It was a story that nobody expected to have to write, but one that captivated the audience once it was written. Last Tuesday night, Tyler Rypkema shocked the Tour-type Modified world when he scored his first career victory at New Smyrna Speedway (FL). The win was big for the Upstate New York young gun, but maybe an even bigger victory for the Race of Champions (RoC) Asphalt Modified Tour.
With the car count and competition higher than it had been in many years, Rypkema fended off a cast of winners and champions to win his first race in a Tour-type Modified. The win was a true underdog story, and one that proved that the competitors from the RoC Tour aren’t playing second fiddle to anybody.
Rypkema, who finished top five in RoC points during the 2016 season, didn’t treat the five night of racing as a business trip. Instead, he took a different, more laid back approach while going in with a run-hard attitude.
“It was really cool to be able to go down there, that’s our vacation; we don’t just go down there to race,” Rypkema told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We went in planning to just finish all the races, if we had a couple of decent runs we’d be happy. We had a great run with the win, but we had problems and didn’t finish all the races, but it is what it is.”
Although the team didn’t meet their overall goal, Rypkema took joy in the win and was appreciative of his fellow RoC competitors that he races against up North. Many of them sent him congratulations, including Jimmy Zacharias, who raced Rypkema for the win and posed for a photo with him in victory lane.
“It was huge, I had guys from the RoC that I race with on a weekly basis calling and texting and everything. Chuck Hossfeld congratulated me, so did Matt Hirschman. It was pretty cool; it’s like a big family up here on the RoC, they all came together and cheered on all the RoC guys in Florida.”
One spectator who was in attendance that night was Race of Champions promoter Joe Skotnicki, who also believes that Rypkema will be a key competitor for years to come.
“Tyler’s come a long way in the last year; he’s a young kid who possess all of the talent and attributes that it takes to win. He’s got great equipment and his dad is just an incredible individual,” Skotnicki said. “I was very proud of their effort and accomplishment, they had some issues going through tech on Sunday and gave me a call, and we discussed things. They are real people and Tyler has a bright future.”
Rypkema is equally proud of the effort Skotnicki has put into the RoC Tour since taking over the series a year ago.
“Joe’s a great guy, got a great series going on with great competition up here. He’s got a nice range of tracks we go to and it seems like he’s really putting in a lot of effort in the RoC.”
While Skotnicki felt that the week was big for the RoC, he also believes it was big for the sport as a whole, and that there should be more opportunities in the future.
“It’s unique, what they do at New Smyrna brings all of the worlds together. If all of us that administer Modified racing sat down and really thought about it, we probably ought to do a little bit more work like that,” Skotnicki commented. “It’s really healthy for the sport, not just from the RoC standpoint, but if you’re a Modified guy, the division has gone through some tough times and now we’ve got some young and upcoming talents, Tyler being one of them. Tommy Catalano is another. Chuck Hossfeld is a veteran, Matt Hirschman is one of the best of his generation. You had great RoC racers, but you also had Preece, Bonsignore and all these guys that emphasize their careers around Modified racing. It would be great to have more events like that.”
As for the upcoming RoC season, Rypkema is hoping they can take some momentum forward, as they did from Speedweeks in 2016. At the same time, though, he is being realistic about his expectations.
“We noticed last year when we came back from New Smyrna to run the RoC, we were a lot more fresh,” Rypkema explained. “It was easier to get quicker laps and be more consistent. One of the reasons we went down this year was to build up for the season, maybe not to contend for a title but I would definitely like to take more steps to get there eventually. I don’t see why getting another top five in points would be out of the question, build on that, hopefully get a win this season. If we don’t get a win, that’s fine, it’s coming eventually. I’m not going to push the issue, not put myself in a bad position that would end up with wrecked racecars. We’ll take our time and the win will eventually come.”
The Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour kicks off their 2017 season on April 29 at Lancaster National Speedway in New York.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/Bruce Nuttleman