There were 10 laps left in Saturday’s Xfinity race, but Ryan Preece had no idea he was so close to paying off the most valuable debt of his racing career and likely his life.
Preece was second on the final restart of the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 when he was told there were only 10 circuits of Bristol Motor Speedway left.
“I asked (10 laps) to when,” Preece said afterward. “It went by so quick that I thought there was still 60 (laps) or so to go. I didn’t think it was that quick. I wasn’t thinking about the $100,000, I knew we’d be in good shape. I tell everybody this and I mean it, I come here to win races. I don’t come to finish second.”
He didn’t. After pulling ahead of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Brandon Jones, Preece went on to claim his second Xfinity win in seven starts in the last two seasons.
The first $100,000 payout for this year’s Dash 4 Cash program.
“I don’t think you can say winning $100,000 doesn’t feel good,” Preece said. “I know what it’s going to do for me and my life, and I can officially say that I’m going to be paid off with everything I risked last year and this is a big day for me.”
Before 2017, Preece was a lifer in the modified racing community in the Northeast who had 36 Xfinity starts, including one full-time season in 2016 with JD Motorsports. His best result in that time was a 10th at Darlington.
Preece was almost resigned to racing modifieds the rest of his life. But then Carl Edwards unexpectedly retired from Cup competition. That set off a chain of events that resulted in Preece making four Xfinity starts in 2017 for JGR, winning one race (Iowa) and placing in the top five in each race.
He was able to make those four starts thanks to help from regional sponsors that backed him in his modified racing and a friend and racing owner who lent him money.
Their investment led to 10 more starts for Preece with national sponsors this year and him being able to pay off his debt after just his third start.
“We have been gaining on it every time that I’ve strapped in this race car,” Preece said. “Without these two crew chiefs (Chris Gabehart and Eric Phillips), without these teams, without Joe Gibbs Racing and the equipment that they give you to go out there, that risk wouldn’t have came true.”
The week before the Bristol race Preece said he approaches every race he competes in as if it’s his last. But the 27-year-old driver still has more chances to establish a future for himself this season.
“It’s a chance to build a future for myself,” said Preece, who will be back in a JGR car in July at Daytona. “Where I’m going to be in October or after this win, I don’t have a clue. All I know is I’m not going to be the one that prevents me from going further. I’m not going to be the excuse at the end of the season and say, ‘Man, if I won this race or if I did this different,’ I’m not going to look back and say that. I’m going to do everything I can to win and make sure that I’m not the weak link.”
Preece was asked whether he considers himself a role model for other short track racers toiling to achieve their racing dreams.
“To be honest with you, if people want to label me that, that’s fine,” Preece said. “I’m not going to label myself as that. I like to make my own way through in life. Would I advise somebody to do what I did? Probably not, but it was the only way I was going to get the chance. I wanted that chance and it all worked out. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way.”
And now, $100,000 richer, Preece can go back to worry about the things others those in their 20s usually do.
“A mortgage, car payments, insurance and typical things like that,” Preece said. “What I also enjoy and what’s pretty cool is that yes, I may not be going to Richmond, but I’m going to stay for the debrief on Monday, I’m going to do all my obligations and when I fly home Monday night or Tuesday morning, I will go to work just like everybody else.”