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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For the first time in the over three decade history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, two different series champions were crowned in 2017.
Although Doug Coby stormed back and won his fourth straight driver's championship, the owner's championship chase saw Ed Partridge celebrate his second career title on NASCAR's oldest touring series. Partridge also won the owner's championship when his driver Ron Silk won the driver's title in 2011.
"It's great, when you race against the best on the Tour and you accomplish this, it's a great feeling to win this championship," Partridge said. "The way we did it, with Ryan missing a couple of races and us filling in with different drivers, it was really quite an experience. We started out pretty rough, we had some problems, we got wrecked at Thompson, and we really fought our way out of the cellar this year."
In 2015, Partridge teamed with Ryan Preece, the 2013 Whelen Modified Tour champion and an upcoming star in the modified ranks. That season, Partridge won four races with Preece, and they fell just 11 points short of the title. In 2016, Partridge scaled back with Preece, only running eight of the 17 points races. Preece ran full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for JD Motorsports, which caused a serious schedule confliction, forcing them to pick and choose events.
However, when Preece elected to step away from the XFINITY Series at the start of the 2017 season, Partridge gave Preece the opportunity of a lifetime -- to work on the cars in the middle of the week and sit behind the wheel throughout a scheduled full season.
"I knew Ryan was a great driver when he drove the No. 3 and the No. 16 car. He had a learning experience in the XFINITY Series and he wanted to come home and he called me up," Partridge said. "I told him he would have to maintain all the cars, be the crew chief and the driver, all in one. I knew he had some success in his own cars with his dad, but I really didn't know how it was going to go. But he went out there and pulled it off. It's really unbelieveable."
When the schedule was released for the unified Tour, Preece had one major confliction. On May 13, in a scheduled visit to Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, Preece was getting married to his long-time girlfriend Heather. Therefore, he missed the race, almost eliminating him from contention for the driver's title. But Partridge put George Brunnhoelzl III behind the wheel of his No. 6 TS Haulers Chevrolet, collecting an 18th-place finish. At the time, that didn't seem like much -- but the points ended up crucial come the end of the season.
While behind the wheel, Preece won five times and finished inside the top five in all but two races, which put Partridge right in the driver's seat to capture another owner's championship. Although Preece missed a second race in September at New Hampshire to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Partridge found another upcoming modified driver, Jon McKennedy, to drive the car to an 11th-place finish on the 1.058-mile NHMS oval.
Preece, Brunnhoelzl III and McKennedy combined to pilot the No. 6 the 16 points races this season. Partridge won the title over Mike Smeriglio III by a final tally of 621-604.
"I look for a guy that knows about cars, not just a guy that comes with his helmet," Partridge said of the decision to have Brunnhoelzl III and McKennedy pilot the car. "George knows his cars and he knows his setups -- and so does Jon."
Going forward to the 2018 season, Preece has at least 10 races planned with Gibbs in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. But Partridge and his TS Haulers team are planning to go for another series title next year.
"We are going to try to go after the title again, it looks like Ryan will miss two races or so and we will have to start at the back in a few, but it will be fun. We have a great time and we can't ask for anything more," Partridge said. "Ryan is just a nice young man who has a goal he would like to accomplish and he is doing a great job at it. I think it's going to be as tough, if not tougher than this one was. I think Ryan has a good game plan put together for this year and I think we will be even better."
Ryan Preece, George Brunnhoelzl III and Jon McKennedy combined to pilot the No. 6 to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour owner's championship in 2017. Adam Glanzman/NASCAR