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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour





Polly Reid

The scenario was set- a hopeful champion Ryan Preece leading the charge heading into the Sunoco World Series of Racing at Thompson Speedway with a 26 point lead over defending champion Doug Coby. A 22nd place finish or better was all Preece needed to take the Flamingo Motorsports team to a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title.

Tied for the points lead with Rowan Pennink after the Stafford Spring Sizzler, Preece became the sole NWMT point leader from the third event of the season on, leading the way through the World Series finale. The expectation for a title was there- finish at least 22nd and the hardware goes home with the 16. Pressure was added when the title could have been clinched at the Stafford Fall Final- but a broken rear end in the closing circuits wiped out that scenario. The Flamingo Motorsports team now had to wait three long weeks to find out if this was their year, fully understanding that in racing there are never, ever any guarantees until the final checkered flag waves.

A picture perfect weekend for racing, Thompson Speedway welcomed the 15 divisions of racing to the Sunoco World Series – Bobby Santos had the pole with Mike Stefanik on the outside row. Preece going out fifth in the qualifying order, lined up on the starting grid fifth for the final event of the 2013 season.

While Bobby Santos led, Preece stayed with the front pack and with the first 50 laps slowed by only one caution early on, Preece moved into fourth. Matt Hirschman became the new leader on lap 67 but it was the caution two circuits later that was the reset button with wholesale pit stops being made including leader Hirschman and Preece. The Flamingo Motorsports team, taking on three tires, was the first team back out lining up seventh behind Santos, Mike Stefanik, Ted Christopher, Eric Goodale, Doug Coby and John Beatty, Jr. who elected to stay out.

A caution on the restart kept the field close but by lap 81, Preece was up to fourth and two circuits later, passed for second place. The next yellow on lap 90 set up a duel with Santos and Preece on the front row- Preece made his move for the top spot becoming the new leader on lap 93. Preece led the way through four more cautions before Donny Lia made a pass in turn two. Preece battled back on the front stretch moving low, Lia answered making an inside move into turn four when coming into the picture, Rowan Pennink took over second with 22 to go, Preece dropping back to third. The final caution set up a restart with 18 to go. Preece was 18 laps from a dream season. What the entire 16 team had worked so hard for was whittled down to a mere 18 circuits around the 5/8th mile oval. A little over 11 miles stood between a season of success or a season of heartbreak.

A clean restart, Lia, Rowan Pennink, Preece, Ronnie Silk and Justin Bonsignore led the way. Pennink made a muscle move on the outside of Lia in turns three and four to become the new and final leader of the Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart on lap 133. Preece held his own, on the rear bumper of Lia and as Pennink went on to claim the win, Lia second, Preece made the podium for third, pulling into the Thompson Speedway victory lane as the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion.

For everyone who saw the race, there was no riding around, no laying back- Preece ran hard, ran smart and was a part of one of the best World Series NWMT events in recent memory.

Exiting the Eric Sanderson owned, East West Marine/Sophie’s Restaurant sponsored Ford, Preece was folded into a flurry of congratulations from well-wishers and his elated team.

“There are a lot of emotions going on- I can’t thank my girlfriend, my family, my car owner Eric, the team, all my sponsors- East West Marine, Diversified Metals, R&B Enterprises, Bob Bruneau Racing Engines, Racing Electronics, Sunoco Race Fuels, the Hoenig’s for having us here this is awesome and all the fans for coming out- I’m sure it’s going to sink in later.”

“We had a really good car, I can’t thank Sly enough – we definitely made strong steps forward, we had a really good car- things didn’t work out our way for the win, but the championship, the big picture did and that’s what it’s all about. We race all year long for this crown at the end, it’s just amazing right now.”

George Silbermann, Vice President of NASCAR of Regional and Touring Series, presented the coveted hardware to Preece in victory lane.

