Behind most of the rising stars in short track stock car racing today are veteran crew chiefs with years of experience turning wrenches, directing the team and making their race cars as fast as possible.

Manchester native Reid Lanpher is one of those young guns making a name for himself in Super Late Model racing. Poland native Jason Ricker serves as crew chief for Lanpher, working full-time at the race shop and making the important calls on race day.

Ricker, 38, son of longtime Oxford regular Tommy Ricker, cut his teeth in racing on the local level, yet his experience includes a stint down south working for some high-profile organizations. This year, he and Lanpher have two wins (May 28, Aug. 6) at Beech Ridge and are third in points with only three races remaining.

“We’ve been running pretty strong for most of the season,” Ricker said. “There seems to be a fine line with the handling this year. If you cross it, you’re way off that week. Stay on the edge perfectly, and you’re all set. The competition has gone way up over the last year or so. You can’t afford to be off.”

Ricker says that competition level has risen to the point where average finishes between sixth and 10th won’t guarantee a championship. Weekly rival and current point leader Curtis Gerry of Waterboro is one example, having maintained incredible consistency this year with only one finish outside the top five.

It will be Gerry and 2014 champion Dave Farrington Jr. that Lanpher and Ricker have to overcome if they hope to repeat as Pro Series champions at Beech Ridge. The team’s other big goal this year obviously is to win the HP Hood Oxford 250 after a strong runner-up finish in 2015.

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“I sure hope we can contend for the big win again,” Ricker said. “The last PASS race up there we ended up sixth, and were off on our setup just a little. We knew where missed it, so we have a plan of attack when we return. All we have to do is capitalize on that, and I think we’ll be right there in the hunt again.

“Reid has come a long way when it comes to learning what he needs in the car for the longer races. We’ve had a lot of guidance from guys like Seth Holbrook and Jeff Taylor. They helped us fine-tune our program with their vast knowledge and experience. They’ve been there and done it all, in my book.” 

Ricker’s southern experience started in 2002 when he moved to North Carolina. After working for a few smaller teams at first, he ended up at the famed Wood Brothers as a shop foreman. He stayed until the team cut back from competing full-time in NASCAR, then found work with legendary racer and chassis builder Robert Hamke. 

“That experience I gained working with those guys was something I’ll never forget, and it taught me so much about professional racing,” Ricker said. “After five great years down south, I had an offer in 2011 from New Hampshire driver Aaron Ricker, who isn’t related to me at all but is a very talented driver.

“My wife and I had a new baby to consider, so we decided to move back home and I went to work for Aaron. We had a great relationship, and most of the crew members on that team are still working with me today on Reid’s car.” 

Ricker joined Lanpher Racing in 2014 and has become an integral part of the organization. In addition to working with his intelligent driver and great team, another aspect Ricker enjoys about his current gig is the fact his father is at his side each week. The gifted crew chief says his presence is priceless.

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“My father and I are very close. He does miss driving, yet simply doesn’t have the resources to compete at this level,” Ricker said. “He’s invaluable to me at the race track. He keeps me level-headed and is there whenever I’m spinning my wheels to provide inspiration or guidance. He says he’s having just as much fun doing this as he did driving, plus he doesn’t have the stress or expenses of running a race team.”

Ricker not only works with one of Maine’s top young talents, he’s also exposed to a lot of other rising stars at both Beech Ridge and on the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North tour. While some of those kids may have the talent and equipment needed to win a big race like the 250, it probably wouldn’t have the same meaning as it would for a Maine native who grew up watching the historic event.

“Oxford has always been a tricky place to get around,” Ricker said. “Just when you think you’re doing well, it can jump up and bite you. You just never know with that race track. The thing about the 250 is you have to do 100 things right to get a good finish, but if only one thing goes wrong, it ruins your day.

“Young drivers like Derek Griffith, Dalton Sargeant and my driver understand the prestige of the 250. They all have the skills and equipment to win, but they may not understand how nerve-racking it is, the rich history behind it, or why winning that race would mean so much to somebody like me.”

Ricker’s goals for the balance of 2016 are lofty, yet his team has the ability and determination to go after them.

“Finishing second last year was exciting, but winning the 250 is definitely a big goal of mine,” he said. “There are only eight points separating the top three at Beech Ridge, and almost anything could happen. I know we’ll give it our best effort to win back-to-back titles and the 250, and see how it all shakes out.”

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