Reigning NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion Ryan Preece is in the business of collecting trophies. Next up on his wish list is the UNOH Battle At The Beach on Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.
Preece, from Berlin, Conn., captured his first tour title last fall. The long-sought-after championship trophy followed four triumphs during the campaign at northeastern modified strongholds Stafford Motor Speedway and Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut, and Riverhead Raceway on New York’s Long Island, where he won twice.
The 23-year-old even went down south and added another bucket list trophy to his collection from North Carolina’s famed Bowman Gray Stadium in NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour action.
Now the calendar has turned to 2014, and Preece has a revised to-do list that starts with the “World’s Center of Racing.”
“Whether it’s the short track, the big track or a running race, the trophy is going to say Daytona on it,” Preece said. “So to me, that’s a bucket list thing.
“It’s just like Bowman Gray, it’s something that I could add to my résumé, to say that we won at Daytona.”
In 2013’s inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach, Preece wasn’t able to survive the battle of attrition and was relegated to a 26th-place finish after getting caught up in an accident with 33 laps to go. The upcoming second edition of the short-track showcase should see Preece as one of the favorites, however.
Since establishing himself as a winning driver at age 17, Preece has been arguably the premier bullring competitor on the northern tour. Six of his nine career Whelen Modified Tour wins have come on tracks measuring between .25 and .375 miles. In nine combined Whelen Modified and Whelen Southern Modified Tour bullring starts the last two seasons alone, he posted five wins and four poles.
“Those bullrings are the types of tracks that you can really hustle the car at, and that’s what I like to do, I like to get after it,” Preece said. “It makes you manipulate the car into the things that you need it to do.
“I’m looking forward to going back there. We had a pretty strong car there last year, and this year we’re going to have an even stronger car.”
Preece won’t be the only short-track expert vying for the UNOH Battle At The Beach trophy though. Bowman Gray weekly modified veterans Burt and Jason Myers figure to be factors on Daytona’s similarly flat track layout. There are also eight drivers entered from Long Island with plenty of experience from the confined quarters of Riverhead, led by Eric Goodale, who was the Daytona runner-up and highly competitive on the northern tour’s bullrings a year ago.
One thing is for sure, there will be a new Daytona short track winner in 2014. Inaugural event champ Steve Park is not entered for next week’s second running, leaving the door open for Preece and company.
With the biggest race purse of the season on the line in addition to the aforementioned trophy, there will be no shortage of competitiveness.
“Guys are going to do what they need to do because $20,000 [to win] is $20,000,” Preece said. “I wouldn’t say that I would move somebody out of the way, but I’m sure there could be some rubbin’ going on.
“It’s going to be a race, that’s for sure, and having a lot of money on the line only makes it more interesting.”
The Race: The 2014 UNOH Battle At The Beach will be the second edition of the pre-season non-points event for the NASCAR Whelen Modified and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tours on the short track at Daytona International Speedway.
The Procedure: The starting field is 26 cars, including provisionals. The first 20 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials. The remaining six spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race is scheduled for 150 laps (55.5 miles) straight through with no tire changes allowed.
The Track: The .37-mile short-track oval is situated on the backstretch of the 2.5-mile tri-oval at Daytona. This newest addition to the menu at “The World Center of Racing” was made possible following the 2010 resurfacing project. The track is virtually flat and has a paperclip-like shape. The track has been altered slightly from its .4-mile configuration a year ago. The changes will result in a different racing line and entrance angle to the turns.
Race Winners: Steve Park was the inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach winner in 2013.
Pole Winners: Qualifying for the 2013 UNOH Battle At The Beach consisted of a pair of qualifying races. Kyle Larson and Todd Szegedy were the winners of those heats, and Szegedy won a coin toss to determine pole position for the feature.
DAYTONA RACE NOTES
Battle Field Includes Six Champions: The second edition of the UNOH Battle At The Beach on the short track at Daytona International Speedway will include six NASCAR Whelen Modified champions. Past NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour titlists for the UNOH Battle At The Beach include: Doug Coby (2012), Donny Lia (2007, `09), Ryan Preece (2013), Ron Silk (2011) and Jamie Tomaino (1990). Burt Myers (2010) represents the Whelen Southern Modified Tour as a past champ.
First Run With New Teams For Coby, Barrett: The biggest news of the offseason in the NASCAR modified world came on Dec. 4 when two teams made major announcements. Coby left the No. 52 Darling Racing team to take over the seat of the Mike Smeriglio III Racing No. 2 that was vacated by 2003 titlist Todd Szegedy. The other major transaction involved Our Racing which hired rookie Tommy Barrett Jr. to take over in the No. 22 for seven-time tour titlist Mike Stefanik. Coby and Barrett will get their first runs with their new teams on the short track at Daytona.
