Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – SYRACUSE, NY – Friday night, it was still a dream. By 10:30pm on Saturday evening, for Ryan Bartlett, that dream had become reality.
That was the moment the Watertown, NY driver finally taken home a victory in an Indoor TQ Midget feature, and he was able to do so in front of several friends and family who made the trek down Route 81 to witness it.
“Dude, this is insane,” Bartlett stated to me in victory lane, with the biggest smile on his face. “I can’t believe this is happening. This is unbelievable.”
From the moment Bartlett was able to grab the lead, he knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime and he had to make it happen.
“When I got out front, I looked up at the jumbotron and saw I had a few car lengths on second,” he said. “That’s when I thought to myself, if I hit my marks and don’t overdrive it, I’m all right. Then the caution came out.”
There were three laps remaining in the event, and Bartlett had one of the best indoor drivers in the field, Andy Jankowiak, right along side.
“I looked over and saw I had Andy J next to me,” he said. “I know how he is. He’s the type of racer who will do whatever it takes to get the win, so I knew I had to do everything it took to do the same.”
Both Jankowiak and Bartlett are hard racers who deserved to take the checkered flag home. On the restart, each fired very well, but Bartlett’s car did something that he’s very apologetic for because that’s not how he races. However, it was probably the reason he sat in victory lane at the end of the 40-lap affair.
“My car biked up a little bit in turn two on the restart,” he said. “It was the first time it had done that all race. When it did, it jumped me up into Andy a little bit more. That’s what got him in the wall and I feel terrible about that.”
Ryan hated to get into Jankowiak.
“It was totally unintentional,” he said. “I hope Andy knows that. It’s just the way the track was.”
Conditions were a key to Bartlett’s success on Saturday night.
“We were all fighting for the groove and the patch of rubber that was there,” he said. “I was lucky to find it and we made it to victory lane.”
The lane that a driver restarted in was key the entire night in Syracuse. Bartlett was no exception, and he knew exactly what he had to do.
One restart, he tried the outside and it ended up biting him. The rest of the way, he wasn’t taking that chance.
“Restart after restart, I watched the leader take the top,” he said. “The driver on the bottom would use him up and get the lead. Once I got the lead, I tried that, and it happened to me. I lost the lead that way. Thankfully, I got another try.”
He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
“The next shot, I was like, you know what, I get to fire first,” he said. “I’ll be that guy and dictate where to put him on the track. I got to be where I wanted to be and kept my right side tires in the sticky rubber. That definitely worked out for us.”
As the laps began to wind down, and he was out front, what was going through Bartlett’s head? Had he let himself believe it was a possibility that he could grab the win?
“I had to keep saying, take this one lap at-a-time,” he said. “I needed to remind myself to treat this like a hot lap session and don’t think about the fact that this is the biggest race of your life if you win it.”
“I just needed to treat it like it was hot laps, hit my marks and be smooth on the throttle,” he said. “I still can’t believe this! I can’t believe we won!”
Probably the turning point for Ryan’s indoor career, however, happened with a chassis manufacturer change a few years ago.
“This was a long, long time coming,” he said. “It was a lot of trying and trying with our own homebuilt chassis. Two seasons ago (three years, due to Covid), we got this Lafler Chassis and I wish we’d bought one ten years ago. It’s been a night-and-day difference. The car’s very consistent. It’s driveable and truly suits my style.”
Once he took the checkers, and knew he had just captured the biggest victory of his life, a flood of emotions came over Ryan. After his qualifying win on Friday night, he stated to me that this was nearly 25 years in the making.
What does this triumph mean for everyone in the Bartlett family?
“We’ve been running TQ’s since 1998,” he said. “Earlier tonight, I was looking around and, except for Joey Payne, I realized I was the oldest driver in the field. There’s a bunch of young guys here racing.”
That didn’t faze Ryan though. He knows that was part of why he was standing in victory lane.
“With all those years comes the experience,” he said. “That helped me out a ton. That goes a long way racing indoors…having that experience.”
There was no removing the smile from Ryan Bartlett’s face on Saturday night. Hell, it’s Monday and I bet he’s still beaming from ear-to-ear. His racing suit may still smells like champagne and he probably doesn’t even want to wash it.
There’s no way will that image will ever leave his mind’s eye. Coming off of turn four, the crowd cheering like crazy as he took Warren Alston’s checkered flag, knowing it was for him.
Ryan Bartlett was now, and will forever be, in the record books as a winner of an indoor TQ Midget main event.
Proof positive: dreams can come true!