Think you saw a familiar face last weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track? No need for a double take.
He might not be driving, but Ryan Partridge’s role in 2019 within the K&N Pro Series West garage is an important one that’ll see him at every race this season.
Following his second-place finish in the championship standings last season, Partridge knew his days behind the wheel at Sunrise Ford for Bob and Maureen Bruncati were probably up. But a phone call in the offseason kept him within the fold.
Racing-Reference: Ryan Partridge Career Statistics
"(Bob and I) have a great relationship," Partridge said. "Me and the whole Sunrise Ford family. We talk quite often. It was easy. He called me up, asked me what I was doing, if I had a ride lined up, I said ‘no not yet,’ he said ‘if you don’t get a ride let me know because I’d love to have you driver coach and spot Jagger (Jones), I think you could help out a lot.’ Which I agree. I think I could help a lot. It’d be one thing if I had a ride lined up. But the fact that I don’t have a K&N deal set in stone and I’m not planning on any races this season, it was an easy decision."
And that was that. Only a couple months removed from falling one spot short of a championship, Partridge was tabbed as driver coach and spotter for Rookie of the Year contender Jagger Jones, who is in the No. 6 ride this season (Derek Thorn’s championship team).
Jones’ season started off well, but with a bit of heartbreak. After leading 31 laps, he wasn’t able to lead the final one. Lapped traffic got in his way, allowed Hailie Deegan to pass him for the victory.
Partridge thinks the season opener being on dirt was the main variable contributing to Jones’ impressive series debut in Las Vegas.
"Jagger has limited seat time in a K&N West car," he said. "Very few laps actually. So the fact that we were able to go to a track where everybody’s a fish out of water I think played to Jagger’s advantage. It’s kind of neat because the kind of driving style you have to approach dirt is real timid, smooth and you can’t overdrive the car. All of that obviously played to his hand that he was able to field the car out easily and kind of grow with it as the race went on."
Both Partridge and Jones have a deep tie into Irwindale Speedway, the next circuit on the K&N Pro Series West schedule. Jones earned a handful of victories at the California track last season and Partridge has multiple late model crowns. The 32-year-old also works at the Speedway with Tim Huddleston (father of Sunrise Ford driver Trevor Huddleston) with the YouRaceLA stock car driving experience.
He thinks he can bring a lot to the team from his drivers perspective, car setup from his 44 K&N Pro Series West starts as well as atop the spotters stand.
"Going back to the knowledge of different racetracks," he said. "I believe I’ve raced at every track that Jagger’s going to be running this season. That’s valuable information. It’s important to know the quirks of the track. Knowledge of running at those tracks year in and year out is real important to being as a spotter."
Crew chief for Jones, Bill Sedgwick, has a long standing relationship with Partridge. Couple that with Jones’ inexperience on tracks Partridge knows like the back of his hand, the trio could be one unlike anything we’ve seen in recent series memory.
"If the driver is kind of green and he can’t give a whole lot of info in terms of chassis setup, who’s more qualified other than a spotter up top looking at every lap the car makes," he said. "Me and Bill have a great rapport. We’ve been working together for a long time. We talk apples to apples when it comes to chassis setup and ideas. I think it’s a really organic deal. He listens to what I say, were on the same page."
Racing is a sport of inches. All the small details matter. For a rookie, those are amplified. That’s why Partridge makes it a point of his coaching duties to walk every track with Jones before on-track activity begins on race weekends.
"When we get to the track at the beginning of the day, we walk every track," he said. "All the way around. Point out the little characteristics of every track. That’s what I feel like I’ve been able to bring. A couple years ago when Cole Rouse was my teammate, I feel like I was able to help him out a lot."
A proven, veteran driver being replaced for a younger one with no statistics behind him might leave the former with a bitter taste in his mouth. But Partridge is at peace with where he is in his career.
"I’m fortunate I was able to get the years that I did," he said of racing at Sunrise Ford. "I did a lot of racing last year, so we’re gonna do a little less this year. That’s okay, it is what it is. I’m a broke kid, so I’m blessed to be getting in any ride. I’m thankful for Bob and Maureen and what they’ve done for me in the past. That’s why it was such an easy decision for me to jump aboard when he asked me to help out."
The Irwindale 150 will take place on Saturday, March 30. The last time the series visited was in 2017, when Todd Gilliland visited Victory Lane.