The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will return to Martinsville Speedway in May. Ryan Preece and Kevin Harvick used Tuesday as an opportunity to get a little test in before the big race.
Preece and Harvick tested the Modified that Preece will drive in May’s race. Preece, along with Ryan Newman, is one of two NASCAR Cup Series regulars expected to compete in the race, which will take place on a Friday night with the Cup Series race scheduled for Saturday, May 8.
For Harvick, it was a chance to get his first taste of driving a Modified.
Harvick, though, was driving a modified for the first time. He said Tuesday the test had been in the works with Preece for “two years probably.” He said he made the three-hour drive up from Charlotte because he has built a great relationship with Preece and Stafford Motor Speedway, a NASCAR-sanctioned track in Connecticut, and he felt safe and comfortable in Preece’s car knowing the amount of work Preece has put into it.
Other than a go-kart, Harvick said Tuesday was his first time in a race car since the Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami in November.
“It’s his fault, that’s what I tell my wife, that all this happened today,” Harvick said with a laugh while pointing a Preece during a media session with the drivers. “We’ve been talking about just coming and seeing what driving one was like. So for me it was a great experience. Obviously it put a smile on my face. To get back in the car and to hear that power and see the tires moving and all the things that were so much different from my weekly view. It’s always fun to do something different.”
While Harvick has driven thousands of laps around Martinsville, it took him some adjusting to get used to the modified. The biggest difference, he said, was being able to see the front tire and driving it further into the corners than he would a Cup car.
Harvick said Preece’s advice was just to remember it was still a race car, and to just go out and drive.
“He told me that before I got in it,” Harvick said. “I think as I’ve gone through the years it’s just been a long time since I’ve gone and driven anything else that wasn’t at the Cup race or at the track. Even I haven’t even driven trucks in a number of years. It’s been a long time since. I’ve done something outside of my weekly racing routine. I like that because I think when you can challenge yourself and think about things that you don’t think about on a weekly basis, because for the most part I can get in a car on a Cup weekend and I can say, ‘Do this, this, and this.’ I’ve been to these track a million times, so you get into this and you go, ‘Okay, where do I start it? How do I put it into gear?’”
The good thing about Martinsville Speedway, Harvick said, was it is asphalt. It’s the dirt tracks where he’s felt the most discomfort in the past.
“That’s when I think I stepped out of bounds,” he said. “When they told me to push the clutch in to make the car go on the dirt tracks I was really confused and it did not go that well. So as long as it’s not on dirt I think I’m okay.”
With so much extra time for the offseason, Preece has put in more work to his modified to make sure it’s ready for May. He admits his last three races in a modified “weren’t very good,” but come May 8 he’ll be chasing another grandfather clock for his collection.
“With this car there was a slot of time I put into the shop to make sure it was right,” said Preece, who won the tour race at Martinsville in 2008. “Obviously having the time being the offseason right now, having that extra bit of time helps with preparation.”
Preece joked with Harvick that maybe one day he’ll be able to get his fellow Cup Series driver to actually run a race in the modified.
That jokes may not be too far off. While Harvick said during the season he likes being able to focus on his one car and be there as much as possible to be hands-on with the team, and also have time to spend with his family, he certainly has plans for other races in the future.
“I wouldn’t drive it if I didn’t want to race it,” Harvick said with a smile. “Let’s just make that clear.
“And we’ve talked about that. It was something that will definitely be on my bucket list to go do and I think I’d have fun. After driving it today… that really takes a little bit of pressure off of me mentally thinking, ‘Can you drive it? What’s it like? What’s it feel like?’ So there’s a lot of those things that just kind of check that box today and just say ‘O.K., I can do that.’”
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season will kick off on March 21 for the WhosYourDriver.org NASCAR Whelen Modified 150 at South Boston Speedway in South Boston, Virginia. The day will also feature NASCAR Late Model Twin 75’s. The season opener at South Boston and the modifieds race at Martinsville Speedway are the only two stops in the south on the modifieds tour schedule for 2020.
The MAXPRO Window Films 200 at Martinsville will be the first track’s first tour Modified race since 2010. It will be the 36th NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race, and 117th modifieds race, the track has hosted in its more than 70 year history.