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DUBUQUE — Matt Ryan hadn't won an IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series for Late Models main event since 2011.
So when he took the lead from his outside front row starting spot, then had to deal with five cautions throughout the 50-lap, $2,000-to-win main event on Tuesday night at Dubuque Speedway, it was more than a little stressful. Add dueling points leader Tyler Bruening for the win to that, and Ryan’s mind was working a mile a minute inside his No. 07 Gheer’d Up Racecar.
Through all those cautions and all those restarts; through side-by-side battles with Bruening, Ryan parked it in Victory Lane, and celebrated in relief as much as joy.
“Man, that was crazy. I’ve always been a bottom guy here, but wanted to win one on the top. Starting there, I thought, ‘Here’s your opportunity,’” Ryan said. “I thought, ‘Man, these yellows need to stop coming.’ Every restart I’d get a charge from the inside. That last yellow they didn’t get near as close as on the past restarts, and I got a better run, and we were in the clear as long as I didn’t mess up, jump the cushion. It was definitely nerve-wracking, man.”
The win was just Ryan’s second in Summer Series competition, and came at the same track where his dad, Terry, got his first career Late Model win more than 20 years ago.
Not only did that add significance to the victory, but Ryan hasn’t had the year he had last season. Gremlins and incidents plagued his early season, so getting the biggest win of the year was satisfying for a few reasons.
He had to remain patient throughout the race and push all that from his mind to be able to focus on the task at hand. Shaking up restarts and committing to that high lane gave him the chance to make up for all that trouble.
“When you’re running the top side, especially at a place like this, and you can trust the guy inside, you can take that head of steam with courage. Racing with Tyler, it’s always been a good competitive race with us too,” Ryan said. “We had problem after problem to start the year. We just kept plugging away. We kept going to them all and thought, ‘sooner or later our luck’s gotta turn,’ and apparently it turned tonight.”
Ryan won ahead of Bruening, Luke Goedert, Scott Fitzpatrick and Jeff Aikey, who raced with a broken left collar bone.
For Bruening, he had to settle for the oft-maligned “good points night” finishing second. He extended his points lead to four ahead of Aikey, and while he was satisfied about that, he wanted the win — and felt like with better circumstances he could’ve.
Bruening started eighth and was third three laps in. His trading the top spot with Ryan was good, hard racing, but if Bruening had been able to clear him at any point, the Decorah driver felt like he could’ve a stayed out front for good. Not being able to get that done was frustrating, but Bruening wasn’t going to dismiss the result by any means.
“At the start of the race I thought we were the best car out there, and we were following, maintaining, thinking maybe he’d slip up a little, but he never did. He ran a good race,” Bruening said. “I’m happy with second, obviously it’s a good points night. We’ll build on it from here.
“I really think the bigger tracks, like West Liberty are our strong suit (from here on out.)”
While Ryan celebrated in Victory Lane and Bruening did his interview with the track announcer, Aikey congratulated both in the most Aikey way possible — a poked or a nudge and a joke.
That Aikey was able to race at all — let alone run fifth and then be in his usual jovial mood after — was a testament to his old school racer toughness. He broke his collar bone in a four-wheeler accident, and said he wasn’t feeling great headed into the race.
Once in the car, though, he was good to go.
“It was pretty tough; I’m a little sore,” Aikey said. “I’m getting older, this stuff ain’t good for me. My mind was on racing, though. I didn’t even let it bother me out there. I’m sure I’ll be hurting tomorrow.
“A few beers and I’ll be good to go.”
With just four races left in the Summer Series season, the points battle between Bruening and Aikey is likely to come down to the final race, the Liberty 100 at West Liberty Raceway.
Ryan wants another win — eyeing Boone Speedway and IMCA Super Nationals as a chance, given the track’s similarity to Dubuque — and Bruening still is chasing his first Summer Series win of the year, too.
“Really one bad race could put us out of it, either one of us,” Bruening said. “We’re just going to gear up for the Yankee (at Farley Speedway) and then we’ll gear up and go to Boone.
“We’ve had hellacious battles (with Aikey) already, and we’ve had a lot of fun.”
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