LOUDON, N.H. – Ordinarily, this might be a feel-good story about Ryan Reed, a 20-year-old NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie winning his battle against diabetes, visiting youngsters at the Joslin Pediatric Diabetes Clinic in Boston, then getting his first tour of Fenway Park as a member of the Roush Fenway Racing team.
It’s still a feel-good story. But this is also about Reed, capitalizing on his first career top-five Nationwide Series finish to earn a spot in this weekend’s Dash 4 Cash and the chance to earn a $100,000 bonus on Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“Honestly, I was not even thinking about it,” said Reed, who finished fourth in last week’s Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona. “I was just focused about bringing home a good finish.
“A lot of good things came out of last week. It wasn’t like we haven’t had the speed lately. It’s just that everything came together. At Kentucky (June 27), everything we tried backfired. Finally, nothing went wrong at the end of a race. We did everything right and got ourselves a good finish.”
Joining Regan Smith, Ryan Sieg and Jeremy Clements as one of the top four full-time Nationwide drivers at Daytona, Reed can now claim the $100,000 payout from Nationwide Insurance and the opportunity to qualify for $100,000 more next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway if he finishes ahead of those drivers in Saturday’s Sta-Green 200.
The son of former NASCAR driver Mark Reed, who instilled his never-give-up attitude, Ryan Reed appears short on experience but long on maturity.
“You’ve got to manage a good race,” he says. “If you get caught up with racing, Regan Smith and Ryan Sieg and Jeremy Clements all day long, you just shoot yourself in the foot. If we just do what we’re capable of, we’ll be in position for a good finish.
“But (Dash 4 Cash) does raise the stakes a ton. I promise you if there’s 10 to go and there’s a late restart and we’re racing against Regan, you can bet we’re going to go at it as hard as we can. That’s why the Dash 4 Cash is so much fun and I really, really hope we can bring home that 100 Grand.”
Standing in the cool of the No. 16 hauler, a Lilly Drive to Stop Diabetes T-shirt is the only clue that Reed has any connection to a disease most medical professionals predicted would short-circuit his career before it could even get going.
“It was a really tough deal when I was diagnosed. I was 17 and they told me I couldn’t race anymore,” recalled Reed, a native of Bakersfield, Calif., who began racing go-karts at age 4. “The first question was ‘Why?’ What about diabetes would not allow me to race?” It kind of fell on my shoulders to do some research and understand diabetes. Ultimately, that research is what led me to my doctor, Anne Peters, who told me that I could race.”
A number of world-class athletes, notably Bobby Clarke of the Philadelphia Flyers, Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears and Olympic swimmer Gary Hall, have overcome diabetes. IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball is also winning his battle against the disease and being advised by Peters.
“I’m monitoring my blood sugar with a wireless monitor that mounts on my dash,” Reed says. “It allows me to monitor my blood sugar and whether it’s going up or down. In case it’s low, I have a drink that’s high in glucose that runs from the front of my helmet through a straw. I can sip on that whenever I want. Craig (Herrmann), my engine tuner, is trained to come over the wall and give me an insulin injection through my fire suit if I ever need it.”
That’s a safety net Reed has yet to need in a race.
“The diabetes is absolutely no factor to us,” says Reed’s crew chief Seth Barbour. “Ryan does a great job with his side of it with his exercise and his diet. If it wasn’t for his sponsor and the hype, you wouldn’t know he has diabetes. He’s just another 20-year-old kid racing cars.”
Reed says he couldn’t be happier to have Lilly onboard as a sponsor and to become a spokesman, particularly in encouraging youngsters like he met at the Joslin Clinic on Thursday.
“I didn’t choose the disease,” he says. “At the same time, I’m able to go out and do what I love in spite of it. I’m proud of it. I’m not embarrassed or frustrated or ashamed, even a little bit.
“Now, I couldn’t imagine my life without it. Here’s this kid out of nowhere who has this great opportunity. I’ve met so many great people and been able to do so much in inspiring so many kids. The Drive to Stop Diabetes program is obviously something that means a ton to me.
“People are going to remember you for something until you’ve made that name for yourself. Being known for fighting diabetes – that really draws a lot of attention to the program and what we’re doing.”
Barbour sees Reed drawing attention for his on-track performances in weeks to come.
“Everybody’s quick to compare all the rookies to Chase Elliott,” says Barbour, who watched Reed lead 29 laps at Talladega this season. “Well, Chase Elliott has a lot more seat time than Ryan. So, it’s taken a little time to kind of get acquainted to these cars, the radial tires and the guys he’s racing around. I think the biggest thing he’s learned is patience. A 200-lap race gives him plenty of time to work his way up there and we have plenty of time to make the car better.”
Like Reed, Sieg picked the right week for his first top-five finish of the season. Sieg, a 27-year-old from Tucker, Ga., helped push Kasey Kahne to last week’s win and finished third behind Smith, 30, who owns four career wins on the Nationwide circuit.
Clements, a 29-year-old from Spartanburg, S.C., has made 150 Nationwide starts without a top-five finish. But, in the last three races he has a sixth at Road America and last week’s eighth at Daytona that propelled him to the Dash 4 Cash.