Lucas Oil Speedway
Late Model newcomer on rise heading to Show-Me
By Joshua JoinerDirtonDirt.com staff writer
Nobody was more surprised by Ryan Gustin’s first Late Model victory than he was.
Just one week before his break through triumph during May 11’s MARS DIRTcar Series event at Springfield (Mo.) Raceway, Gustin, the 22-year-old open-wheel modified ace from Marshalltown, Iowa, finished 19th in a pair of MARS events at Tri-State Speedway in Pocola, Okla., and Thunderbird Speedway in Muskogee, Okla. | Complete Show-Me 100 coverage
The disappointing performances gave Gustin cause to wonder if he’d ever win a Late Model event.
“We really got our butts kicked. I was beginning to think we didn’t have a prayer after that,” said Gustin, who won 63 races on the competitive United States Modified Touring Series from 2008 through 2012 before beginning his transition from modifieds to Late Models with a handful of Late Model starts late last season. “We raced with those guys at Pocola and Muskogee and was just terrible. I definitely wasn’t expecting (to go to Springfield) and win.”
Fortunately for Gustin, it didn’t take very long to rebound. In topping a stout field at Springfield’s MARS event, Gustin outran both hometown driver Terry Phillips, the winningest driver in MARS history, and defending MARS champion Jesse Stovall of Galena, Mo., who finished second and third in the race respectively.
Outrunning two of the MARS tour’s top competitors made Gustin’s breakthrough victory even more special.
“To be able to beat those guys, that’s pretty cool,” said Gustin, who led Springfield’s 30-lap race all the way in claiming a $3,000 payday. “To beat Terry Phillips at his home track, that’s not an easy thing to do. Knowing that he’s got a million laps around that place, that is really cool.”
While he still fields his modified more than his Late Model, Gustin is hoping to eventually make the move to Late Models full time. The transition began late last season when car owners Ed and Cinde Gressel purchased an older Rocket Chassis for Gustin to begin testing the Late Model waters. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, but so far, Gustin is happy with his progress.
“We’ve had a few bumps here and there, but we’ve been pretty decent at it,” Gustin said of his early Late Model starts. “I don’t think I really expected for us to win a race as soon as we did. You’ve got the big motors, big tires and a lot of horsepower. It’s fun, but it’s tough to adjust to at first.”
While he has taken a slow approach to his Late Model transition so far, Gustin plans to speed things up with more Late Model races as the season progresses. His Gressel Racing team will also soon up their investment in Late Model racing by adding a pair of new Victory Circle Race Cars and a new Mullins Racing engine to the team’s arsenal in the coming weeks.
“We haven’t had new equipment by any means, but I feel like we’ve ran well against those guys,” said Gustin, who plans to debut the new cars in MARS action May 26 at Monett (Mo.) Speedway. “We just bought a brand new Mullins motor and two Victory Circle cars, so we’ve got some good equipment now, which should help because we’re definitely planning on doing a bunch more Late Model races the rest of the year.”
If Gustin is able to make a successful transition to Late Models, he won’t be the first modified star to do it. Among notable Late Model drivers to advance from the open-wheel ranks is two-time and defending Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Jimmy Owens, who won four UMP modified titles before becoming one of the nation’s top Late Model drivers in recent seasons. Gustin would love to model his career after the Newport, Tenn., driver’s.
“If I’m ever half as good as Jimmy Owens, that’d be fine with me,” Gustin said. “For me just to be able to got out and race Late Models full time, that’s really always been my dream and what I’ve wanted to do. There’s been other modified guys to make it in Late Models, so it’s definitely possible.”
Gustin will have his chance to race against Owens and the rest of the regulars of the Lucas Oil Series this weekend as he heads to Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., for the 21st annual Lucas Oil Show-Me 100 presented by Protect the Harvest. Gustin hopes a strong run in the $30,000-to-win crown jewel will show the racing world that he’s serious about his move to Late Models.
“To make the show would be a huge accomplishment. Those guys, they’re the best of the best,” Gustin said. “If we can go out there and make the show and even run up front, that would be a huge confidence booster for our whole team. It would show some people that we got a chance of winning against these guys and that we’re serious about it.”