t expecting to go to Trenton and light the world on fire.
“I went to Trenton just wanting to make the race,” he said.
After struggling on Friday, Flores said he sat down with successful indoor racer Jimmy Blewett and NASCAR driver Corey LaJoie to make a plan for Saturday.
“I told Corey the next day we were going to either live by that plan or die by it,” he said. “We got it right for the feature and got it where we wanted it. That thing was really fast.”
Flores proved his speed by passing cars using the outside lane; something that is rarely done in indoor racing.
“That impressed me and I think that impressed a lot of other people too,” said Flores. “You don’t see a lot of that in indoor racing. I remember being a little kid watching Lou Cicconi do it and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. So to be that guy that was roaring around the outside, that was pretty cool.”
While Flores was working his way through the field, his best friend Jimmy Blewett was watching from the infield after falling out of the race from an incident.
“I would have been just as happy if he won the race as I would have been if I won the race,” Blewett said. “I’m proud of him.”
Flores and Blewett grew up together in New Jersey. Flores said he actually lived with Blewett throughout his high school years.
“We are like brothers,” said Blewett. “Ryan is a great kid. He had a big interest in pursuing racing so he started coming to the shop and hanging around and then he became a fixture at the house.”
Flores credits a lot of his success in racing and in life to Blewett, because Blewett isn’t scared to tell Flores the truth, even if it isn’t in the kindest of ways.
“He pulled me aside during a practice and gave me a little bit of a chewin’ and told me what I was doing wrong,” said Flores. “He’s brutally honest. That’s what good friends are for. He told me what I was doing wrong and I fixed it. Even after he wrecked he was down there yelling at me from the infield.”
Now, even with preparation for Speedweeks at Daytona in full swing, Flores is ready to head back up to New Jersey for the Gambler’s Classic TQ race in Atlantic City. But Flores isn’t letting his strong run in Trenton distract him from what he feels his goals should be for this weekend.
“Just because we had one good run at Trenton, I don’t expect to go there and win,” said Flores. “But I do expect to go there and be competitive.”
Whatever does happen in Atlantic City, Flores said he owes to Blewett.
“Without Jimmy I wouldn’t be doing a thing,” he said. “He has my car in Jersey because I’m down here. He does all the maintenance on it. Without him I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor -Twitter: @RobBlount
-Feature Photo Credit: WheelsofSpeed.com