My first World of Outlaws (WoO) show that I raced was actually just my 3rd or 4th 410 race that I had run in my career. I was pretty much new to the whole thing but I was excited to be at Williams Grove and I was excited to get the opportunity to race with The WoO at the age of 18. I remember I had a lot of nerves going.
Leading up to that race we had a successful 358 season going in Pennsylvania and we’d won some big races so I knew we had a good car but I knew there was a lot of good drivers that we were going to go up against that night. It was going to be a new experience for me. I was just really happy to get the opportunity and I wasn’t really thinking that we’d set the world on fire. I was going to be happy just to run top 15 or even make the show.
We went 11th quick in time trials after going out late in qualifying. I really didn’t end up having to pass too many cars and we ended up starting up front in the feature. We actually almost won the thing.
At the time Jason Meyers was on fire on The Outlaw tour and was in the middle of a 5 race wins streak with The Outlaws.It was the 2011 National Open preliinary night at Williams Grove and I ended up battling him for the lead. To race for the lead at that time was unreal. I was just doing the best I could but if I good go back today and run that I race I feel like I could have won it for sure because I feel like we had the better car.
I’ll probably never forget that race. I still to this day haven’t really heard the crowd inside of a race car like I did that night. The rivalry between The Pennsylvania Posse and World of Outlaws is obviously very strong. It was different though because I was a 358 driver at the time and I feel like a lot of the local Pennsylvania fans didn’t really know who I was and here we were fighting for the lead of that race.
To be honest I didn’t really feel comfortable that race because it was one of my first times driving a 410. I raced it as hard as I could. I didn’t want to leave the top of the race track and I could run the curb pretty good but as I was getting closer and closer to Jason for the lead I had to make a split-second decision. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to follow him through the next corner and that I was going to try something.
I decided to throw a slider at Meyers. It probably wasn’t the best slide job and I probably should have blocked him a little better. Jason was able to get back around me on the outside. The second time I slid him I ended up with the lead down the backstretch and that was the first and only time I’ve ever heard or felt a crowd inside the race car. I actually thought the motor might be blowing up. It was a weird, surreal feeling and I’ve never heard anything like that.
Jason was kicking everyone’s butt at the time and was The WoO champion at the time so to race on that level with him while I was so new to 410 racing felt really awesome. Unfortunately for us we ended up making contact with the wall and we ended up 19th.
We’ve ran A LOT of races since that race night at Williams Grove 2011 and I never expected that it would take until 2016 to capture our first WoO win.
To be honest, after almost winning that race my expectations were really high. I felt like we were going to win one soon. We were running good at the time and we’d almost won in our first try so I felt like we were going to be able to go out again and hopefully run really well. If you told me at the time it was going to take until 5 years down the road to win my first Outlaw race I probably wouldn’t have been too happy about it or wouldn’t have believed it. I definitely felt like it would come soon.
Hitting the road
I spent 2 more years in Pennsylvania. I ran my first full year of 410’s in 2012 and another full year in 2013.
We were in our second full year of running 410’s in Pennsylvania and really, to be honest, weren’t having that great of a year. We were consistent but had only won 1 race halfway through the year after having 2 wins the year before including an All Star show at The Grove. Out of nowhere my grandpa; Bobby Allen showed up at the shop one day and said we were going to run with The World of Outlaws.
My first thought was “How the Hell are we going to do that?”.
We barely had the resources we needed to run weekly in Pennsylvania. It’s the way my grandpa is though. We definitely weren’t prepared to run with The WoO and we didn’t have near what we needed. We still don’t but we were definitely very unprepared that first year. We did what we could though and we made it happen.
At the end of 2013 we finally started winning more races and won 4 races in 3 weeks as we started clicking and that definitely helped us with our confidence before we headed out on the road.
It was definitely a spontaneous decision to join The Outlaw tour. In my second year of running 410 we decided that my uncle; Jacob was also going to run with us too. My grandpa felt like the best way to keep two cars running was to go on the road with The Outlaws and make more money through their purses and tow money.
Our first year on The Outlaw tour started well with a trip to Tulare. I led most of the first night, I think I led 26 laps out of 35 before I ended up falling back to 8th. The track was really wet and I got really tight as the race went on and once I got passed for the lead I basically went straight backward.
Everybody forgets about our second night at Tulare which was the night Rico Abreu won his first career Outlaw race. I started 6th and I never really raced Rico for the win. He started on the pole and at the end of the race I was coming to him but I just ran out of time. California is really tough so for us to go out there and to run that decent I think really helped us because like I say we really weren’t prepared and that helped us keep going down the road.
That opening swing from Florida to California is so tough financially because you’re spending so much money through the week and only bringing money in on the weekend so that weekend really helped us stay out there.
We’ve been pretty close to falling off the tour a few times but it seems like we have a run like that or somebody lends us a hand and we’re able to keep going. We’re definitely very lucky to be able to do what we do and we’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have met so many great people who help keep us going.
