Ryan Preece is seeing red these days.
He's not mad and as far as we know, he's not a diehard Nebraska Cornhuskers fan, but the young Connecticut driver is donning a new look on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for 2011. After three years in the seat of what could be the most iconic racecar today in the short track world, the “'Ole Blue” #3 Boehler Racing Enterprises machine, Preece has moved on to the start-up operation owned by John Lukosavage and Mike Paquette - with veteran car builder Bob Cuneo also serving as a key member of the team.
The new group, which sports the #11 on their cars, finished a very respectable fourth in the recent Icebreaker at Thompson International Speedway (CT). Preece also led laps in the race, which started the 2011 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season.
The #11 Modified, by coincidence or design, couldn't have a more opposite hue than the #3 that Preece has been used to. The car that Preece drove at Thompson was a dark red metallic color. Still, Preece couldn't resist at least pretending that he was colorblind before practice began - giving a chuckle to his former team members from the Boehler team, who he still has deep respect for.
“I had to joke with my crew chief from last year, Scotty [Richards],” said Preece. “On the way in, I walked up to the [#3] car and stuck my foot in there. He was like, “No! No! No!” I still get along good with those guys and I can't thank them enough for the experience they gave me. They gave me a great three years and who knows? Maybe in the future we'll work together again, but for right now it was best for us to go our separate ways…and right now, I'm having fun.”
Preece's new #11 team is a start-up operation that has strong bloodlines. Paquette is also part of the ownership team for the SK Modified that Preece won with at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) in 2010 and will race again this season. Paquette has also been a partner in the #2 Modified that Todd Szegedy has won races with on the NASCAR Tour over the past several season. Preece and Szegedy are also close friends - so it wouldn't be a stretch to call them unofficial teammates.
With those kind of credentials, success was expected.
“I'm not surprised [that Preece was strong at Thompson],” quipped rival Ted Christopher. “Basically, that's the #2 car with a different driver.”
“I knew that we were going to be fast….you can feel when a racecar is good,” said Preece of Thompson. “We came here for practice knowing that we were good and when we went out for practice on Saturday, it was good. We kind of went conservative and tightened the car up, but we learned what to do here next time so that we can really show our cards.
“It's been a lot of work, but we've got a great group of guys. I worked with them on the SK. This car [the Tour Modified] and one of the SKs are [housed] at Chassis Dynamics.
“I'm just really excited for this season. I think that we are going to be a title contender. I think that we are going to win a lot of races. The Performance Technology engine that we have is a beast, so I think we'll be pretty stout this year.”
During pre-season testing, Preece wrecked hard in a Sunoco Modified at Thompson. That crash might have left him sore, but it didn't slow him down.
“I'm young and I heal up quickly. I've got plenty of racing to do, so why be scared now?,” said Preece.
The majority of Modifieds, both on and off the NASCAR Tour, are Troyers. A few are Raceworks creations and just a handful come from the Chassis Dynamics shops that produce Preece's car. Preece has logged plenty of laps in a Troyer, as well as in the homebuilt #3 Modifieds of the Boehler team, and while he takes the attitude that a racecar is a racecar, he's got a little bit of special love for the Chassis Dynamics car that he's running now.
“I can go either way,” said Preece. “This is a Chassis Dynamics car. Nothing is changed and you can buy this from CD just the way it is. You don't have to have a Troyer car to go fast. I'm not saying anything bad about the Troyers because I have one at home, but I am saying that this is a great racecar that turns really good and really goes.
“I've raced this type of car as an SK at Stafford. It has a new [design] front clip, new uppers, lowers (control arms), spindles…everything. It just turns. When a racecar is a good racecar, it doesn't matter if it is an SK or a Tour Mod. The only [big] difference is the motor. So we know what it can do and I know what it can do. It goes where I want it to go. I think that we showed that when I could go around the outside of people like they were standing still.”
And going around people is something that Preece hopes, and expects, to do quite a bit in 2011.
“I'll be really excited to come back here…and really excited for Loudon….and really excited for Stafford, which is my home track…I'm ready to go racing.”
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season resumes on May 1st with the running of the Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT).