Jeff and Jodie Preece were at the Daytona 500 last weekend as their son Ryan, a 2009 Xavier graduate and rookie in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, finished eighth.
They've spent their whole lives at race tracks. But this was Daytona, and this was their son racing against the very best the sport has to offer, about as good as it gets.
"It was surreal," Jodie said Thursday. "This whole thing is like winning the lottery for our family ... you have dreams of seeing him out there, and then he's actually out there. They dropped the flag and I got a little sick to my stomach. Then they go around a few times and I feel better. 'He's got this, he's got this.' "
Ryan's wife Heather, brother Matt and his wife Tara, and brother Sean were at Daytona, too. A family outing on a Sunday in February.
"Fun and anxious," is how Jeff described the day. "Going 200 miles an hour and the other guy wants to eat your lunch ... there's nothing we can do when we're watching, but it's harder watching from a distance with no control."
Jeff Preece drove cars, so did Jodie's father. Jeff and Jodie's first date was at a track. Ryan met his wife at Stafford Motor Speedway; they raced against each other.
Ryan, 28, wasn't all that interested in playing sports as a kid growing up in Berlin, so Jeff took him to a quarter midget track in Meriden when Ryan was 5 or 6. He got into a car soon after that, and the rest has been about a kid whose work ethic and focus has brought him to the top of his chosen career.
"Ryan always excelled in his work ethic, and he's reaping the rewards of that," Jeff said. "Driving all night to get to a track or wondering how to come up with money to continue racing. He carried a burden but always handled it."
And now he's with the best of the best.
"He's not done; he's still pushing hard," Jeff said. "It's exciting for us as a family, it's exciting for Ryan and Heather, and everyone involved that has helped get him where he is today. One of the great things is a lot of people have a connection to him and feel when he succeeds, they are, too."
Preece made a name for himself shortly after graduating from Xavier. He was the 2011 Stafford Motor Speedway SK Modified champion, and the 2012 and 2014 Thompson Speedway Sunoco Modified champion. In 2013 he was the NASCAR Whelan Modified Tour champion. He moved up to the Xfinity Series before JTG Daugherty Racing announced in September that Preece would drive the team's No. 47 Chevrolet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
"We knew he had the ability to do it, but everything has to fall into place," Jeff said. "I know Ryan never gave up ... he created opportunities and capitalized on them."
It's hard to stifle desire.
"If you stay focused on something you're passionate about, you're bound to be successful and happy with what you do," Jodie said.
Jeff said that he and Jodie tried to lead by example for each of their three boys (middle brother Matt is a 2006 Xavier grad; older brother Sean went to Avon Old Farms). Both parents are extremely proud of all three of their boys.
"There are no guarantees, but if you set a good example ... kids are a product of their environment," Jeff said.
Part of that environment was at Xavier. Jeff said it helped build the foundation. Jodie agreed.
"Xavier was a great fit," Jodie said. "The faith, the structure."
This weekend Jeff and Jodie will be in Atlanta. Ryan races in the Xfinity Series on Saturday and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series on Sunday. They'll be back at work Monday morning in Connecticut, but the surreal life continues this weekend.