Up against the best
Pennsylvania fans won’t like hearing this but you can have a decent car and make a few mistakes during a race in Pennsylvania and you can still run in the top 5 or top 10. If you make a few mistakes with The Outlaws those guys are so quick to capitalize. There’s a reason each of those drivers is on The WoO tour and they are very, VERY good. There’s a lot of good drivers who race in Pennsylvania but every single World of Outlaws driver brings it every race.
The teams have everything they need. The crew chiefs and crews are very intelligent and you have top-notch drivers from all over the country and sometimes the world.
It’s such a different feeling when you run a World of Outlaws race versus any weekly show in the country. A weekly show just feels a lot more laid back than a WoO show. Those guys race so much harder, they’re so much faster and they make such good decisions in their cars. Each driver that competes with The Outlaws is so tough and there is a reason they compete on the stage that they are on. Racing with The WoO has made me so much better as a driver and has made our team so much better.
One thing I want people to understand is that while we may not have the budget of the other teams on the tour, we still have great race cars. We are fortunate to have XXX Chassis Co, FK Shocks, Michael Newman, Don Ott Racing Engines and DMI allow us to put great race cars together with great parts. We have very fast race cars. We just aren’t in a position where we can go out and crash. If we crash 2 or 3 weeks in a row we’re going to be in trouble. You just can’t race with The World of Outlaws if you don’t have great equipment and we have great equipment.
One thing I do believe is our team has a lot more room for growth than most WoO teams. I feel like most of those teams are at their peak. They have everything they need to win a World of Outlaws championship and we’re not at that level. We have so much more to gain and we keep gaining on the little stuff that one day should allow us to race for a championship. Right now we just aren’t able to fix things in the work area or changing out parts when they should be changed out.
It seems like this year, more often than not it’s been Donny Schatz who’s taken the wins from me. At Weedsport, I led 31 out of 35 laps only to have Donny pass me. The few times we have been leading this year it seems like it’s always Donny passing me for the win but what driver can’t say that? I guess it was fitting that my first Outlaw win came down to him and I.
There was a lot of other nights that I felt like I had a better chance to win than I did at Cedar Lake on July 8, 2016. We only timed in 10th quick but we ran really well in our heat race and I got up to 2nd. The track didn’t seem too out of the ordinary from other tracks we’re used to racing on. It wasn’t really wet and it wasn’t really dry but we made our car better and made good decisions after qualifying and put ourselves in the dash. We ended up starting and finishing 2nd to Shane Stewart.
I took the lead from Shane Stewart on lap 1 and I started pulling away from him. There was restart early in the race and Joey Saldana got me. Once you get the lead taken from you in an Outlaw race it’s hard to get it back. It felt like another one of those nights that we were going to be close but come up short.
I tried to remain calm. I had a good car and I felt like I could keep up with him. It wasn’t until we got to lapped traffic that I started to catch him again. I was able to run the top hard in turns 3 and 4 while he was sort of running through the middle and I was able to really catch him from the apex of the corner on out.
I felt my confidence coming back and I felt like I had a better car than Joey. I needed him to stay in lapped traffic because he was going to be tough to pass in clean air. I finally got Joey on the top of 3 and 4 and he almost got me right back. We raced each other around the bottom for a few laps until I got clear and then came the yellow.
There was a restart with 7 or 8 laps to go and I now had Donny beside me. He is the last person you want beside you on a late race restart. It’s definitely intimidating when Donny Schatz is on the outside of you for a restart. There is a reason Donny wins 25-30 races a year. At that point though, I felt like we had been trying for this for a while and I was tired of losing so those thoughts didn’t really pop into my head on the restart. I was ready to go, I felt confident in our car and I was confident that I was going to get the jump on the restart. I knew Donny was going to have to be incredibly good to beat us, because I knew how good we were.
As the leader, it played to my advantage that I got the choice of the inside or outside line and I got to choose when the race restarted. I got the jump on the bottom on the restart and got rolling and into my rhythm again and I felt like there was no way he was going to pass me.
With 3 or 4 laps to go, I could feel my leg shaking. These cars obviously don’t have mirrors on them and there’s no way to know where everyone is but I felt fast. I could roll right through the middle in turns 1 and 2. Any time you have a car that can roll through the middle of a corner you know you’re fast and I felt like I had a pretty decent lead and that our first win was coming.
You never know though and anything can happen so when I crossed under the checkered flag I had the biggest smile on my face. It definitely felt great to get that first win and to see all of the smiles on my crew members faces. I got a lot of phone calls from everyone who helps us and people back home. So many people have put their time and effort into this team. We don’t have the big sponsors that some of these other teams do but we have a lot of little ones and a lot of people that would like to see us do well and we couldn’t do it without any of them. To see how happy our crew was, our supporters were and everyone who is involved in this team meant the most. Obviously I wanted to win the race and that’s what’s important to me, but to see how happy my family and everyone else was, that’s what made it mean so much and made it a night that I’ll never forget.
The Drivers Project is a media collective devoted to North American open-wheel racing.