SOPHIA, N.C. — Audio, photo and recap by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online —
If anyone thought Ryan Preece was going to need a grace period to get adjusted to his new team and surroundings at TS Haulers Racing, the Berlin, Connecticut native promptly silenced them on Sunday afternoon.
Preece, the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, came down pit road just past the two-thirds mark of Sunday’s John Blewett III Memorial North/South Shootout for tour-type Modifieds to grab two fresh tires before promptly slicing his way back to the front of the field, powering past five-time Shootout champion Matt Hirschman on a lap 98 restart and holding everything Hirschman could throw at him off over the final laps for his second career North/South Shootout triumph.
Preece also won the event with Kevin Manion in the No. 7NY in 2012, and his win on Sunday was both his second Shootout win in the last three years and his first win for TS Haulers Racing in the pairing’s debut.
“I hope this means that we are going to be strong right out of the gate for sure (in 2015),” said Preece in victory lane. “I’m just really happy. It’s great to be a part of this.”
The former Tour champion said he was never worried despite knowing that Hirschman was digging late in the going.
“I knew all I had to do was keep my line and keep going straight and just keep digging,” said Preece. “Now I just want to stay strong and I want to be ready when we go up (north) for the first three races and to New Smyrna Speedway and everything.”
Hirschman won the pole in Friday’s time trials before the feature events were postponed from Saturday to Sunday due to impending wet weather, but it was Preece who set the tone early by surging to the lead from the outside lane on the opening lap of the 125-lap feature.
The race was surprisingly incident-free, with a 47-lap green flag run to start the event and only two cautions prior to the halfway point, one for debris at lap 47 and a second for a spin by Tony Hanbury at lap 58.
Following that restart, the players began to shift slightly, with the Ideal Racing entry of Andy Seuss charging to the inside of Preece to grab the top spot at lap 65 before Chuck Hossfeld’s spin drew the third caution of the race and set up a shuffled field as drivers began to get tires from pit road.
Hirschman grabbed the top spot on a lap 83 restart at the start/finish line and attempted to pull away before a pair of cautions within the next three laps tightened the reins again — the fifth caution of the race collected Spencer Davis, Derek Ramstrom and Tommy Neal.
The caution that set up the deciding restart flew at lap 97 when Chris Pasteryak spun and smacked the turn four wall.
Hirschman was solid on every restart up to that point, but didn’t have the speed to close his bid for a sixth NSS crown.
“This one is on me,” said Hirschman. “I cost us a win. I was the leader of the race and I cost us a win on the restart. I had all great restarts the rest of the race until then. I just tried for too much there and didn’t get it into gear at the point I needed to and cost us the chance to win.”
Ron Silk finished third and Jason Myers came home in fourth, while Ramstrom rallied to complete the top five.
Burt Myers, who many expected to contend for a third NSS win, had shifter issues on a restart when his car began popping out of fourth gear — forcing the former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion to drive with one hand while holding the shifter in place before retiring out of the event.
“The car was great today; I really was happy with it,” said Myers. “I think me and the 6 (Preece) probably had the best two cars. I was biding my time, trying to save my stuff for a run in the last twenty. I was just waiting to make my move and it broke on me on a restart. The bad luck finally caught up to us today, but we still ran real strong and we’ll be back for more here in three weeks when we head to Myrtle Beach for our last race of the year.”
Preece and Hirschman have combined to win every North/South Shootout dating back to 2010, after Myers won the event back-to-back in 2008 and 2009.
For more information of the 12th Running of the John Blewett III Memorial North/South Shootout, visit www.carawayspeedway.com or www.northsouthshootout.com.