For as far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a World of Outlaws (WoO) driver. I remember being 5 or 6 six years old, racing junior sprints in California and knowing then that racing with The World of Outlaws was my ultimate goal. I never wanted to do any asphalt stuff or anything like that. Everything I ever wanted to be was a World of Outlaws sprint car driver.
I remember going to The WoO races locally in California at Hanford and Tulare which were tracks close to where I grew up and watching Steve Kinser, Jason Meyers, Sammy Swindell and all of these guys that I thought were amazing. I wanted to be like them. Often, I’d go to the track and watch my cousin; Tommy Tarlton race and although he wasn’t a full time WoO racer, he would always race with The Outlaws when they came to town.
As a little kid I always dreamed of being in their position. When I was little, around 5 or 6, it was easy to say that was what I wanted to do but as you grow up a little bit and you get into your early, teenage years you start to realize that you don’t really have a way to become an Outlaw.
I was racing micros locally for my parents. At the time, my dad and grandpa owned a harvesting business. They owned cotton pickers and they would harvest a few months out of the year. My mom owned a salon so I knew that realistically, my parents couldn’t afford to put me in a sprint car. At that point I really didn’t know how making my dream a reality would happen.
As I grew older my dad sold the family business and went to work for Gary Scelzi at their truck business. In addition to that, my parents had just built a brand new home and I realized that my racing was probably over. My dad sat down and had a talk with me and I realized we were going to be done. I was devastated and at that point I started to think about different options for my life and what was realistic.
Luckily, I was able to drive for a couple of people including Kyle Evans. At the same time we put the micros up for sale. Tom and Tommy Tarlton happened to find out they were for sale and asked why we were selling them? Tom and Tommy bought them from my parents and funded my final season in micros.
The following season, I was 16 years old and the Tarlton family put me in their sprint car locally in California. I think that’s when I finally realized that I had a chance to make a career out of sprint car racing. I felt that if I worked hard enough and put in the right amount of effort, that this could possibly end with me being a WoO driver. I really got excited about the idea of racing with The Outlaws and I started really working and pushing towards my goal.
I ran a very local schedule in my first year of racing for the Tarlton’s. We ran about 15-20, 360 races. That year I was super conservative, I was just trying to get seat time and I was focusing on not wrecking and just finishing races while being consistent. I think we won 1 race. It was just a local race at Chowchilla and there were maybe like 10 cars there.
The following year I continued to race with Tarlton’s and they hired Scotty Martin. Paul Baines was taking care of Tommy’s team and Scotty raced with me. They basically hired Scotty and told him that we were going to run a full schedule and that this was going to be my shot.
My first 410 race was Vegas. We ran terrible in Vegas, we didn’t make the show either night. Our next race with The WoO was at Tulare. I ran the bottom in my heat and got passed for the last transfer spot.
I remember coming in and Tommy Tarlton was standing there. Tommy explained that if I wanted to be a WoO racer and I wanted a shot at this, that I had better start gassing it up, start wrecking some stuff and start hammering it or we’re going to find someone else who can.
When it comes to the people I respect in my life, whether it’s my dad, Tommy Tarlton, Jason Meyers or Sean Dyson, I take what their advice to heart. At that point I started driving absolutely as hard as I could every lap. By the end of that year, I had wrecked a lot of equipment. I think I went through like 6 or 7 cars. Any other team would have definitely fired me. To be honest, the season was a disaster. We didn’t win any races but we had a shot to win a lot of them but I’d wreck leading, all by myself or just make stupid, stupid mistakes.
At the end of the year we went to The Trophy Cup. We wrecked 3 times. I qualified 2nd quick and I was so excited to have a really good start to the night. On the first lap of the heat race I crashed. We went to the work area and they were able to fix my car only to have me go back out and crash on the opening lap again. I wrecked in the B as well and we ran out of wings at that point.
I’ll never forget that next Monday, Tom Tarlton called me and basically told me that they were going to reevaluate things for the following year. I was going to get 10 races to run. I got to pick all 10 races and if I won a race, I could add a race to my schedule. Tom told me after those 10 races they were going to reevaluate if I would continue driving for them. It was definitely not a good conversation.
