MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Tyler Rypkema could see a Martinsville Speedway victory in his future Thursday night. The problem was that Eric Goodale was ahead of him in the closing laps as well.
It wasn’t a new scenario. The pair battled tooth-and-nail at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway in February during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, where Rypkema got into the back of Goodale’s car and ultimately spun the latter while they were battling for a top-five finish.
At the end of the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200, however, there was no such contact. Instead, the pair battled cleanly to the finish, with Rypkema settling for second in a career night for the young gun with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
The 24-year-old from Owego, N.Y., was all smiles when he visited with the media for his post-race video conference, soaking in his accomplishment despite the heartbreak of just missing out on the victory.
“This is huge. I mean, we’re just a family-run team; we all have day jobs. We all work our butts off to be able to come and do this, and to come all the way down to a track that I’d always dreamed of racing at … in my first time ever here and the first time our entire crew was here, for the most part, and to pull off a second-place finish is just incredible,” said Rypkema. “We never gave up and bringing this home is tremendous for us.
“It gives us a huge head of steam right off the beginning of the season to have the first race go like this.”
Thursday was Rypkema’s 16th NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour start, but the reigning Tour rookie-of-the-year is far from a newcomer to tour-type modified racing.
Rypkema is a veteran of the Race of Champions Modified Series in the Northeast and has also made nearly 30 tour-type modified starts during the New Smyrna World Series over the last six years.
But Thursday was a “showing out” for Rypkema on one of the biggest stages for the division, and he knew it.
“I watched some videos [of modified racing at Martinsville] before I came down here, but nothing can really prepare you for it until you get your feet wet and get on track,” he noted. “I watched as much as I could, you know, and looked at some other videos online, but it was wild out there … a lot of fun.
“This was a big night for us. It’s Martinsville; this place is special.”
Thinking back to February’s Blewett Memorial 76 at New Smyrna, however, Rypkema knew he couldn’t have a repeat of what happened then at Martinsville’s half-mile paperclip.
In the end, Goodale simply had a better race car when it mattered.
“Other than roughing him up, or pushing him down into the corner, or getting him loose in the middle, I couldn’t roll with him on the outside … my best option [to pass] was on the restart,” tipped Rypkema. “Once I couldn’t get him there, that was pretty much me saying, ‘Alright, let’s get to the finish and run this one out.’”
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will return to action Sunday, April 25 for the NAPA Spring Sizzler at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway, and though many people might not have known it before Thursday night, it will mark the second race of Rypkema’s pursuit of the series championship.
Rypkema plans to run the entire Tour schedule and admitted that a runner-up finish to open the season gets his team off to the kind of start they were looking for.
“Last year after the first race of the season, we finished around 20th and had it really rough the first few races. It felt like the entire season we were just trying to dig ourselves out of that hole,” Rypkema recalled. “To start out this year up there, it’s more about maintaining now than it is to have to fight for every little inch to be able to get back out of the hole that you started yourself in over the first couple of races. It’s huge for us.
“This gives us a lot of momentum and a lot of excitement to see what we can do after this.”