When the music stopped playing in NASCAR’s most recent version of musical chairs, 31-year-old Ryan Preece was left without a seat for the 2022 Cup Series season.
But soon after being shuffled aside due to the downsizing of JTG Daugherty Racing, the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion from Berlin, Conn., was presented with a unique opportunity.
He was offered the chance to be a reserve driver for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Reserve driver is a common job description in Formula 1 and other European series, but it was nowhere to be found in the NASCAR dictionary.
“If there is a driver who is hurt or he gets sick, whatever it may be, I’ll be there to relieve them for that weekend or however long it takes for them to feel better. Basically, I’m the sub driver in the event one of them gets sick and can’t race,” Preece told SPEED SPORT when asked to define his job as a reserve driver for SHR.
But there’s much more to Preece’s new role.
“Simulation is a tool that teams use now since we aren’t able to test, and we aren’t able to do the things we could 20 years ago where a majority of your time during race season, or even before race season, was spent on the road going to different race tracks, trying different things with the race cars, looking for that advantage. Simulation has become the way to try things,” Preece added. “So my role is if there’s a day Aric (Almirola), Kevin (Harvick), Chase (Briscoe) or Cole (Custer) can’t make it to the sim, I’ll do that. There are also separate days that we put aside during the week to do things for development — for R&D — to try things and give feedback to the teams.
Ryan Preece is a reserve driver for Stewart-Haas racing this NASCAR season. (HHP/Jim Fluharty photo)
“Simulation is something I’ve been good at in the past and I enjoy doing it. I enjoy working with the teams. I also enjoy learning about the different ways we can set up a race car and what’s going to be good and what’s not,” Preece explained. “It’s important that I keep myself a part of that process because with the new car, it’s nothing like any of us oval racers have ever driven. It’s really important to be a part of that process and understand how the changes we used to make on the old car affect this new car.”
“Ryan is a versatile wheelman with a racer’s mentality who fits extremely well within our culture at Stewart-Haas Racing,” said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for SHR. “Between the amount of testing and development work we’re doing with the Next Gen car this year, his added insights and time in the simulator will make us better by allowing us to learn faster.”
In addition, Preece’s program with SHR guarantees him a minimum of 12 races this season across NASCAR’s three national series. With sponsorship from United Rentals, the schedule includes two Cup Series starts, including this month’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway; three Xfinity Series races; and seven Camping World Truck Series events.
Was there any hesitation on Preece’s part when he was presented with the opportunity to be a reserve driver for one of the sport’s top teams?
“If you look at my national series career, it’s not like I’ve had the opportunity to be full time with a team like Stewart-Haas Racing. I’ve never had the opportunity to be full time with a manufacturer-based team,” Preece said. “To me, as far as a race car driver, it means more to be in winning equipment than it does to be full time. That’s not saying that I don’t want to be full time one day because this is an effort in getting to that with a manufacturer-driven team, with a team that’s capable of getting the job done, which we all know Stewart-Haas is. It wasn’t something that I was disappointed in or anything. It was actually the opposite; I was very excited.”
With Aric Almirola retiring at the end of the season, Stewart-Haas Racing will need a new driver for the No. 10 Ford.
Does Preece feel as if he’s auditioning for that job?
“I feel like I’ve had a lot of auditions in life, and I feel like I’ve constantly succeeded. I don’t know; we could look at it that way for sure,” he said. “But to me, it’s no different than any other year or any other situation that I’ve been in. I’ve got to get the job done, and when you put my back up against the wall, I swing harder.
“Priority No. 1 is going out in the few starts that I have and just winning. That’s what it comes down to. There are a lot of things it’s going to take. Would I love to do that (drive the No. 10 car)? Absolutely, but it’s going to take a lot of things aligning, and me going out and getting the job done.”
Jon McKennedy (7NY), Ryan Preece (6) and Doug Coby battle at Stafford Motor Speedway in August, 2021. (Dick Ayers photo)
Preece’s personal race shop includes a super late model and he is ramping up a modified effort after the untimely death of his modified car owner, Ed Partridge, in September.
“I not only lost an owner, but I lost one of my best friends,” Preece said. “I’m going through a building period of trying to put the equipment together, get the motors and all of the different things it takes to do that. Right now, with my career, modified racing is not my No. 1 priority, but I feel when I do it, I’m going to have everything that it takes to show up and win those races.”
Interestingly, Preece also has his eyes on a different type of open-wheel racing.
“Throughout my racing career, I’ve always been known as a modified guy. But something I’ve always had a passion for is USAC midget, sprint car and Silver Crown asphalt racing,” the second-generation racer revealed. “When I was a little kid, I remember my father taking me to IRP and watching those races.
“We were in Connecticut and that’s all out in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan. It was a little bit of a haul and it ended up being something I didn’t 100 percent get into, but you never know. I might one day want to build a midget, a sprint car or a Silver Crown car and try to go race with the Bobby Santoses and Kody Swansons, and go try to beat them.
“I really don’t have plan A or plan B. I have what I want to be looked at as a race car driver 10, 15, 20 years down the road — I want to be a badass. So that’s what I’m going to work at outside of trying to make it at the national level. In addition to winning NASCAR races and championships, I want to do the other stuff too.”
Ryan Preece is an old-school racer who is capitalizing on a futuristic opportunity.
“Anyone who is in short-track racing knows that I’m extremely dedicated to racing. If it’s got gasoline and caffeine, I’m all about it,” he said. “I like coffee, I like building race cars and I like racing. There’s not much more to me than that.”