“I did not give up until the last lap- it’s just not my style to give up. The first half, Sly and I talked about what we wanted and we definitely hit it. We were just waiting for the pit stop, we ended up making some adjustments and the car was just that much better- I was really happy. When you see progress, we’re really starting to gel, it’s hard to believe when I say gel, but we haven’t even begun to yet, we really started tonight. I’m really thankful for that and I’m looking forward to next year.”

“I came into this deal saying I’m going to race as hard as I can,” said Preece. “If it was meant to be, it was meant to be. If something happened out of my control, it just wasn’t meant to be, there is another year ahead. I was just going to try and do my best and try to win the race. We came up a little bit short but we did a heck of job, we tried.”

“Fantastic,” said car owner Sanderson about the way Preece ran the race. “That’s the way I want to see it, it was great. I didn’t want to see him lay back and say where is Doug Coby and let’s just finish ahead of him. What he did was fantastic. Ryan is not the kind of guy to lay back- he is going to run, I thought he was going to win the race.”

It was a relieved crew chief after who confessed his thoughts, “If he was my kid, it would be like, ‘no TV’ for him tonight,” smiled Stan ‘Sly’ Szaban. “They don’t listen. Even with ten to go, we could have lost it if something happened. Ryan did a heck of a job.”

The Berlin, CT driver is the youngest NWMT champion in the series history at 22 years, 11 months and 25 days old. With four wins this season, Preece adds a prestigious title to his growing resume which includes a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track championship at Stafford in 2011 and a 2012 title at Thompson.

This is a second championship title for car owner Eric Sanderson, the first with Mike Stefanik in 2006. “This just doesn’t get old,” said Sanderson. “This is just incredible. There is no way to rate the two titles, they are both great. It’s great to win- I can’t say one is better than the other, they are championships.”

For Szaban, the title is his fourth series title spanning nearly 25 years, the first three with Mike Stefanik in ’89, ’91 and ’06. “Those championships mean a lot to me. This is my fourth – in four different decades,” pausing, Szaban added smiling, “I guess that means I’m old.”

“My strategy was to run a good, safe race,” said Szaban about the season finale. “We gave him the best race car we could give him. We tried to give him a winning car, but we wanted him to be conservative- Ryan doesn’t listen. He ran a good race, he wanted to win. He did lead a lap, that was a point- that was important. The last three weeks- there are only so many things you can check on a car- we checked everything on that car at least three times. To the best of our ability, we were putting a car under him that could go the distance but there are things you can’t control in racing- parts failure- transmissions, rear ends, so many things that can go wrong- no fault to anybody- parts do break. I knew Ryan would do a good job driving, I was just worried about the things I couldn’t control- like what happened at Stafford.”

“Ryan makes us look good, I can’t say that enough- it’s totally different than going racing with Mike Stefanik. Mike is a legend in this Series, I got three champions with him and it was an honor to be part of that. Ryan- it’s nice to be able to do this with a young driver- Ryan, plain and simple got it done today. The crew did a great job preparing the car.”

Szaban has come a long way from his start in racing- a passion he shared with his father. “From the first night my father took me to the races, I loved it. My father took me every single Saturday night to Riverside Park.” Szaban has just turned another page in his racing career.

The 16 Flamingo Motorsports Team has gathered to celebrate their success in Charlotte, NC for the official recognition and celebration of the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title at the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards Saturday night, December 14th. The 16 Team, Ryan Preece, Heather DesRochers, car owner Eric Sanderson and wife Diane, Stan ‘Sly’ Szaban, Paul and Terry Les, Amanda Les, Adam Skowyra, Andrew Les, Tim Pascale, Kevin Reardon, T.J. Pascale, Jerry Mocarsky, Fred Silliker, Bob Dymon, Jay Hill, Joe Skotnicki, Bob Douillard and William ‘Bear’ Calicchio, enjoy what was hard earned and well deserved, this is your night.
To the 2013 NWMT Championship 16 Flamingo Motorsports Team, congratulations.

Whelen Engineering Vice President Phil Kurze speaking with Preece at Thompson summed it up best, “You’ll make a great champion.”.

Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: December 12, 2013

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