I ended up winning a race and was able to add a race to my schedule. I picked the Wednesday night of The Gold Cup which was a 360 race. We brought all of our stuff down there and basically ran okay at that Wednesday night race, I think we ran top 5. The team told me Tom called the team and told them that they might as well stick around and run me in The WoO races as well. Man, I was super excited.
We qualified really well for the preliminary night. At that time The Outlaws were taking the fastest 4 time trailers and the heat race winners to the dash. We qualified 5th quick so I missed timing into the dash by 1 spot. I ran my heat and I think I finished 3rd. Rico Abreu actually qualified 4th quick but Rico had an issue in his heat race and fell out of the invert which basically bumped me into a dash spot.
I remember drawing a 2 in the dash and man, I was out of control. The dash was a disaster. We took the green and I got real squirrely on the start and slammed into the side of Daryn Pittman. Brad Sweet got next to me and I ended up bumping wheels with him off of 2. I knew I was just in the way, I knew I was a squirrel but I was just so excited to be out front at an Outlaw race, even if it was just the dash. I was just driving as hard as I could and at that point didn’t really have the experience to drive at that level and I was a little out of control.
I remember standing off the top of turn 3 and Brad came up to me and told me that I was all over the place and that I needed to figure out how to control the car and keep it straight. He explained that they’re all out there racing for points and that they can’t be racing with people like that. I explained that I understood but at this point I was just trying to keep up.
Pittman took the lead early in the feature race. The track was decently hooked up, I was running the top in 1 & 2, it was slick through the middle and Pittman was running the bottom. It was pretty hooked up from the middle of the race track up, so everyone was just kind of ripping right around that color change.
I actually ended up falling to 3rd. Colby Copeland passed me early in the race and then my car started to just get better and better. I think that early in the race I was probably entering a little too low on the cushion, hitting the cushion and getting tight which would lift my front wheels and that’s how Colby got by me. Once I started entering on the cushion I could make good speed through turns 1 and 2 and I was able to get back by Colby.
Shortly after that I started to realize that I was reeling Pittman in and that I was faster than him. A caution came out with about 8 or 9 laps into the race. Pittman started beside me on the double file restart, went to the bottom and I just hit the top really nice and was able to drive around him in 1 and 2.
We got another yellow later on and I chose the top for the double file restart because I had won the restart on the top before that. I know now that wasn’t the decision to make because the bottom had grip but at the time I was just young and dumb. Pittman slid me on the restart and actually took the lead but Brad Sweet and Paul McMahan got together and brought out a red flag so I got restart with me in the lead.
On the next restart I was able to keep the lead and make some good, consistent laps and then a caution came out again with 4 laps to go. It was a single file restart with me starting at the front. I just remember telling myself that it was half a heat race and that I could do this and then yeah, I was able to pick my first Outlaw win.
I was over the moon and I’ll never forget it. Man, they say there’s nothing like the first one and I think that’s 100% true. Winning Outlaw races is special because it’s so tough to do but that first one? There’s definitely nothing like it.
The next day Brad came by and congratulated me and said that I did a really great job and that he was happy for me, so that was cool. You race against these Outlaw guys and as much as you want to beat them, you also want them to respect what you are doing as well. I felt like that night maybe I had gained a little respect and it was cool to see him come over and congratulate me after that.
From that point on things really started going my way. The Tarlton’s really got on board, everybody was really excited for the rest of the year and that opened a lot of doors for me.
That race changed the direction of my career and I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure.
Tom Tarlton was there which was really special because while he’s in the background of Tarlton Racing, he’s really the glue that holds Tarlton Racing together. He’s the one that really loves it. Tom drove himself and is related to me, my grandpa is Tom’s brother. Tommy is my cousin, he’s actually my second cousin. The Tarlton family gave me my shot at sprint car racing and gave me the opportunity to race. If it wasn’t for them, to be quite honest, I probably would have never raced a sprint car. Big time sprint car owners don’t look for micro guys, they don’t just pull micro guys out of cars and give them opportunities, it just doesn’t happen. They gave me my opportunity so to be able to win races with them and have success with them was so special. It still is. Any time I can go back and race with them is really cool, especially when we win races together.
