BRITT — Jeremy Mills and Ryan Ruter haven’t always seen eye to eye.
That’s bound to happen when dealing with competitive personalities in the close-quarter Modified racing world.
On the eve of one of the biggest IMCA events in Iowa, the two are chasing the same thing in the same brand of race car.
The two North Iowa drivers know the significance and prestige that surrounds the Night of 1,000 Stars slated for tonight at Hancock County Speedway.
And they know about the pay accompanying Friday’s Night of 10,000 Stars and Saturday’s All-Star race. The value of all three races for the winner could reach $10,000.
Mills and Ruter also know about the past, which was sometimes rocky between the two. But things are much different now, which has surprised those in racing circles and maybe even the two drivers.
“I’d say we have a pretty darn good relationship,” Mills said. “I think competing against each other all the time, sometimes you don’t really care for a guy. When you are in business together now in a way ... things change.”
Mills finds himself driving a Ruter-built Sidebiter Chassis these days after looking for a car builder closer to his Garner home.
A lot has transpired since Mills’ Night of 1,000 Stars victory in 2010, which is one of the more memorable in recent history.
That night, Mills, Jake Durbin and Ruter were locked in a three-way battle for the lead late in the feature before Ruter was spun out by Durbin, opening the door for Mills’ Night of 1,000 Stars moment.
It was further proof that winning this crown jewel event that features some of the top Modified drivers in the Midwest takes a little luck to go along with a little skill.
Since that 2010 triumph, Mills has taken the long route to top-5 finishes.
He came from 29th to fourth in 2015, from 31st to third in 2014 and drove from 32nd to sixth in 2013. He started those three features after earning a provisional each night.
Mills is the only driver to have three consecutive top-10 finishes in the Night of 1,000 Stars entering this year’s race.
“I’d like to say the last few years we must have passed 80 cars because I can’t qualify for crap,” Mills said. “If we could qualify and didn’t have to pass 30 cars we’d be good.”
Mills has already locked up the Modified track championship at Kossuth County Raceway and feels he has a car underneath him capable of winning the Night of 1,000 Stars.
“This car has been good enough,” he said. “The last couple of years we were kind of struggling at points, feeling lucky to make shows. This year, for whatever reason with this car, I feel every night we unload we legitimately have a shot to win.”
Here’s a look at some of this week’s top contenders at Hancock County Speedway:
The local guys
Along with Ruter and Mills, Kelly Shryock brings plenty of experience to the table at Britt. He won last year’s All-Star race and was fifth in the Night of 1,000 Stars. The trio has each tasted victory in marquee events at Hancock County. Ruter won last year’s Night of 10,000 Stars.
The Wisconsin contingent
The drivers making the pull from the Green Bay, Wisconsin, area have proven to be top contenders in recent years. Mike Mullen won the 2015 race and Benji LaCrosse was the 2011 winner and finished as a runner-up in 2013 and 2014.
Marriott won the Iowa Modified Speedweek opener that paid $5,000 Tuesday at the Clay County Speedway in Spencer.
He’s a three-time winner of the event, joining John Logue and Al Hejna as the only drivers to win it three times or more. Logue is the only driver to win the Night of 1,000 Stars four times.
The 2013 winner was third last year and has routinely competed for feature wins during his time in Iowa. He’s won the last two IMCA Modified Super Nationals titles.
He finished in the top 10 in the Night of 1,000 Stars, Night of 10,000 Stars and the All-Star race in 2015. He also won the season opener this year at Hancock County Speedway.
Dripps won the Hawkeye Dirt Tour Salute to Veterans race earlier this season at HCS.
He leads the season championship chase at Hancock County Speedway and is coming off a runner-up finish at Tuesday’s Harris Clash, which was won by Joel Rust.
The Hawkeye Dirt Tour leader has been one of the best in the Hawkeye State this summer.