Ryan Lawler Becomes A Part Of Winchester 400 History by Jeremy Troiano
SLM Driver's Name Will Now Be On The T-Shirts
Ryan Lawler climbs out of his #31 after winning the biggest race of his career, the Winchester 400. (51 photos)
Winchester Speedway in Eastern Indiana is a track rich with tradition and history. For decades, the track has hosted one of the biggest short track races in the country, the Winchester 400. The track has also seen its share of history-making races in Sprint Cars, Midgets and anything else that has ever competed at the track. Names like Foyt, Andretti, Rutherford, Senneker, Eddy, St. Amant and others have all taken checkers at the high-banked half-mile track.
The history goes without saying.
And when Ryan Lawler took the lead on lap 311 Sunday afternoon in the 36th running of the Winchester 400, the rest, as they say, was history.
History is now something that Ryan Lawler is a part of. Too bad he knows not much about it.
“Winning this race won’t sink in today,” said Lawler. “In fact, I might not even sink in tomorrow. I’m just blown away right now. The t-shirts they print up with the winners that will now have my name on it. The trophy they give you here. I went into the office and signed this big thing that has all the past winners from here in the big races. It had some interesting names from open wheel, ARCA, ASA and others. That is a part of the history here. I guess I’m a part of it now.”
But did Lawler, a Texas-native who has just recently sprung on the scene in the short track world, know anything about the history of Winchester Speedway?
“I came up here and tested with David Stremme (earlier this year) and we did a press conference. There was a guy in there that was talking about the history of this place. I told him I didn’t know really anything about it. He gave me a little pamphlet on it. I read up on it. It’s a pretty cool place.”
It’s a pretty cool place that Lawler took an instant liking to, which is something not normal for a rookie that takes to a track like Winchester, with its 37-degree banking and racing line that is right against the outside wall all the way around the track, much like that up Darlington in the NASCAR scene.
But from the first time that Lawler saw Winchester in that test session earlier in the year, he was the fastest thing the track had seen in some time. In fact, Lawler went back to Winchester for a CRA Super Series event a couple of months ago and sat on the pole before getting swallowed up in one of Winchester’s nasty accidents.
When Lawler came back to Winchester for the 400 this past weekend, he picked up right where he left off. He was at the top or near the top of every practice session. Then, he caught everyone’s attention by winning the pole for the 400 on Saturday afternoon with a new track record for Super Late Models.
“You just drive this place... I’m serious,” added a smiling Lawler, sititng on the pit wall and looking over the now-empty half-mile track. “You get up on the wheel at a place like this. You don’t have to worry about overdriving this place. If you overdrive it, you are going to hit the wall. You just get up on it here. There is a fine line to doing it too. I mean, look at the wall. It says it for itself. Most the guys that finished this race hit the wall at some point. That is just how this place drives.”
Lawler was not intimidated by the high banks of Winchester Speedway.
Lawler started from the pole, but instantly showed that he’s far more mature than he driver he was when he started racing Super Late Models before the start of the 2006 season. Rather than running out front and using up his stuff early in the 400-lap event, he just hung back and saved his stuff.
In fact, even though Lawler was not out of the top-five all day long, he never took the lead until he stayed out during a late caution on lap 311. It was then a lead that he would never relinquish.
“When (David) Stremme came in to pit, we were thinking about coming in too,” Lawler said of the lap 309 caution. “I told my guys I thought if we both came in to get tires, he was better than us straight up. He came in and got tires and we stayed out. It was hard to pass all day long. I got my car where it could drive real well off the corner, so we decided to stay out. It guess it was hard to pass, because the #16 (John Van Doorn) couldn’t get by me and Stremme couldn’t really make it back up through the field to get to us. That was what we needed.”
And it might have helped that Lawler saved his stuff until the end of the race.
“I’ve learned so much in the past year and half. I’ve learned to save my stuff and be patient. I could have gotten out there and led laps, but I just rode and saved everything. The right sides had about 150 laps on them at the end. They had chunks coming out of them. Heck, the right front is flat now after the race is over.”
The most impressive feat of the day might have been Lawler taking the win after running in just his first 400. In fact, it was by far the longest race the youngster had ever run… by almost double.
Lawler was tired at the end of the race and did his Victory Lane interview while sitting down before David Stremme came over to congratulate him.
“We ran a bunch of ASA races that were 200 laps long, but we didn’t finish any of them. I think the longest I’ve ever run was 150 laps or so. I’m tired. I don’t have any sort of workout program for this. I don’t train. I just race. It was tough out there.
‘I’m good to go now. Those last 50 or 60 laps I was driving the piss out of the car. Those last 10 laps or so though, my vision was getting blurry and I was tired. I’m not joking either. I was ready to be done.”
The day wasn’t all about Lawler though, although the accolades will all fall his way. But there were plenty of other story lines in the 400.
NASCAR Nextel Cup stars David Stremme and Kyle Busch, each former Winchester 400 veterans from the ASA days (and CRA Super Series days) came in to steal the thunder. Busch fell out of the event early after wheel problems, but Stremme was there all day long, leading a bunch of laps and eventually finishing third.
And then there were the other “first time 400ers.”
Brian Scott led more laps than anyone else during the race, but eventually fell out after getting into an accident with defending Winchester 400 winner Scott Hantz.
Rookie John Van Doorn might not have led any laps, but finished an impressive second when the race was done, one of only three drivers to complete all 400 laps (along with Lawler and Stremme). It came in his first Winchester 400 as well.
John Van Doorn had an impressive second-place finish.
“I would have liked to win, but we got second. That is something I guess,” said Van Doorn. “I’m disappointed now, but tomorrow morning when I go to work at 6am, I will look at it as a win so to speak. It’s the Winchester 400 and I’m here on the frontstretch after the race... so I can’t be too disappointed.”
Rick Turner and Terry Fisher Jr. each finished one lap down, and fourth and fifth.
But eyes were still on the ever-smiling and goofy Lawler, who was taking picture after picture in victory lane with his new trophy, a mounted Winchester shotgun.
“This is awesome. This is by far the biggest win of my career,” added Lawler over the PA system. “This is amazing. This is why we came here. We came to win. We didn’t want anything else but to win.”
That will now puts him in the history books.
And on the t-shirt.
And in the pamphlet.