That night I think Tom finally felt like all of that crashing and all of the money that was invested to get me up to speed and race competitively, to win races was starting to pay off. I think that’s what got them excited to race more often with me and invest more into the team. At the end of the day, any race I win in my career I owe to them because they basically made me a sprint car driver. They are the reason I am at where I am today.
That race was just so special and the Tarlton’s reacted so positively because they were finally starting to see some of the fruit grow off the tree that they planted. The Tarlton’s had spent a lot of money to get to that point.
I won the Outlaw show in 2014 and then in 2015 we were supposed to run a hit or miss schedule and we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do. I really wanted to run California’s King of the West series. I had run a couple of races here and there but I had never run a full season with them.
I remember us trying to make a schedule for that year and begging Paul Baines; the crew chief at Tarlton Racing to let me race it. Paul really shaped my career, after that disastrous second year he really pulled my wings back and tried to guide me in the right direction. I got really close with Paul that year and I remember begging him to run King of the West and that’s all I wanted to do.
We started running the series with no intent to run the full deal. I really wanted to run it and I didn’t care if I didn’t run anywhere else, all I wanted to do was run King of the West. Fortunately, a couple races in we were leading the points so at that point I knew, if I could stay there or even stay in contention that the Tarlton’s would keep racing it. The Tarlton’s love The King of the West and I knew they wanted to win that championship. We were in a close battle with Bud Kaeding all year long. The title came down to the last race of the year and we ended up winning the championship.
At the time, I was going to school to become an engineer but I really wanted to race nationally and I wanted to race on The WoO tour. I had mentioned it to Tommy and hinted at maybe taking the 21 car out to the midwest. It was a bit of a letdown because they told me it was never going to happen. Tommy explained that Tom loves racing and he loves being able to watch his car race at the race track and if the car goes back East, he’s not going to be able to watch it (DirtVision is one of the most amazing things that has happened to our sport).
To be honest, knowing what I know now, I could have maybe made the jump on my own but when you’re a young kid you’re a little scared to move there with no ride.
At the end of the year, around November, I was sitting in the shop and in came Keith Kunz, Tommy and Jason Meyers and Tarlton’s basically paid for me to race with Keith that next year. I hadn’t ever run a midget in my life so I wasn’t too sure about it. I knew though that I wanted to go winged sprint car racing and I knew that it was an opportunity for me to drive for a lot of people because I was racing for Keith.
Not too long after that I asked Jason Meyers to go with me to PRI. I told him I’d buy our plane tickets, I’d pay for our hotel rooms and I’d pay for everything. I just wanted him to take me to PRI and introduce me to people and I wanted to meet as many people as I could. I got all of our stuff together and we went down to PRI and Jason introduced me to a lot of really good people. Looking back now, it was the best thing I ever did. Through Jason and his former crew chief; Brian Bloomfield I found out about the Mintz family. The Mintz’s had been running a second car and were maybe looking to put one together for the following year.
Jason, Les and Craig had a little meeting at PRI and they basically said that they’d love to run a second car. Les and Craig explained that they couldn’t run a lot of races but they could do some. We were able to put all of it together and I was actually able to bring a sponsor; Eagle Ignition Leads who had sponsored a car I ran in Australia.
Through that ride I met the Linder family. The Linder’s were the ones who actually worked and maintained the car. Mike and Steven Linder worked on the car through the week and crew chiefed the car.
From that moment on things kind of snowballed for me. The move to the midwest was the next crucial moment for me in my career because driving for Keith wasn’t about getting to NASCAR. For me it was about being able to move to the midwest and to be able to have a full time ride but still have time to fit other races in.
I remember I would just call people non stop, trying to get in cars, trying to find rides. I think I drove 17 or 18 cars that year. People would put me in their car just because I was driving for Keith Kunz and Pete Willoughby. It was bizarre but it was because of Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson and all of these new people who came through there. I would call people and the minute I said I was driving for Keith Kunz, boom, I’d have the ride. People would just put me in their car. Driving for Keith and Pete really opened a lot of doors for me in the sprint car world and that allowed me to race more often. At the end of the year I hooked up with Joe Gaerte and I started driving the 3G.
