How fast is Ryan Preece?
It seems even away from the racecar, speed is the constant calling card of the 23-year old from Berlin, even when it comes to his skills with the media.
During a chat with a reporter recently, Preece heard the question coming: “When you look down the last 10 years or so, Tony Hirschman in 2005 was the last guy to repeat ….”
And Preece was ready to fire even before the question was finished
“… you sure, because Donny Lia did it.”
“… the last guy to win consecutive championships,” the reporter said.
“Oh, I thought you meant just repeat ….”
This much is certain, Preece is definitely a student of the history of the game that he lives. And last year he etched his name permanently in a very special spot when it comes to the annals of NASCAR Modified Tour history by winning his first series title.
But back to the topic of the question.
Over the last decade eight different drivers have won NASCAR Modified Tour championships.
Tony Hirschman in 2004 and 2005 is the only driver during that span to grab consecutive titles. Donny Lia is the only other multi-time champion in the last 10 years, winning titles in 2007 and 2009.
Three drivers in NASCAR Modified Tour history have won back to back titles. Seven-time series champion Mike Stefanik did it twice in 1998 and ’99 and again in 2001 and ’02. Hirschman, a five-time series champion, also did it twice, in 1995 and ’96 and 2004 and ’05. Jimmy Spencer was the first to accomplish the feat, pulling it off in the second and third years of the division’s existence in 1986 and ’87.
So what does Preece think of his chances for joining that heady group of consecutive title winners?
“[The mindset] is pretty much the same as it was last year,” Preece said. “As far as championships go, or winning the championship last year, that’s last year. This year is this year. I’m just looking forward to getting back going again and trying to win some races and continue the success we had last year. I think it’s pretty important this year to do what we did last year and maybe a little bit better. I think, after Daytona, we definitely have something going on and I think we’re going to be pretty strong all year.”
That drive for consecutive titles begins Sunday in the NASCAR Modified Tour season opening Icebreaker 150 at Thompson Speedway for the division.
Last year Preece had four victories and top-10 fives in 14 events to hold off second place Doug Coby in the standings and win his first series title. It was a flip-flop from 2012 when Coby held off Preece to win his first title.
And many expect the Preece-Coby battle near the front of the standings to continue to rage another year. If the NASCAR Modified Tour exhibition Battle at the Beach on Feb. 18 is any indicator, another Preece/Coby battle is a good bet.
At Daytona Preece dominated the event until late in the running when a tangle with a lap car caused damage. It was Coby that took advantage, going to the win in his first event for Mike Smeriglio Racing since replacing Todd Szegedy in that team’s ride during the offseason. Coby won his championship and finished second in the standings last year driving for team owner Wayne Darling.
Preece pointed to the June 21 event at the Waterford Speedbowl as an event he’s looking forward to for another showdown. In 2012 Coby grabbed the lead from Preece on a green-white-checkered finish to win at the shoreline oval. Last year Preece returned the favor at Waterford by snatching the lead from Coby on a green-white-checkered to take the win.
“If you look at Doug last year, he finished second to me last year and I finished second to him the year before,” Preece said. “I think it just goes to go show you that him and I, we’ve been really determined, and we’ve had a really good battle going. I think this year, I’m going to try to my best do what I did last year and the year before. And he’s going to try to get those guys in the same position that we he was in with [previously with Darling’s] team.
“I think I’m going to be racing him quite a bit. That team is no slouch and neither is Doug. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. I really can’t wait to get back to Waterford and race him again there.”
Preece is in his third season with the Eric Sanderson owned Flamingo Racing NASCAR Modified Tour team.
“We’re always searching for something better and we’re always trying to make ourselves better,” Preece said. “That was like Daytona. We were happy with what we had and then we decided to do something a little different and it worked. We keep trying to improve it. We tested last week and we’re constantly working on it. If we keep heading in the direction we’re headed and working hard and keep doing what we’re doing, we should definitely be one of the stronger teams this year.”
In 2014 Preece once again will have one of the most aggressive schedules of any short track racer in the Northeast.
Last year he finished fourth in the NASCAR All-American Series short track standings. He will once again chase a short track national title by running full-time in the SK Modified divisions at Thompson and Stafford Motor Speedway while running part-time in the SK Modified division at Waterford and part-time in the Tour Type Modified division at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway.
He also plans on making two NASCAR Nationwide Series start for Tommy Baldwin racing, on July 11 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Sept. 5 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. There are also plans to run the Tri-Track Series of Open Modified events along with select starts with the Modified Racing Series. He’ll also run the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown on April 24 at South Boston (Va.) Speedway.
For Preece, there’s no worries about spreading himself too thin across the racing landscape.
“To me, racing is not job, it’s something I love to do,” Preece said. “So I don’t have a problem getting up whenever I have to get up or being out as late as I have to be out because it’s something that I love to do and it’s not a job to me. So, as far as racing as much as I do, I have no problems doing it because I love it. And the more racing that I do the better I’ll get. That’s something that I’ve always strived to do. I learn whenever I race. Whenever I get put in a position I can learn from it. That’s why I like racing with guys like Keith Rocco and Ted Christopher and everybody else because every time I get put in a different situation I learn from it and I learn how to take it differently or handle it differently the next time. That’s why I like to race as much as I do.”