By Ken Bruce
It was a night of celebration for Ryan Godown and the R&M Motorsports team after winning the Freedom 76 race at Grandview Speedway for the second time in his career. Godown won his first Freedom 76 race in 2021, but due to his commitment to racing the STSS Elite Series in 2022, he wasn’t able to defend his win. Godown returned this year with his potent No. 26 to win his second Freedom 76 in succession, holding off a determined Doug Manmiller to claim the $30,061 first-place prize.
“I am just happy,” said Godown after the race, looking somewhat relieved and mentally exhausted. “With the way the beginning of the season started like a train wreck, and for my guys to pick up the pieces, turnaround, and get some new stuff, they kept plugging away, supporting me and being positive, that’s what makes this racing go around. Racing can deal you some pretty rough stuff and all the stuff that I endured over the past ten or eleven months, and it is just gratifying and makes life happy after a win like this.”
The rough start Godown referred to included two very hard crashes at Georgetown and New Egypt, which put the team behind equipment wise and left Godown’s body sore, along with some off-track things that affected the Ringoes, N.J., driver. As summer turns to fall, it is time for Godown and his team to shine, with many big events coming up in the near future, including the race last night.
“I tell you, it’s just over the last month that we’ve been running more, just like I said before,” explained Godown. “We have been just plugging away at it every week to get better. The car tonight was good after practice last night. I think we may have gone with the wrong tire choice. Tires here, like anywhere, are just a game, and it makes you cringe trying to figure out which tire to choose. Knowing what Manmiller had and what I had, we probably had the wrong tire, but luckily, we started towards the front. I don’t know if we could have gotten there if we started further back, but you just don’t know. Like I said earlier, we should have gone with a softer tire. We ended up going with a 50; Manmiller had on a 53, and I think Gular had a 50 on as well, and our tire just didn’t wear. I knew when Manmiller lined up next to me on the restart, that was trouble because after you get a couple of heat sequences in a 50, it just doesn’t fire well on restarts.”
A lap 38 yellow would slow the action and erase the big lead the Godown had built up. On the restart, Manmiller would challenge Godown for the top spot, with Godown frequently changing lanes and doing whatever he could to stay in the lead.
“He (Manmiller) hit me on the rear bumper off of two or four; I am not exactly sure, but when he did, I knew he was on the top,” said Godown. “So, then I started rolling the middle to the top, just to try and block his lane and get some heat back in my tires so I didn’t have to change my lane up. I had started going in on the top, and that didn’t feel right, and I felt like I was losing speed, so I started rolling the middle and drifting up to the cushion, and it felt much better. On the next restart, I was able to keep more heat in the tire under caution, and I think that long green in the beginning hurt us on the previous restart.”
This weekend was the first time that the R&M Motorsports team had come to Grandview since their Freedom 76 win back in 2021, but the team knew they had the car and the experience to get the job done.
“We came here, and we knew we would be good,” cited Godown. “But you also never know what can happen. I told the guys last night during practice that the car felt really good. I didn’t care about one lap speed; it was about the average speed during each practice session. I could go to the top and to the bottom; the car was just so maneuverable and didn’t feel bad anywhere. I knew the car was good, but you never can predict where you will start in this race, the heat, or the feature, and my brother had two good picks tonight. He (Butch) picked second for the heat, I then picked last for the cash dash and said I am not picking for the feature, so he did again, and he picked sixth for the feature, and starting near the front with the caliber of drivers here is just so important.”
The team has been on an upswing in recent weeks, and it couldn’t have come at a better time as the end-of-season big-money races start to take place. Winning a crown jewel race like the Freedom 76 will be a big boost for Godown himself and the team. I asked him if this was a confidence booster for the team with so many signature races coming up.
“It is; we went to Georgetown a couple of weeks ago for the Beach Blast and finished second to Friesen,” explained Godown. “Probably we should’ve gone to the top earlier, but we let that one slip away, but that was okay because we had a very good car and were leading. Then at the Coalcracker, we got to second, and I let a couple of lapped cars screw me up there, but Louden (Reimert) had the better car that night. So, we were right there and just needed to finish the job. Tonight, we had a little bit of an edge with the starting spot, and it just makes it better. Look, Gular coming from 18th to finish third is impressive. I don’t know if I could have come to the front like that if we had started 18th.
There are many dirt tracks in the northeast, and every track is tough for a driver to just come in and run well, but Grandview is widely regarded as one of the toughest tracks for invaders, and I asked Godown if getting a win there on such a large stage meant that much more to him and his team.
“It does,” commented Godown. “You can go to other places and run well, and that’s fine, but here the guys are so good. There is a style to this place like no other, and they know what to run every week, so when I come here and practice like we did last night, and honestly, we didn’t change much at all from practice to practice, and what changes we did make were very minor, it does give you a sense of accomplishment. I didn’t really want to change much today because this car is so good, and I didn’t want to screw it up. I knew I had Von Dohren starting behind me, and he was going to be good, and then you have Strunk, Gular, Manmiller, and Kressley, who all know this track like the back of their hands. Who knows, if they had had a better pick, what would’ve happened? You have to be good, but you also have to have some luck, and hope everything goes your way here, as it did for us tonight. It is really fun to be a part of winning this race. It was great to win it the first time, and to be able to win it again is just surreal.”
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