Unfortunately, Craig and Les had some issues with their business and ended up having to shut things down for a year. I didn’t want to stop driving for them, it was just one of those deals. I’m thankful for them because they really gave me my first opportunity in Ohio to race and that led to so many other sprint car opportunities. I’m very thankful for them and everything that they did for me, it was an important part of my career.
If you do want to be a WoO driver some day, I think one of the best ways to do it is start out in California but then you have to make the move to the midwest. It’s going to be really hard to make it as a WoO driver if you don’t make that move. You just can’t make the connections and meet the people that you need to meet to get to the next level. For me, I always needed to get that next ride. I needed to hook up with someone like Les or Joe, to race in Ohio and to gain that experience in Pennsylvania.
Before I ever joined the WoO I had raced at most of the prestigious tracks that are on the schedule and those tracks; Knoxville, Eldora and Williams Grove are the ones you need to be good at. Even though I wasn’t good at Williams Grove, I’d still at least raced there.
The best way to do it though is to start in California first. I believe that because I believe that the only way to win races in California is to drive very, very aggressively. Tim Kaeding is like that, Brent Kaeding was like that, Tommy was like that. Jason Meyers was a bit of an exception but Jason still had the ability to do it when he needed to. I think the ability to drive aggressively is very important in sprint car racing. You can always slow somebody down but it’s really hard to get someone to speed up and drive at that top level.
You see the same qualities in the top sprint car drivers of all time. Look at Steve Kinser and look at Donny Schatz. A lot of people may argue that Donny isn’t aggressive and that he’s more of a finesse driver but you watch those guys in the later stages of a race when they need to stand up in the seat and drive more aggressively than the guy next to them, they do it. Donny’s shown it in a few of the more recent Knoxville Nationals that he’s finished 2nd in.
He did it with Jason Johnson and he did it with Brad Sweet. You watched those two races and you might have thought that Donny just didn’t have it and then all of the sudden in the last few laps Donny just starts absolutely driving the hell out of the thing, is ripping the top and is right there at the line at the end of the race.
Guys that come out of California don’t have a choice, our tracks are always hooked up and there’s always so much moisture. Even if it’s slick, there’s still always moisture you can find somewhere and because most of the tracks are bullrings you have to drive super hard.
The way I started my career was perfect for me because I got to start out in California where I learned how to go to the edge and race as hard as I could every lap before moving to Ohio and racing. I got to race in Ohio, Pennsylvania as well as a little bit in Indiana and New York. Racing those tracks was the opposite of that.
I know that the only way I’m going to win big paying sprint car races is to be good in the slick. To be able to slow down, hit your marks and hit the bottom then be able to get to those last few laps and be able to drive harder than the guy next to you.
I probably run the bottom now, more often than I ever have. I need to get a lot better at it and I’m still not where I need to be but I realize that the only way I’m going to be able to win races consistently on the WoO tour is to drive with more finesse, to slow down, to hit your marks and be more like Donny, Brad and Meyers.
Another thing that running in Ohio did for me was give me an opportunity to race with Joe Gaerte. There was a midget show at Granite City towards the end of the year and I was looking for a sprint car ride in the MOWA race so that I could do double duty that night. I called Bernie Steubgen at Indy Race Parts and asked him if he knew of anybody that needed a driver. I was actually hoping that Bernie would want to do it but he didn’t have any interest. I also knew that James McFadden had moved to Pennsylvania so the 3G ride was available. I didn’t know anyone involved with the team but Bernie was able to put me in touch with Tim Norman.
I called Tim and told him that I was interested in running the MOWA show. Tim seemed willing to run it but he wasn’t sure how Joe felt and stated that the team wouldn’t run if Joe didn’t want to. I called Joe and unfortunately he said no because they didn’t have anything together or a motor available to race. One thing he did say however was that there was a shot that they could have an engine ready for the end of the year and that we could run World Finals.
