Although Ryan "Skip" Flores makes his money throughout the year changing tires on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit for Team Penske, soon for Brad Keselowski after years working with Ryan Blaney; he is a racer at heart. In particular, the New Jersey native has a deep passion for the Indoor Auto Racing Series events that takes place throughout the Northeast region each winter. With the temperature dropping outside and the intensity rising inside, Flores once again finds himself battling for checkered flag during the NASCAR Cup Series offseason.
On January 4, he picked up a win at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania one night after a nasty tumble in the first night of competition.
Despite the immense work involved, whether it is racing indoors in a TQ Midget or outside during the Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium Speedway (NJ) in his Street Stock, short track racing is something that Flores will not give up without a fight.
“It’s a breath of fresh air when you go back short track racing because the NASCAR deal is very corporate, and it’s a job," Flores said Monday on The Bullring. "Sometimes on the NASCAR side, with so many people involved, you feel like you’re not making a difference. When you go and you can beat some of the best guys in the Northeast with your group of friends, and you can put your brains together and build a car, make the changes over the weekend, and you end up winning that thing, you feel there’s a lot of value in that."
The victory in Allentown also thrust Flores into a major battle with Modified driver Andy Jankowiak, but in the past week-plus, the two drivers have found the time to talk it out.
“I really respect Andy and his Uncle Jake. We got to a little beating and banging and came out on top of that. That was nothing personal, that’s just racing," Flores stated. "I told Jake that, and I told Andy that. I was a little disappointed in Andy. His car got tight and the way I moved him out of the way was the cleanest way either of us were going to get out of that. I was a little disappointed he gave us a jab and gave us a flat left rear, but I understand the emotion. If he can harness his emotion with as many races he runs in a year, he can be at the next level winning races and titles.”
Next up on the racing schedule for Flores and the Indoor Auto Racing Series is the annual crown jewel in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall on the New Jersey Shore. While Allentown helped to knock the rust off, he did not consider the weekend to be simply a warmup.
“It definitely does, but there’s money being paid at the end of these races, and every one of these races is important and really hard to win when you’re getting 50-plus cars at each event. It’s hard just to qualify well and start up front just to have a chance to win one of these things.”
The Indoor TQ Midgets are considered by many in the business to be one of the most intense forms of racing around, with a tight 1/8-mile (or less) being run in less than eight seconds a lap. Despite being over the wall rather than in a car for the majority of the time now, Flores believes that role is what has made him an indoor ace.
“It’s pretty crazy with the Coke syrup, especially with how gripped up it gets when it starts to take rubber. It’s all you can do to keep your head up. Luckily, my day job changing tires really helps me slow everything down and be able to execute indoors. It’s pretty crazy, though. It’s so easy to get you heart rate up, get worked up and start missing the corner, and that helps us out,” Flores explained.
“Just like everything, it’s work. You got to work at it, and with Indoor Racing being that we don’t get to race all year, me traveling with the Cup Series 40 weeks a year, I really get to put my driving efforts towards driving the Indoor car. I do a little at Wall Stadium with the Street Stocks, but the Indoor stuff is my main focus, so that helps.”
While the Chili Bowl Nationals and the Gateway Dirt Nationals have received their props as premiere indoor racing events, Flores was quick to remind people that they can trace their roots back to one place: Atlantic City. The event operated by the Sammons family since 2003 has maintained that same tradition that started over six decades ago.
“What Cody Summers has done at the Dome and what the Chili Bowl has done is so cool, but Atlantic City has been going on since the 50’s maybe. The prestige of that place, it was built in the 1930’s and it’s still original. The stuff they have at Boardwalk Hall and the events they’ve had from Miss America to the state high school wrestling championships. I was a wrestler in high school. Plus, everything in between, concerts and all that stuff. The prestige of that venue with all the casinos around, it’s such a great event for the Northeast.”
In keeping with that tradition, the features one of the most unique rosters of drivers that you will see.
“You got guys that race from everywhere. When you’re traveling with a series like CARS or the Modified Tour, you’re racing against the same 30 guys with the same 300 people in the pits every race. When you go to Atlantic City, you’re racing against Tyler Thompson who owns the track record at Oswego, you’re racing against Erick Rudolph who wins more races in a Dirt Modified in a year than I get to race in 10. Guys like Andy J from Buffalo, all the way down to North Carolina and out to Indy. The diversity is so interesting.”
A former Atlantic City winner in 2018, Flores is still facing an uphill battle at the end of the month despite his Allentown win.
“Atlantic City is going to pose a different challenge for me. I’m not going to be there for Prelim Night on Friday, my brother-in-law is getting married in Dallas, so Lou Cicconi is going to practice the car and start in the back of the heat race on Saturday. It should work out where I have a provisional, but we don’t want to lean on that. I think the highest I could start if we win the heat race is 12th to 14th, but it could be back in 24th. It’s going to be a challenge compared to what we’re used to starting up front. It should make for a show. I think we got the best car right now, and we’ll see what we can do with it.”
The Atlantic City Indoor Race gets underway at Boardwalk Hall on Friday, January 31 with prelim night for the TQ Midgets, Champ Karts, and Slingshots. Feature racing for all three divisions takes place on Saturday, February 1.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51