Making it to the top level of NASCAR has always been about money, now more than ever.

Most of the time a driver has to bring money to the table — usually from a sponsor, family or a manufacturer. Landing a ride at the top level of NASCAR without money is nearly impossible.

Enter Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric, two drivers who made names for themselves in the short-track world and have scrapped, clawed and fought their way to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

One might say they did it the hard way.

Preece, a 28-year-old native of Berlin, Conn., has been a star of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour since 2007. He has 22 Tour victories, and he won the 2013 series championship.
Last September, Preece was named the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet Camaro for JTG Daugherty Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. His journey to the top level of NASCAR hasn’t been easy and it took a huge bet on himself to pave the path to a ride in the series.

In 2016, Preece contested the full NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule for JD Motorsports but only mustered one top-10 finish with the underfunded team. Knowing he needed better equipment to prove himself, Preece borrowed money from a friend and in 2017 made a deal with Joe Gibbs Racing to drive in two Xfinity Series events.

The deal could have backfired and Preece could have ended up owing his friend thousands of dollars.

That’s not what happened. Not even close.

In those two races, Preece finished second at his home track, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and followed that up two races later with a breakthrough victory at Iowa Speedway that left the NASCAR world speechless.

“It’s kind of what I’ve done all of my career, it’s winning races,” said Preece. “The way I thought about it was if I win, that’s going to take care of everything. It worked for me. I’m very lucky and very fortunate that it worked that way.”

Ryan Preece is a veteran modified racer who has turned his short-track success into an opportunity at NASCAR’s top level. (Dick Ayers Photo)

His performance in those two races earned him two additional starts with Joe Gibbs Racing and he finished in the top five in both races. The team brought him back in 2018 and he made 15 more starts, earning a victory at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, seven top-five finishes and 13 top-10 results.

The Bristol victory, according to Preece, is what led to the opportunity to join JTG Daugherty Racing for his rookie campaign in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

“Really, it started with winning Bristol,” Preece explained. “Once June and July came around I got wind of them looking for a driver. I really didn’t know what my plans were, so I reached out over there and said, ‘Hey, this is something I’d like to do. I feel like there is a lot of opportunity.’ I didn’t really know much until I went over and saw their shop and all of the moving pieces that they had there that were being built and everything behind it. That was a really huge part of wanting to go over there.

“It’s really just a dream come true to be honest with you because you see your weekly guys every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, whatever night it may be … We race because we love to race, but we hope that one day if we’re winning a lot of races and doing everything we need to do that we’ll get that opportunity,” Preece continued. “I’m getting it and now it just comes down to working hard and making a lot of gains and hopefully contending for wins or contending for top 10s eventually or top 15s and just build on that and keep trying to move up and see a lot of progress.”

Hemric’s story is very similar. Hemric, who turned 28 on Jan. 27, burst onto the national scene in 2010 when he won the inaugural Legends Million Legend Car race on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s frontstretch quarter-mile oval and claimed the $250,000 prize that accompanied the victory.

It wasn’t long before he stepped up and began racing late models. In 2012, he earned the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour late model championship. The following season, Hemric won the Southern Super Series late model crown aboard the Carswell Motorsports No. 98 entry.

“I felt like my entire career is, and I hate to use the word plagued, but it was always plagued with a bump in the road and I never knew exactly how I was going to get over it,” Hemric explained. “It was just a matter of shaking one right hand after another in those particular situations at each level really.”