I never heard back from Joe so I figured I’d call him and ask them if they made any progress towards running World Finals? Joe called me back a few weeks later and told me we would go ahead and race it.
I went down there not really knowing anyone. It was Joe, Tim and Cindy Norman. Not a lot of people outside of the racers know that Tim and Cindy are XYZ Machining and that they helped out a lot financially on the 3G.
Honestly, at World Finals we were terrible, we were in the C main both nights. We really weren’t very good but for whatever reason we got along really well and had a lot of fun that weekend. I felt like we had speed, we qualified really poorly, but we raced well. I think I started 9th in one of the heat races and ran 4th but they were only taking 3.
We didn’t run very well but for whatever reason, they still wanted to go racing with me the next year. We put together a schedule in the off season and I begged Joe to run more than 40 races. Joe said it just wasn’t happening. The team didn’t think that physically they could run more races than that. So we sat down and made a schedule and we ended up running between 50-60 races when it was over. We were doing well, we were winning and we were having fun.
We put a schedule together at PRI and went to start the year out at Attica. Before we left, we put the engine on Joe’s dyno and it had a bad clicking noise in it. We spent all day on the dyno trying to figure out what it was. It ended up being a tooth that was broken off in the gear drive. We pulled the motor out at the last minute and plugged a different engine in it. We went to Attica and we were leading the All Star show with just a few laps to go and we blew a head gasket. We were at the first race of the year and we’d already gone through 2 engines.
I was a little bit nervous after that but man, it seemed like we always just put it together. The rest of the year we were able to get things fixed and make everything right. I had a lot of fun racing with Joe, Tim and Cindy. I definitely made memories that I’ll never forget. The 3g was a special part of my life and at the time I didn’t realize it. I look back now and realize I didn’t know how special it was and how much fun I was having.
When it comes to Joe Gaerte, what you see is what you get. Joe is just so quiet and reserved all of the time. For me, being a race car driver, that was huge. I feel like our relationship was really, really easy. I never really had to say a whole lot to him and a lot of that was because of his experience. He was a very successful race car driver. Joe has run 3rd in Outlaw points, he’s won races and he’s won All Star championships so he knows what it takes to win races and how to go fast. He was also a pretty successful crew chief as well, he worked with Daryn PIttman and they won The Historical Big One together.
Racing with him was really easy because he’s such a relaxed person. Not much really bothers Joe. I remember I spun out leading one night in his car with 2 to go at a race up in Wisconsin. The way the 3G car was, we needed the money. We needed to win races to keep the team going and I came in thinking that he was going to be devastated. It wasn’t that way. He just said that we all make mistakes, some nights I’d make them and some nights he would make them and that we’re all in this together and not to worry about it. I was blown away. It made me more confident as a driver. It meant that I could go out there and drive the car as hard as I could and never have to worry about coming in and having someone upset with me. It just gave me reassurance that we were all in this together and that’s the kind of guy Joe is. It’s the reason that when Kyle Larson came to talk to me about running for him at Ohio Speedweek there wasn’t even a second thought in my mind, I had to bring Joe with me. He’s my guy.
I feel like the reason my first Outlaw season went as well as it did is because I had Joe. Joe’s the type of guy that’s always calm, he never gets excited and he’s in your corner. He doesn’t ever get riled up, he knows that racing is tough and that it takes a lot of energy, effort and time to consistently win races. His calmness and his attitude helps me in the race car.
For whatever reason, with Joe I’m able to win races in the slick, I seem to be able to produce more often when the track gets technical than I ever felt like I could. Some of that I’m sure is that I’m racing more often and I have more experience as well but I’ve been fortunate to work with some really good guys. I really hope that for the next 5-10 years Joe doesn’t plan on going anywhere because I definitely don’t want to be working with anybody else.
As I said earlier, in 2018 I ran the full All Star deal with the 3G car and the next year Joe was working at Gaerte Engines after having sold the business. The new owner was basically in the process of closing the engine shop down and selling everything that was involved with the shop. Joe ended up getting laid off and didn’t really have a job and I knew that I wanted to go WoO racing. I had run The All Stars and at that point Outlaw racing was my goal going into the next year.
