For some racers, Thompson Speedway’s Sunoco World Series is an opportunity to wrap up the season. Ryan Preece was there strictly to win.
On Saturday night, Preece got what he came for.
The Modified alumnus and NASCAR national series star took charge in the closing laps to claim the $10,000-to-win Sunoco 100, the headline event of the second day of Thompson’s traditional season finale.
“I’m just pumped to have a car like that,” Preece said.
The Thompson-based Outlaw Open Modified Series, an inclusive Tour-type Modified playground crafted in the image of the successful Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series, headlined last year’s World Series in the absence of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. With the Tour returning in 2022, and with tire availability still a concern, the Outlaw cars were shifted to anchor Saturday’s schedule, giving all three days of the Sunoco World Series a marquee Modified event.
Even with a healthy contingent of visitors, Keith Rocco threatened to make the race a local affair. After dicing with Craig Lutz for the early lead, the defending Thompson 300 winner broke away on a long green flag run. Rocco had struggled to find his usual winning form through the 2022 season, and a World Series weekend win would be a shot in the arm for the Connecticut veteran.
Rocco faced early pressure from Ronnie Williams at the front, but Woody Pitkat emerged as his strongest adversary. Wheeling a car that had been written off by plenty of onlookers after a hard crash in Stafford Motor Speedway’s Fall Final two weeks before, Pitkat closed the gap after halfway, sliding past Rocco and into the lead on lap 72.
Ten laps later, Andrew Charron’s spinning car brought out a yellow flag and presented everyone with an opportunity to pit. Pitkat led Mike Christopher, Jr. and Preece off pit road, with Rocco relegated to sixth.
Pitkat and Preece drove off with the advantage on the start, while Rocco’s car failed to come up to speed in the pack. A quick yellow re-racked the field, and Preece took full advantage of the opportunity, seizing the lead and driving off to the victory.
“Keith [Rocco] and Woody [Pitkat] were really good,” Preece said of his second win of the year at the fast Connecticut oval. “I stuck to my plan. She was a rocket.
“Man, that’s freaking awesome.”
Preece scored a win in September’s Tripoint Showdown 75 at Thompson, giving him back-to-back feature wins in Outlaw Open Modified Series competition at the “Big T.”
Second went to Pitkat, whose crew chief Cam McDermott engineered a big turnaround from a mid-pack run in Friday night’s Modified Racing Series feature. Matt Swanson, who won the evening’s New England Supermodified Series feature for car owner Howie Lane, emerged from the pack late to place third in one of Gary Casella’s red #25 entries.
NASCAR Modified Tour rookie Austin Beers, in the Jimmy Paige-owned #00, finished fourth. Eric Goodale, in the thick of the NASCAR Modified Tour points race, finished fifth in a solid warm-up for Sunday’s Tour feature.
Williams, Swanson’s teammate for car owner Casella, finished sixth after challenging for the lead early. Teddy Hodgdon, Max Zachem, Chris Pasteryak and early leader Rocco rounded out the top ten. Christopher faded to 11th in the final sprint.
Despite a career arc that propelled him all the way to the NASCAR Cup Series, Preece has kept a winning presence in Modified racing over the years. That presence, though, took a tragic turn last fall. Only hours after Preece won a NASCAR Tour feature at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, car owner Eddie Partridge unexpectedly passed away. While Preece prepared his cars at his own shop, Partridge – who also owned Riverhead Raceway on Long Island – was the backer of the program.
When Partridge’s family opted not to field a car in 2022, Preece took his Modified future back into his own hands. In between select NASCAR touring series starts, the Berlin, Conn. native built a brand-new ground-pounder of his own. Preece was sixth in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July, then scored three fourth-place finishes in a five-day stretch in August at North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina and the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in his native Nutmeg State. Preece was in contention for a Stafford Fall Final win before contact knocked him out of the race with seven laps to go.
Preece spoke with gratitude for the Partridge crew members who had stayed with Preece’s new venture. “My father, my crew, the entire T.S. guys, still the original team,” he said. “We should be doing this for Eddie. But man, this feels good!”
Preece, who won his second career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race this summer, still has his sights set on NASCAR’s national ranks. Many expect him to take the first available seat at Stewart Haas Racing, where Preece is under contract as a reserve driver.
But wherever he lands, Modifieds will surely be a part of Preece’s itinerary for years to come.
Unofficial Results, Outlaw Open Modified Series Sunoco 100 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park:
1. (40) Ryan Preece
2. (88) Woody Pitkat
3. (25S) Matt Swanson
4. (00) Austin Beers
5. (58) Eric Goodale
6. (25W) Ronnie Williams
7. (55) Teddy Hodgdon
8. (20) Max Zachem
9. (75) Chris Pasteryak
10. (57) Keith Rocco
11. (7NY) Mike Christopher, Jr.
12. (45) Brett Meservey
13. (82) Craig Lutz
14. (19) Anthony Bello
15. (17B) Tommy Barrett
16. (46) Justin Brown
17. (1) J.B. Fortin
18. (66) Andy Shaw
19. (35) Andrew Molleur
20. (5A) RJ Marcotte
21. (20CT) Chase Cook
22. (31C) Andrew Charron
23. (17) Kevin Folan
24. (01NY) Artie Pederson
25. (29) Spencer Davis
26. (3) Jake Johnson
27. (81) Todd Owen
28. (81NJ) Jack Ely
29. (81X) Josh Zentek
30. (48) Glen Steger
DNS (06MA) Sammy Rameau
DNS (41) Kevin Shea
DNS (43) Devin O’Connell