CORONA, California — A few minutes after midnight on Sunday Ryan Partridge said one reason he had run the Lucas Oil Modified Series race at Tucson Speedway April 9 was because he felt it “would be a good precursor” to another race on the 3/8-mile paved oval next month.
The way Partridge ran the race, by staying out of trouble and out of the spotlight for the first 50 laps then leading the final 10 to win the GEICO Arizona Shootout, could be a precursor to what’s in store for his rivals when he does compete in the series.
Partridge, a 27-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga, California, had planned to make his Modified debut last September at Irwindale (California) Speedway, but wasn’t happy with the recently-purchased Race Car Factory Chevrolet in practice and took it home to make several changes.
He unveiled the reworked car at Kern County Raceway in late February by winning the Winter Showdown special event after a late race battle with reigning Modified champion Austin Barnes.
Partridge missed the first race of the Modified championship season March 19 because he was competing in the K&N West series, where a title is his objective. But Saturday, in his return to the Modified Series, he again dominated the latter portion of the 75-lap race to take the win over Matthew Hicks, Larry Gerchman, Travis Thirkettle and Barnes.
The good news at the moment for those chasing Partridge is that he will miss at least two more Modified events due to his K&N commitments. The bad news is that he should be at the next Modified race April 30 at Irwindale, where he won back-to-back Late Model championships and has worked as a race driving school instructor.
“That was a fun race,” Partridge said. “It was like we thought it was going to be, a race of attrition. This is a very abrasive track. They sealed it a few weeks ago, which just kind of brought up the grip level. But it’s still abrasive. It just kind of brought heat with the abrasion.
“I think we did our job as far as conserving. It was on rails there at the end. It’s really frustrating. These are 700-horsepower, 2500-pound cars on a treaded (8-inch Hoosier) tire and toward the end of the race we were literally (using) 1/16th throttle down the straightaway (because of traction problems).
“I think we saved just enough to move a little bit when we needed to move, when we had to move. It seemed like it worked out from my perspective.”
Partridge smiled slightly then, one of those “cat that ate the canary” grins that was a perfect end to a weekend that began with a lightning strike just outside the pits, continued with the closest pole position fight in the series’ 11-year history and concluded with an extremely competitive race featuring two-wide and three-wide racing almost continually.
Series promoter Greg Scheidecker said the lightning strike was about 60 feet from where he stood talking with other series officials and called it “devastating. It was the loudest explosion I’ve heard since Viet Nam.”
The lightning struck the ground but fortunately no one was injured and no equipment damaged. Nor did it interfere with race preparations, which was a good thing for Taylor Miinch.
Miinch, who showed up with a new car that never had been tested, got the Lineer/King Taco STR Chevrolet sorted well enough to win his first series pole by .001 seconds over Barnes. Miinch ran a lap in 15.655 seconds to 15.656 for Barnes, who has 29 poles. In all, 18 of the 27 qualifiers were under 16 seconds.
Miinch started fourth after the invert, but on lap 9 took the lead from front-row starter Scott Winters, who had won at Tucson a year ago. Miinch set the pace until Gerchman took it away from him on lap 34.
The 61-year-old Gerchman had qualified fifth and won the Trophy Dash and appeared to have a car capable of winning if the yellow caution flags hadn’t started waving. The first one, on lap 52, let the field close up on him and Barnes, who had been pressuring the leader for a dozen laps.
Partridge, who had started seventh and run in the top 10 all night, roared from fifth to second on the restart. He and Gerchman ran side by side, Partridge on the low side and Gerchman in the high groove, until Partridge finally pulled ahead for good on lap 66. Hicks, who had started 14th, took second when Gerchman was bumped and had to check up on a restart after the third caution.
That runner-up finish also makes Hicks the leader in the Hoosier Tire West point standings after two of the 10 championship races.
-Lucas Oil Modified Series Press Release
-Photo Credit: Lucas Oil Modified Series