Ryan Preece stood over his No. 6 machine Monday, steam visible both with his breath and above his sweat-stained head on a hot, humid Florida night.
15 minutes removed from a difficult 50-lap Tour-Type Modified feature, the defending World Series of Asphalt champion reviewed his run – a decent third-place result salvaged following struggles in qualifying and practice.
Not a pretty night, nor one to remember. But certainly one necessary to keep Preece’s championship hopes alive amid one of the deepest fields in the history of the weeklong Tour-Type Modified championship series at New Smyrna Speedway.
Modified racing’s annual return to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, facility has brought with it a bevy of talented stars with championships and victories across multiple series.
“This is the strongest year that I’ve seen since I was a kid coming here,” Preece told Short Track Scene.
The talent pool begins with Preece himself, a 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion and the winner of the last two editions of the World Series.
However, the pool also goes much deeper.
Preece isn’t the only former champion of the NWMT and Speedweeks championship. Fifth-place finisher on opening night Ron Silk has also claimed both titles, winning the NWMT crown in 2008 and taking the World Series in 2014.
Matt Hirschman comes to the two-week championship series with a resume that includes a RoC Asphalt Modified Tour title. Hirschman may also prove to be Preece’s stiffest competition, having already beaten him with a second-place run.
Along with the former champions come a handful of consistent contenders. Justin Bonsignore and Timmy Solomito each contend for wins on the NWMT, and Jon McKennedy is a constant presence in modified racing.
Throw in JR Bertuccio, who shocked the field to take the victory in Monday’s 50-lap tour-type opener, and it becomes clear that more than half a dozen drivers could potentially leave Florida with the championship in hand.
“McKennedy is going to be one to watch,” Preece said. “Matt Hirschman obviously has talent. JR (Betruccio) had a really good race car tonight. Ronnie Silk, Jimmie Blewitt… A bunch of these guys have a chance to win this week.
“It’s not going to be easy, so I’m happy we have a good race car.”