That off season I was in the gym with Tommy Tarlton and he hinted at the possibility of helping me and supporting me if I tried to put my own team together and do the Outlaw tour. At that point I didn’t see any other opportunities coming up. Every ride seemed to be super stable and I didn’t think that anything would come up.
I started preparing to start my own Outlaw team just like Jason Meyers had. Jason and I went to the coast together and we were running his side by sides in the sand dunes. We sat down and made a budget for a team together and Jason actually gave me a copy of his budget from when he had a team. We made a realistic budget for me to start out with and then I worked on trying to find sponsors to make it happen. I went to Australia and talked with Sean Dyson, the guy I drive for down under. Sean got really involved in it and was helping me as well.
That year I was running the All Stars with the 3G but I was trying to get sponsors together to go Outlaw racing. I was calling people every day to try and help pay the expenses and add some extra money to the budget.
My plan was that I was going to hire Joe to be my crew chief, we were going to find a second guy and we were basically going to go with 2 guys and then myself. I didn’t think that we had the budget to have 3 guys. Looking back, knowing what I know now, I’d have found something to get that 3rd guy because I see how hard the tour is to do with 2 people.
By the beginning of Ohio Speedweek I had found quite a bit of sponsorship and I was pretty close to my budget. Joe was able to come with me and Joe was able to bring a lot of deals to the table. All we still needed was a truck and trailer. At first I thought we might be able to do it with the 3G rig but it just wasn’t quite big enough to do the Outlaw tour. I knew I had to figure something else out.
Sean Dyson came over, rented a motorhome and he did all of Ohio Speedweek with the 3G team. He was actually a sponsor and actually owned one of our engines that year. Sean and I went to look at 3 or 4 trailers that week.
Sean is someone I’ve met over the course of my racing career that has changed my life forever. Sean and his wife; Felicity Dyson have been not only a huge part of my racing career but also my personal life in general.
I met Sean Dyson at Placerville Speedway. I had raced the night before in the Tarlton’s car at Watsonville and there was a race the next night at Placerville so I asked my buddy DJ Netto if I could go with him and scrape mud on his car. There was a guy standing by the track, I walked up and introduced myself. Right away I noticed he was Australian. My crew chief at the time; Paul Baines was Australian so it gave us something to talk about. We watched the races and hung out all night. At the end of the evening we exchanged numbers and Sean told me to call him if I ever found a ride in Australia and that he would tell me if the ride was worth taking or not.
The first year I raced in Australia I drove from The Mitchel family and our engine ended up blowing up the first night out. Sean and Felicity let us borrow an engine of theirs for the rest of that trip and from that point on we built a friendship that I could have never imagined was possible.
I have driven for Sean in Australia every year since then. Sean and Felicity have been one of the biggest supporters in my career. Sean, Felicity, their daughter Peyton and their son Kruz are family to me. Sean is and always will be one of my best friends, and I am forever thankful for our friendship.
While Sean and I were trailer shopping, we came to look at Paul Silva’s that he’d raced with Kyle, it was a Featherlite. We went over to talk to him about it, mentioned what I was doing and that I was interested in it. Sean is someone I’ve met over the course of my racing career that has changed my life forever.
Shortly after that, Kyle Larson texted me and asked if we could have a meeting the next day at Atomic. Sean, Paul Silva, Kyle and myself met the next day in Paul’s truck. I basically said what I wanted to do and they suggested we put everything we had together and put it all into Kyle Larson Racing and race together.
At that point it was a no brainer for Tommy, Sean or myself. Tommy and Sean had wanted to be involved in what I was doing already but with Kyle’s team having everything in place we could all scale back and go Outlaw racing. Everything was in place, I was able to bring Joe with me, Paul Silva was their team manager, they had structure and their team was already rolling down the road.
It all came together that week and we all agreed on what we were going to do. I was super excited to take the next step and I felt like racing for Kyle and taking Joe with me was the avenue that I wanted to go down. I was excited to be a part of KLR.
