Weedsport, NY — September 25, 2008 – By Tom Skibinski, Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series PR Director
*Alex Bruce Photo
All season long Ryan Phelps has been a student of the racing game, diligently following the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series from beginning to end with two of the top touring stars remaining his biggest mentors.
With the arrival of September, Phelps has been thrust into a new role, moving to the head of the class as he is on the teaching end with wide-eyes now turned in his direction for guidance during the school year.
“I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by good people,” remarked Phelps, 24, recognized more familiarly in the classroom on weekdays as an 11th grade history teacher at Newark (NY) High School where he also serves as the head coach of the wrestling team.
In Central New York racing circles he’s fondly referred to as the ‘Rocket’ with the second-generation driver from Fulton, New York steering the Big Red Towing no. 99 Dave Miller Auto Body/Bicknell entry on weekends. And in the Advance Series spread over seven months he’s quickly gaining prominence as one of the most talented newcomers to DIRTcar Racing NorthEast’s premier circuit for Big-Block Modifieds.
“Billy (Decker) and Jimmy (Phelps, cousin) have provided me the most insight, things young racers never get the chance to experience while getting their feet wet. They’re both veterans with so much to offer. From giving little set-up tips to discussing tire management, noting possible track changes and pointing out good lines to run at every speedway just helps hurry along the learning process. I’ve learned a lot from watching Jimmy, seen first-hand how he’s worked his way up through the ranks. He’s always been a good driver, now he’s got good equipment and has become a star like Billy.”
“During the summer I could work on the cars five days a week and things were more laid back. Now that school is in session I can only get out to the garage once a week and on weekends so the burden has shifted over to the crew. I’m lucky again to have guys like Ryan and Danny Miller, Ed Webster, Pat (Ward) and my dad (Roger) spearheading the deal when I’m not around. And if it wasn’t for John Wight and Dave Miller I wouldn’t have this chance to begin with. Everybody has put a lot of stock in me to this point to get us to where we are and hopefully its starting to pay off,” noted Phelps, coming off his first top-five finish of the ’08 Series last Saturday at Canandaigua Speedway.
Phelps will be looking for another spot in the front-five when Rolling Wheels Raceway Park hosts the BPG National 200 as part of the 22nd Annual World Series Race Weekend, September 26-27, presented by Taylor Rental of Auburn. Saturday’s ‘Grand Slam” Series showdown is the second 200-lapper of the year boasting a Big-Block winner’s share of $10,000 and valuable points toward the coveted Mr. DIRTcar crown.
“Rolling Wheels is probably among my top three favorites, I’ve had some good finishes there lately and I’m looking forward to another one when we go back,” said Phelps, who crossed the line 7th, 6th and a career-best 2nd one year ago when the World Series special was split into triple 50s. His lone top-five of the ’07 season at the ‘Fast Track’ launched the Rocket into 13th position on the final overall Hoosier Tire Mr. DIRTcar points chart and set the stage for a full series slate this time around.
“Success makes you feel comfortable and we’re bringing back to Rolling Wheels the same car with the same motor. Although I’ve only run a couple 200-lappers I’m happy with our slick track set-up, especially the way we clicked at Canandaigua getting by guys like Brett (Hearn) and Steve (Paine). We might have even gotten a little higher but I got too excited finally turning in a good run with the leaders. I don’t think a top-five finish is out of the question on Saturday.”
“The biggest difference from a year ago is consistency. Last season we were spotty, ran good then bad, on and off again until figuring things out later in the year. Right now I feel we always have a competitive car, always in the hunt with a solid top-10 in the cards. We’ve got a lot of those top-10s already with another half-dozen either 11th or 12th. Maybe next year we can turn those into top-10s and the top-10s into top-5s. This year is really all about next year,” stated Phelps, who currently stands ninth in the overall Mr. DIRTcar points chase with eight top-10s posted in all 23 races run.
As preparation for the 2009 campaign took root at the beginning of this season, Phelps has already got an early jump by nearly matching his goals set from day one. Although being shut out from victory lane, even more track time than the previous year has enhanced his level of optimism for DIRTcar Racing NorthEast’s 34th successive season of operation that kicks off next February in Florida.
“We’re right on schedule with our goals and one of the biggest accomplishments is just being able to follow the tour and finish races without a single accident,” figured Phelps, who suffered through only a pair of DNFs as wheel bearing failure sidelined him at both Can-Am Motorsports Park in mid-August and at Rolling Wheels on Labor Day. He ended the regular season second in points at Fulton Speedway and fifth at Cayuga County Fair Speedway against many of the same drivers that contest in the Advance Series. “I’m just trying to understand every track a little better and keep my nose clean.”
“Running these 100-lappers makes all the difference when you get back to racing regular shows on the weekends. The 35-lappers now seem almost like sprints so you learn to bide your time better. The tour forces you to really concentrate on track conditions and see how different tracks require you to drive using different angles and entry points in and out of the turns. In a 100-lapper you usually have to run three or four different lines during the night. Following the series has given me the experience to almost see exactly how and when the track changes even before it actually happens. And helping you see the way tracks change gives you more confidence and ultimately makes you more patient as a driver,” Phelps acknowledged.
The best in the business will be in competition testing Phelps’ patience on Saturday, including four-time National 200 race winners Alan Johnson and Brett Hearn, who won the last race that was rain-shortened to 155 laps in 2006. Current Advance Series high-point man Billy Decker captured the double-century grind in 1998 with ‘08 tour travellers Danny Johnson (2000) and Gary Tomkins (2005) waiting until the new millennium to get on track.
Rolling Wheels pits are unlocked Saturday at 1 p.m. and the front gates swing open at 2 o’clock with practice beginning at 3:30 for all divisions. For Saturday’s portion of World Series Weekend, including twin Mr. DIRTcar Championship Series 30-lappers for Sportsman Modifieds and Pro Stocks, adult general admission grandstand tickets are $25 each, Senior Citizens (65 yrs + over) $23, Students (10-14 yrs) $8, and Children (9 yrs. + under) Free; all reserved seats are $2.00 extra per event.
Further material can be found at www.rollingwheelsraceway.com or by phoning the DIRTcar NE office (315/834-6606) or the track (315/689-7809) on raceday. Rolling Wheels Raceway Park is located West of the village of Elbridge on NYS Route 5 just five minutes east of the city of Auburn; also 10 minutes from exit 40 of the New York State Thruway.
For specific tour information, please contact DIRTcar Racing NorthEast Director of Competition & Track Sanctioning Cory Reed at the DIRTcar NorthEast Office (315/834-6606) in Weedsport, New York or log into www.superdirtcarseries.com for additional Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series material.
Headquartered in Roanoke, Va., Advance Auto Parts, a leading automotive aftermarket retailer of parts, accessories, batteries, and maintenance items in the United States, serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets As of April 19, 2008, the Company operated 3,291 stores in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Additional information about the Company, employment opportunities, customer services, and on-line shopping for parts and accessories can be found on the Company’s web site at www.advanceautoparts.com.
The Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts, Hoosier Racing Tire and Sunoco Race Fuels. Promotional partners include AMB i.t., Rite Aid Corporation and the University of Northwestern Ohio and the contingency sponsors are Bert Transmission, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Crane Cams, Integra Shocks, MSD Ignitions, Motorsports Safety Systems, Penske Shocks and Wrisco Industries.