Ryan Gustin stole the show last October by winning night # 1 of the 2019 MLRA Falls Nationals, his debut event behind the wheel of the Tri Star Engines and Transmissions sponsored Open Late Model. Ask him why he is so quick to adapt to change, and he'll casually tell you, "I guess it's beginners luck." Out to prove it was not just a little luck, Gustin and team are moving ahead with plans for a full season of late model racing in 2020, including plans for competing in nearly 75% of scheduled Lucas Oil MLRA events.
The two-time USMTS Modified Champion is no stranger to late model racing, and admits he is glad to be back racing in the Open Late Model ranks. "It's every dirt racer's dream to either race dirt late model or sprint cars, and for me it's dirt late models. It's the top tier that every driver wants to be in," commented Gustin. The Marshalltown, Iowa driver has recorded a total of 7 MLRA victories to date, including a series leading four in 2014, a win total that season matched only by the MLRA's All-Time Wins leader Terry Phillips.
With Modified technology getting closer and closer to that of the Open Late Models in recent years, he notes how important Modified racing has been to his late model success. "The modified is kind of a stepping stone to get to that level (late model). A lot of things on the modified and the late model are the same as far as rear suspension goes, so it helps you to already know about that part of the car."
Gustin will continue his budding partnership with car owner Dave Steine in the upcoming season having a pair of Rocket XR1 Chassis powered by Tri Star Engines at their ready. Commenting on the teams late model focus for the upcoming season he noted, "This is something that Dave has always wanted to do and late model racing is what I have always wanted to do. I had already planned on mod racing the first year we got together and the second year, so we just kind of did that and our relationship grew and everything got better and better and has just continued to grow."
The "Reaper" will look to have a leg up on the completion this time when the series rolls into the Lucas Oil Speedway April 10th - 11th for the RacingJunk.com Spring Nationals, having logged nearly ten starts on the season by then. Following six nights competing in the Wild West Shootout he commented, "We raced pretty well there but we didn't qualify very well. Our qualifying is something that we need to work on, especially for this deal (MLRA). Time Trial qualifying is something I have not done a whole lot of in the modifieds, so I don't have a lot of experience with it."
A two-time winner of the MLRA Fall Nationals season championship event, Gustin has also proven he can win and be strong in the series lid-lifter event, having won the MLRA opener back in 2015 at the I-80 Speedway. This time around he commented, "If we could rattle off a couple of wins in Wheatland it would be perfect, but realistically for our race team we are looking at top 5's and top 3's. We know we've got a winning car that's for sure."
The 2020 MLRA season opener will be different than in years past, as Gustin anticipates it will present a new challenge to the drivers and teams when they roll into the "Diamond of Dirt Tracks". "It's going to be a little different for everybody going back to Wheatland for Spring Nationals now that we are on the 1350's. Everybody is going to have a little bit of learning to do but hopefully it will be better for everyone--the racing, the tires, just everything."
Gustin continued, "I think the new tire rules are going to speed everybody up. With the hard tire your always just slipping and you can't really get a hold of a whole lot, which definitely does put more driver into it in my opinion. But at the same time, sometimes the racing is not always as good because you have those four or five drivers that are just that much better than everybody else and they can tend to run off from the rest."
With the upcoming Lucas Oil MLRA season shaping up to a very competitive one, including a deep contingent of drivers indicating intentions to chase the series title, Gustin notes how important the longtime regional series is to drivers like himself that also like to compete nationally.
"MLRA has a good group of guys, and the guys that run up front and win those races seem to be able to run pretty well with the touring guys when they come to their area. If you can get your stuff good enough to go win one of the races (MLRA) your setting yourself up pretty good to run decent on the national level."
Working alongside the driver of the 19R are crew members Brett Ladehoff and Noah Bushman. "Having those guys there working on the car and tires is huge because it allows me to tune on the chassis and to focus on the race track," concluded Gustin.
Ryan Gustin Racing Marketing Partners: Tri Star Engines and Transmissions, Ramirez Motorsports, VP Heartland, Swift Springs, BCC Wraps and RacerWebsite.com.
For all of the latest news and information, including the full 2020 schedule, fans are encouraged to visit the series website at www.MLRARacing.com. Fans may also "like" the Lucas Oil MLRA Facebook page by clicking www.Facebook.com/lucasoilmlra or follow us on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/MLRA .