My first year on the WoO tour was kind of weird because I started out on what I thought was a really high note and then it just plummeted later on. We went to Volusia and had a really strong outing. We ran inside the top 10 every night of every Outlaw show there. Out of the 5 nights we raced Volusia we made the dash every night. For whatever reason, we were really strong at Volusia.
I left Volusia with a lot of confidence and even though we weren’t scoring top 5s, I was making all of the dashes and running in the top 10. I felt like we needed just a little bit more to be there and I just needed to make fewer mistakes and we could be right there in the top 5.
Texas got rained out and then we went to Vegas. Somebody spun out in front of me and I ended up crashing out the first night. We put another car together and ran top 10 the next night though so we were still fast.
We left Vegas and headed to my home state of California. We ran inside of the top 10 almost every night in California and picked up our first win of the season at Chico. We ran really well at Tulare, we then went to Stockton and scored a top 5 and top 10 finish. We left California around 4th in points and I felt super confident. I felt like everything was going my way and that we had so much speed.
We left California and went to Arizona. We struggled a little bit one night at Tucson but ran top 5 the next night at Arizona Speedway. From there we went to Devil’s Bowl and ran really well there.
Joe and I have always run really well at Eldora and that was the next place we raced at. I’ve just always been really confident there with Joe. I think we ran 3rd there. I remember leaving Eldora, driving out of the track and telling my crew member, Trey Bowman that I was so confident in our team and that I felt like we had a shot to run top 5 in Outlaw points.
Man, we left there and it was like the wheels fell off. We had to take a provisional at Lernerville, we went a lap down and we ran like dead last. From Lernerville we went to Williams Grove where we barely squeaked into the show both nights. We struggled big time at Williams Grove. Our team actually left the Grove and had a really nice 4th place finish at Bridgeport. I had a really good race and even had a shot to win it at one point. I went into PA 4th in points and I left there in 7th. I mean it was just terrible.
I think I really let that trip affect me. Those types of races are when the tour gets tough. In the beginning, when things were going well, my confidence was up, everything was great and it was awesome to be an Outlaw but the minute I got to PA I started sucking. You could tell everyone on my team’s confidence was starting to get down and everyone was getting a little bummed out.
We went to Charlotte and we were terrible at both of those races. We struggled big time. I think a lot of that was just because I was so in my own head about not running well and struggling and from there it just starts to compound.
The biggest thing I’ll say that I learned racing with The Outlaws this past year was how hard it is to do this full time versus when you’re just bopping in here and there running with them. When you aren’t racing full-time with The Outlaws you pick the races you know you have the best chance to succeed at.
In the past, we would have never gone to Williams Grove because we couldn’t run up front at an All Star show there so we surely weren’t going to run an Outlaw show there. However, when you’re full time you’re going to race against Donny, Brad, Logan and Pittman every night whether you like it or not. Those guys don’t care if you struggle at the track you’re at that night. It beats your confidence up. When you’re coming in and coming out of the tour though you can fill your schedule in with some other races, get your confidence up and then take on The Outlaws.
You can’t get away from racing those top guys and once you start getting beat this sport is really hard because your confidence goes down, you start questioning yourself and then starting thinking that there’s something you might be doing wrong. You start thinking that you might not be good enough to do this.
The Pennsylvania swing was really my first wake up call on The Outlaw tour. I realized it wasn’t going to get any easier and that I either had to step up and start producing or I was going to get spit out.
Following that swing, I talked to a lot of really good people. I was talking to Sean Dyson a lot and Tommy but Jason Meyers was huge for me because he’s done it, he’s walked in my shoes. I talk to Jason a lot when it comes to the driving side of the sport. Sean, Tommy, my Dad and people that I’m really close to really kept me confident through all of it and helped me a lot with the mental side of doing this. Jason got me in touch with Tim Hamel who’s my sports psychologist who’s helped me a lot as well.
Eventually, we just started to kind of pick momentum back up and we set some realistic goals for some of those tracks that I wasn’t very good at. We set a goal: We just wanted to finish inside the top 10 at a WoO Williams Grove show, that was going to be like a win for us. The team went there for the Summer Nationals and we ran 10th. I don’t care if that was a 10th, that was a win to me.