Five Drivers Look to Make Mod Debuts: A handful of drivers will attempt to make their NASCAR Whelen Modified debut in Daytona, including: Kyle Benjamin, Bud McIntyre, Matt Montineri, Dave Sapienza and T.J. Zacharias. Sapienza and Zacharias both have NASCAR Whelen All-American Series modified experience in New York at Riverhead Raceway and Chemung Speedrome, respectively.
Benjamin Behind the 7NY Wheel: One highly-regarded stock car prospect will follow in the footsteps of another as Kyle Benjamin is entered in the 7NY for the second edition of the UNOH Battle At The Beach. Kyle Larson – a 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender – was behind the wheel of the No. 7 a year ago and was highly competitive before getting caught up in an accident with five laps to go. Benjamin, who was voted the top pick in Speed51.com’s hypothetical 2013 Short Track Draft, finished third in his lone NASCAR K&N Pro Series East appearance a year ago after he won two times in eight ARCA starts. The No. 7 Menards/Wix Filters Chevrolet is regularly piloted in Whelen Modified action by Sprint Cup Series regular Ryan Newman.
Empire Staters Headed for Sunshine: Of the 31 drivers on the early entry list, a total of 12 hail from the state of New York, including nine from Long Island. The Empire State representation is more than double the second-highest represented state of North Carolina at five while modified hotbed Connecticut has just four drivers in the event.
A Full Week of Modified Racing: Among the 31 drivers entered for Daytona’s UNOH Battle At The Beach, at least 10 are planning to also compete 12 miles down the road at New Smyrna Speedway during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. Those drivers currently signed up to race at both venues include: Barrett, JR Bertuccio, Patrick Emerling, Eric Goodale, Preece, Silk, Danny Watts Jr., A.J. Winstead and Jimmy and T.J. Zacharias. The New Smyrna World Series will run six NASCAR Whelen All-American Series-sanctioned modified features between Feb. 14-21, highlighted by the Richie Evans Memorial 100 on Feb. 20.
Preece Slated for NASCAR Media Day: Preece will have an unprecedented opportunity to represent the Whelen Modified Tour when he participates in NASCAR Media Day on Thursday, Feb. 13 at Daytona 500 Club in the infield at DIS. Preece is one of seven members of NASCAR Next that will be part of the annual event that primarily features drivers from NASCAR’s national series.
LAST TIME OUT – NWMT: Thompson
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour concluded the 2013 season on Oct. 20 on the quarter-mile track at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park. Here are some highlights from the Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart:
• Rowan Pennink’s 100th career started turned out to be a memorable one as he ended a four-year winless drought when he captured the Word Series checkered flag.
• With a third-place finish, Ryan Preece earned his first career NWMT championship.
• Bobby Santos captured his tour-high fifth Coors Light Pole Award prior to the event.
LAST TIME OUT – NWSMT: Charlotte
The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour closed out its 2013 season on Oct. 10 on the quarter-mile track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Here are some highlights from the UNOH Southern Slam 150:
• Burt Myers inherited the race lead after polesitter Ryan Preece lost an engine with just 14 laps to go and drove to his second win in four all-time events at CMS.
• George Brunnhoelzl III secured his fourth career NWSMT title – and third in a row – when he took the green flag in the event. Brunnhoelzl went on to finish third in the race.
• Preece earned the Coors Light Pole Award for the third time in his three NWSMT season appearances.
NEXT TIME OUT – NWMT: Thompson
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will open its 2014 points season at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for the 13th season in a row and 17th time overall with the Icebreaker 150 on Sunday, April 6. Mike Stefanik won the 2013 Icebreaker, and has the most wins in tour history at the .626-mile oval with 15. Ted Christopher has won the most Icebreakers with five, the last coming in 2011. Practice and qualifying for the 2014 Icebreaker will be on Saturday, April 5.
NEXT TIME OUT – NWSMT: Caraway
The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour will open its 2014 points season with the Caraway 150 on Sunday, March 9 at Caraway Speedway. It will be the 50th running of the southern tour at the .455-mile oval in rural Sophia, N.C. Jason Myers is the defending winner of the race while three-time reigning tour champion George Brunnhoelzl III has the most career Caraway victories with 10. The 2014 opener will be a one-day event.