21-Year-Old Tour Driver Poised To Be Face Of The Future
Don't try telling Ryan Preece about the significance of a still-blossoming career on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Don't try asking him about the historic subtext of stints in two of the most accomplished cars on the three decades-old Tour. And don't bother asking him about point standings, career victory totals or championship finishes from a couple of years ago.
Preece is intensely focused on the here and now, a trait the 21-year-old Berlin, Conn., driver seems to have possessed from day one.
“I'm the type of person, I don't think so deep into things – I just kind of 'do,'” Preece said as he stares down the Whelen Modified Tour season finale next weekend at Thompson International Speedway, the one-year anniversary of his full-time move to the Flamingo Motorsports No. 16 Diversified Metals Ford. “I was just excited to have the opportunity to drive a car and go out and try and win the race when they called me.
“I was driving for a job.”
Despite his early-career success, Preece seems to always be driving for a job.
In 2009, at just 18 years of age, Preece landed in the familiar “Ole Blue” No. 3 of Boehler Racing Enterprises and won a pair of races en route to a second-place finish in the final point standings. It seemed that his career, now in its third season on the Tour, was just about to explode.
He followed that season with another full year in “Ole Blue” before the driver and team parted ways. He was left to piece together a partial schedule in 2011 with four different teams – including the middle of the year in a car owned by his family.
Nobody, not even Preece, could have seen 2012 coming. He replaced seven-time Whelen Modified Tour champion Mike Stefanik in the No. 16 for the season finale last season and has turned that ride into a virtual mirror image of his 2009 season. Through the first 13 races of the year, he's won twice, earned six Coors Light Pole Awards and sits second in the overall standings.
On the surface, 2009 and 2012 look a lot alike.
“I didn't even expect anything this year, to be honest,” said Preece, who won the 2011 SK Modified championship in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Stafford Motor Speedway. “It was our first year together. I mean, I expected some good runs and hopefully we could win one race. But to have six poles, two wins, and be contending for a championship – it just goes to show how good this team is. I'm fortunate to be a part of it.
“I think, if anything, what it's shown is that (winning the pole for the season finale last year) wasn't a fluke. It's still kind of hitting me, just because it's our first year together. (Crew chief Sly Szaban) is still teaching me and I'm still learning him a little bit.”
Preece said that no matter what happens next weekend at Thompson – he's 17 points behind leader Doug Coby heading into the 150-lap finale – he's already got one eye on next season and what the team has been building toward.
Tour followers similarly have an eye on the future. In a series draped with grizzled veterans like Stefanik, Ted Christopher, Ron Silk and Todd Szegedy – all closing in on or over the age of 30 – Preece is perhaps best positioned to be the face of the Whelen Modified Tour future.
He welcomes that label, but knows that there's a lot of races left between now and the end of a career that is just beginning to take shape.
“I'm focused on what's on the track,” Preece said. “As far as being the 'face' or whatever – sure, that's what I hope. Whether it will happen, I don't know. There were guys winning races five years ago that you don't even know their names anymore. All I know is I'm going to fight to be on this Modified Tour full-time. Look at a guy like Ted Christopher – I want to be that kind of name 10 years from now.”
His early steps into the series have laid a solid foundation, to be certain. With championship cars and legendary car owners willing to have him in the seat, Preece's credentials are nearly impossible to overlook – despite the relative uncertainty of the previous two seasons.
He's won five career races and finished in the Top-10 in more than half of his 80 career starts. His first career victory was in the Made In America 300 at Martinsville Speedway in 2008, when he was just 17 years old.
“When I got in (the 16 car), it was the same thing as when I got in the 3 car – that was a lot of pressure,” Preece said. “Bobby Santos had been in the 3 before I was, and whatever Bobby gets in, he goes good. That car definitely taught me a lot of life lessons and a lot of lessons in a race car.
“Now, it's just nice to know I have a full-time ride. If I was in a situation where I had to get in any car that was offered to me, sure I would take it and I would do best I could. But I'm very competitive, and when I get in a car, I want a car that I know can contend to win races.
“I'm in that car now.”
And Preece doesn't want to let this car to go waste – not this year or next.
“I want it bad. You never know when you're going to get this opportunity to be in a car this good again,” Preece said. “When you've come close once to winning a championship and you come close again, you want it even more.”
Sources: Travis Barrett, Special To NASCAR Home Tracks