CORONA, California — Matthew Hicks is leading the Lucas Oil Modified Series standings, hasn’t finished out of the top three this season or out of the top 10 since last June and will be at one of his favorite tracks Saturday night (May 21).
The Sunoco Fuel 75 presented by Carlyle Tools at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be the fourth stop in the 10-race championship season and Hicks is looking forward to the event, which will be Military and Veterans Appreciation Night presented by Lucas Oil.
Hicks won the 2013 season finale on the fast 3/8-mile oval and was fifth in last year’s final race. If he can win again this weekend, when 30 cars will take the green flag on, he’ll pick up a $1,500 check and contingency awards that will include a 55-gallon drum of Sunoco Fuel worth over $500 more.
That’s not bad for a driver who said he’s not the best in his own family. That honor belongs to “my mom,” Hicks said. “She’s smarter. She knows when to go and when to be patient. She sets up every move. She’s like a good chess player, she’s seven moves ahead of you.”
Shelly Hicks made a name for herself in the go-kart ranks by winning several championships while racing against the best men around but she has retired. Her son said that happened one night a dozen or so years ago when she climbed into a Legends car, her husband Matt cinched the safety harness tight and claustrophobia overwhelmed her.
That’s also one of the reasons her son traded in his hockey gear for a driver’s suit.
“I was into hockey big-time,” said Hicks, whose grandparents owned two roller skating rinks. “As soon as I was old enough to practice in the Legends car I just fell in love. It was like a light switch – on, racing; off, hockey.”
The 28-year-old from Lakeside, California, started racing that Legends car a dozen years ago and he said for a while his progress was measured in two-year cycles, from Legends to Super Trucks to Super Late Models, first at Irwindale (California) Speedway and then at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino, California, where he won last year’s Lucas Oil Modified race.
Hicks’s progress was interrupted when he missed most of the 2012 season because of the sagging economy, but early the next season things had improved enough that he was able to trade the Super Late Model for a Lucas Oil Modified with a Lefthander chassis.
“From there we kind of struggled,” Hicks said. “The STR (chassis) was killing everyone and it was like ‘we can’t keep up with this Lefthander.’ We ended up winning that one race (at Las Vegas) after we took the Lefthander to STR and Steve (Teets) put his geometry on it. The next year we decided we were going to get an STR and from then on it’s been a lot better.”
Hicks said some of those early struggles were self-inflicted because the crew was him and his father, who owned a SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour car with Mike Mendenhall and learned a good deal about chassis setups from Ron Hornaday.
“My dad likes to do our thing. He knows how I drive,” Hicks said. “It wasn’t that we didn’t want to look for help, but we knew those first couple of years it was going to be a learning curve, so we decided to do our own thing. Then when we were ready we took it to Steve. It was Steve and (2008 series champion) Jimmy Dickerson” who provided some guidance.
Hicks said when he won in Las Vegas in 2013 he “thought we were going to be a contender.” That didn’t happen right away because of the inconsistencies in the Lefthander. Then, he said, “in 2015 we got the STR and right away we led 90 laps the first race (at Lake Havasu City, Arizona) and that’s when we knew we belong here.”
There can’t be any doubt about that now. Hicks will go into the weekend atop the Hoosier Tire West point standings by 22 over Scott Winters and 24 over Kyle Tellstrom. Hicks hasn’t made it to the winner’s circle yet, finishing second twice and third once, but his frustration in that regard is balanced by his assessment of the series.
“Everyone in this series is a champion from somewhere,” he said, “so you can’t be too hard on yourself when you lose to someone. Anybody in this series when they get a top 5 they should be happy. We definitely want to win, but when you can leave with a solid finish and your car is all in one piece it’s always a good thing.
“The wins will come.”
-Lucas Oil Modified Series Press Release
-Photo Credit: Matthew Hicks Racing