As the start of the 2023 NASCAR season approaches, Penske Racing tire changer and Stacking Pennies co-host Ryan ‘Skip’ Flores is utilizing his limited free time to take part in a unique-but-proud racing tradition this weekend.
Flores is one of many drivers making the trip to Allentown, Pennsylvania for the Indoor Auto Racing Championship season-opener inside the PPL Center. The two-day event consists of five different classes, with Flores set to compete in the Three Quarter Midgets division.
The Allentown Indoor Race has been generous to Flores, who has visited Victory Lane five times inside the PPL Center. While he feels optimistic about adding to that total, Flores knows no punches can be pulled when preparing his TQ Midget for the event.
“This time of year, I always get nervous seeing if I remember how to do it or not,” Flores said. “I get to do a little bit more racing this year, and I feel confident in my guys. There aren‘t a lot of rules in TQ Midgets, so these guys are pretty innovative. You have to keep up with them to contend.”
In the near two-decade history of the Indoor Auto Racing Championship, Flores has been one of the series‘ most successful drivers with six total victories and a title in 2017. He only trails former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Erick Rudolph, who has won nine races.
Other drivers that have visited Victory Lane at an Indoor Auto Racing Championship event include current NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Stewart Friesen, three-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Justin Bonsignore and NASCAR Hall of Famer Mike Stefanik.
The diversity of the entry lists is one reason Flores enjoys competing in the Indoor Auto Racing Championship at every opportunity. He said there are few environments that can bring together drivers from both dirt tracks and asphalt tracks in the northeast.
Another factor that makes the Indoor Auto Racing Championship appealing to drivers like Flores is the open-ended nature of the rulebook. Aside from wheelbase, weight and motor guidelines, drivers and teams are free to experiment on their cars ahead of the weekend.
For Flores, the loose restrictions implemented by the Indoor Auto Racing Championship harken back to stock car racing‘s past in which both driver and car setup dictated how a race would end up playing out.
“TQ Midgets are like mini Super Modifieds,” Flores said. “With these cars, it‘s pretty much run what you brung, and you have to hope you brought enough. That‘s why you see so many different cars and people in this series. In a world where everybody has the same stuff nowadays, this is a throwback to where everybody builds their own stuff. It‘s challenging, but also rewarding when you build your own car and win.”
Flores hopes to immediately find speed in his car as he prepares for a rigorous weekend that he compared to a scaled-down version of the Chili Bowl.
On Friday evening, the TQ Midget field will be separated into three groups before running a 20-lap A-Main feature. The winner from each feature will transfer into Saturday‘s main event and the ensuing qualifying dash for the pole, with the rest of the starting grid for the 40-lap finale being determined by heat races on Saturday.
Flores knows one misstep on Friday could put him in a difficult position to make Saturday‘s A-Main, but he believes his car will be strong enough to stay up front all weekend and allow him to add a sixth victory at Allentown to his resume.
“As long as you get the car right, it makes the driving part a little bit easier,” Flores said. “At the same time, you have to be patiently aggressive with indoor racing. It‘s really easy to rip a wheel off or find yourself upside down, but you have to be aggressive enough to fill the holes when it‘s time to go. You can‘t be scared of those guys, and you have to go after them.”
Among those Flores will have to fend off for another Allentown win include Rudolph, as well as Billy Pauch Jr., NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Tommy Catalano and part-time ARCA Menards Series competitor Andy Jankowiak, who won the Indoor Auto Racing TQ Midget Championship in 2020.
Even if he does find Victory Lane once again at Allentown, Flores admitted he is equally focused on simply enjoying the weekend with many of the same people who helped him embark on his current career path.
There will only be a handful of chances for Flores to race this year due to his busy schedule, so being able to compete with the Indoor Auto Racing Championship allows him to cherish his roots and fully appreciate all the sacrifices and memories made to get to NASCAR‘s top level as a pit crew member.
“This is my 17th season traveling with the Cup Series,” Flores said. “It‘s great to do it for a living, but that means I can‘t race with my family anymore. [Allentown] gives me the chance to connect with my family and friends from the short tracks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“There‘s nothing like racing with your family.”