MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Though he’s been driving for his season in the NASCAR Cup Series during the early weeks of the season, Ryan Preece got to have a little fun Wednesday at Martinsville Speedway.
Preece, alongside fellow Cup Series veteran Ryan Newman, took part in a test session at the half-mile paperclip ahead of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event scheduled at the track on April 8.
The Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200 will mark the first NASCAR modified event at Martinsville since June 6, 2010, when Bobby Santos III took the checkered flag after 204 laps.
Preece finished 16th that day, but is eager to return to Martinsville for another shot at a modified victory. The Berlin, Conn., ace claimed his first of 22 Modified Tour victories at Martinsville in 2008.
“Man, this place was made for (modified racing), I can tell you that,” a grinning Preece told reporters during an afternoon teleconference following one of his test runs. “Modifieds are light and fast and they’ve got a lot of tire and a lot of grip. All smiles out of me today. It’s pretty cool.”
Preece has been one of the biggest proponents of tour-type modified racing in the Southeastern United States and he has remained true to his modified roots even after ascending to the Cup Series level.
Now 30, Preece has continued to race tour-type modifieds whenever his schedule allows. He noted that the resurgence of the SMART Modified Tour and other regional branches of modified racing in the south is a positive sign for the discipline.
“Modifieds are just special. They’re a fun race car to go out and drive really, really hard. The harder you drive them, the more rewarded you are. That’s what’s exciting about them,” Preece tipped. “It was actually really cool. I saw a picture Matt Dillner posted of Caraway and they actually had a really great crowd (for the SMART Tour event on March 14). They had a good car count. It’s cool to see how healthy modified racing is in general is becoming; and obviously (how) healthy the Modified Tour is, where they’re getting 35 or more cars week-in and week-out. That’s what you want to see as a racer.
“It’s really cool to see the direction the Tour is heading in and all the changes that have been put in place to help the teams and to make it easier for newer teams to come in.”
NASCAR’s Modified Tour remains the oldest division in the sport, with roots dating back to the first year of the sanctioning body in 1948, but alternatives to the series have gained steam in New England — where most of the mainstay Tour teams are located — in recent years.
The Tri-Track Open Modified Series and Valenti Modified Racing Series, among others, have become viable regular options for teams to compete in on a regular basis. However, Preece said NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour officials have made strides to improve the overall health of the Tour.
“I think they made a really important step, which was releasing some of those purse structures that usually most people don’t get to see. The majority of the races on the Modified Tour, if not all of them now, pay more than $10,000 to win, which is a great step,” explained Preece. “That’s something some of the other series and shows have made a big effort in, is paying more money. I know the Modified Tour does a great job in doing that, but also in making it pay throughout the field for people who are just showing up, or if someone has a bad night, whatever the situation might be.
“At the end of the day, I don’t kind of look at which series I’m going to run or not run. Obviously, the Modified Tour has always been the spotlight, kind of like the World of Outlaws or the All Star (Circuit of Champions) are the two big series in sprint cars. But really, I just want to race,” Preece continued. “That’s what I’m concerned about. It’s really awesome that NASCAR and the Whelen Modified Tour have been able to put this all together to come to Martinsville and to go to Richmond and visit these premier race tracks because it’s a great opportunity for guys like myself and Ryan Newman, as well as other drivers who wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to run at a historic race track like here or Richmond.
“Now, we can go out and race and put on a great show for the fans.”
The Martinsville Cup Series weekend will be one of a handful of times this season that Preece will be able to do double duty, racing both for JTG Daugherty Racing in stock cars and for Ed and Connie Partridge on the Modified Tour.
It’s a situation he relishes.
“As a racer, your ultimate goal is to get to NASCAR’s Cup Series. That’s where (the prestige) is. That’s where you want to be,” said Preece. “But at the same time, I know where my roots are. I know where I’ve cut my teeth. I know where I’ve put many hours in the race shop to go and win races. And I enjoy racing these race cars and I know quite a bit about them and they’re a lot of fun to race. So I obviously enjoy doing it, for sure.
“I’m definitely pretty blessed to have owners like Tad and Jodi (Geschickter) that allow me to come do these races and it’s a lot of fun. The best thing for a race car driver is to be in the seat all the time.”