2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion Ryan Preece found out on Wednesday that he had been invited to the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown Late Model event at South Boston Speedway in Virginia. He had just about everything he needed to compete. The event date, April 24, was open on his already-busy racing schedule. The 23-year-old who races in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series events throughout the Northeast on any given weekend, plus the Whelen Tour, Valenti Modified Racing Series and more, always had his helmet and firesuit ready for the next chance to race.
Preece, of Berlin, Connecticut, had everything necessary to battle in the Hamlin Showdown - except for a ride. While he had competed in many different series over the years, Preece had never raced in a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Car like the ones that will be competing at South Boston on April 24.
Now, a call from a mutual friend has led Preece to enter the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at South Boston in a car fielded by 2013 Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 at Martinsville winner Tommy Lemons, Jr.'s Jumpstart Motorsports.
"I was texting with a few people who could help me find a ride, from (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series spotter and longtime Preece manager) Mike Herman, Jr. to Brannon Earnest of JRi Shocks," Preece told Speed51.com Saturday. "Brannon asked a few people for me. He led me over to Tommy. That got the ball rolling and I was lucky to have Dunleavy Truck and Trailer, Sophie's Rest and East-West Marine help out and make it all possible."
Preece had 12 wins and finished fourth in the 2013 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standings. He was beaten in the standings by Keith Rocco, a fellow Connecticut-based Modified driver in third, as well as the 2013 National Champion Lee Pulliam and second-place Deac McCaskill. Preece chased the North Carolina-based Pulliam and McCaskill for the title, but never had the opportunity to race against the Southeast's top Late Model racers. That will change at South Boston.
"I think it's nice to get in something different," added Preece. "A Late Model Stock is something that I haven't run yet. Racing against Lee Pulliam and all those guys, plus Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and those guys, it makes it interesting. What I like about it most is when we run the Whelen All-American Series, we see these names that we're running against. We're all trying to win races and beat each other in the point system, but me, Keith (Rocco), Woody (Pitkat) and Teddy (Christopher), we never get to actually race against them. It's going to be pretty cool to be down there and racing against those guys doing what they do every week.
Lemons, who finished seventh in the 2013 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standings, will give up the seat in the Hamlin Showdown to give Preece his full attention and to enhance the strength of his budding Jumpstart Motorsports driver development program.
"I think it's going to be a pretty cool deal," Lemons told 51. "We're excited having Ryan coming on board for the Denny Hamlin race. I think it's going to be good for both parties. It will help Ryan get his name out there a little bit more and help get our development program going a little bit more.
"Thankfully Brannon thought of us and we got this deal worked out. Hopefully Ryan runs well and we turn some heads with our development deal. We had thought about (running the Hamlin Showdown with Lemons in a team car), but I want to focus 110-percent on Ryan. Hopefully this works out the best for both of us."
Having heard of Lemons' name as another driver to contend for the Whelen All-American Series National Championship, Preece knows he will be in a car capable of stealing the Southern racers' thunder at South Boston.
"It's great stuff," said Preeece. "I'm just looking to have a strong run. It may be my first time in one of those cars, but it doesn't matter. I know Tommy's putting together a pretty good piece for me and we'll see what we can do."
Being able to showcase his abilities on a stage that will also include short track stars and NASCAR National Series drivers in the Denny Hamlin Showdown is an extension of a wild 12-month span for Preece. In 2013, Preece won the NASCAR Modified Tour championship on the back of four wins. He made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Tommy Baldwin Racing and he has more races on the docket in 2014. Preece was also the first Modified driver to be named to the program now known as NASCAR Next.
An opportunity like this at the Hamlin Showdown is just another way to keep Preece's name in the spotlight.
"I'm just very lucky to have the support I have," added Preece. "I'm going to keep trying to keep it that way, where people are hearing my name. I feel like the only way I can move up the ladder is by racing a lot and winning a lot. That's pretty much the way I'm going to have to do it and that's what I'm trying to do."