We started to get better at the tracks that we struggled at and eventually we won a race at Jackson. We won another race at Black Hills and before the end of the season we were able to win one more at Jacksonville.
I would say that the win at Jacksonville was probably my greatest moment on the tour last year. I battled with Sheldon Haudenschild for almost the entire race. It was probably the first race I’ve ever ran where I waited for my moment to start driving on the edge. Normally, if you watch me race I’m going mach one, giving 150% and I can be a little out of control, driving as hard as I can because that’s what I believe it takes to win.
I remember distinctly that Sheldon was faster than me. I don’t know if his car was better than me, or if he was doing a better job than me but he definitely had more speed. I got out to the lead early and he passed me and drove away from me.
I could just tell that my car was going to get better. I was a little tight so in the beginning I drove really conservatively and went through the middle. I just didn’t panic when Sheldon eventually got by me and I just focused on running my race. Towards the end of the race I really felt like I stepped up and went to the level that I would normally run the entire race at. I was able to get back by Sheldon and win the race. I felt like I really managed my race well and drove with my head the entire time.
As a team it was a cool win just because Sheldon and I battled a lot of the race and I felt like a lot of the things I’d learned that year I got to apply. It made me happy that everything went well and that we were able to win.
I feel like when we set out on The Outlaw tour our goal was to win races. We didn’t care where we ended up in points, we just wanted to win races and have some sort of consistency. All in all I feel like we were able to do that so I was pretty satisfied overall with how our season went.
Looking back on my first year, one thing that really surprised me, and it shouldn’t have but it was really hard to get along with the people I was racing against. Maybe I was naive, but all through my career I’ve always really gotten along with all of my competitors for the most part.
I’ll be honest though, this last year was really tough. I guess I’m just used to going to the races and going to other people’s pits and hanging out, talking and having a good time. I really enjoyed the friendship aspect of racing but on The Outlaw tour it’s just a little bit different. It’s not really like that. Everybody gets to the track and kind of does their own thing and is only there for one reason; to win.
I think that’s why it’s so hard to have a friendship with people on the tour. I always thought everyone would go to the same motels together, everyone would have cookouts and hang out. I thought everyone would be just one big, happy family and that’s just not necessarily how it really is. It just surprised me a little bit, I guess.
I definitely got into more scuffles and arguments with more drivers probably than I ever have in the past. I don’t really know why that is, other than the fact that everybody is out there giving 110%.
You know, when you’re out there and you’re winning races and you’re producing, everything is good. Your team is happy, you’re making money, things are going your way, your job security is there so everyone out here is just at mach one, giving it 110% every night at every moment and when that happens people are going to get into each other. Not every night is going to be as clean as it gets, there’s going to be nights where maybe you get into someone while racing hard and it ends up causing problems.
Everyone is out here trying to make a living, putting their heart and soul into it so along with stress and the tension that is involved people are just more stressed than at the local level of racing.
The other thing that surprised me was how much travelling is involved in following the tour. I rode in the truck 99% of the year and man, it is some travelling. The average, every day person that’s never done The WoO tour has no idea the amount of travelling, work and stress that goes into a season.
In terms of racing, it surprised me how quick all of these drivers adapt to these race tracks. If you look at the WoO points it shows you the top 5 and top 10 finishing results of each driver. It’s amazing to go look at that list. If you look at that list, you’ll realize that the amount of times you run in the top 5 directly correlates with where you finish in points. You run top 5 more than the next guy? You’re probably going to outrun him in points.
If you look at the guys that are right up front like Donny and Brad it’s absolutely amazing how many times they run inside of the top 5. It’s almost every single night. I don’t think a lot of people don’t realize how incredible that is or how tough that is to do. It’s so hard to go to new tracks, to go to tracks that have a lot of locals who are very, very successful and know the track and go in there, adapt to every single race track and run in the top 5 every night. It’s pretty incredible.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew these guys were good, it was no big surprise. It was just more of an eye opener to be in their shoes, to see how hard it is to accomplish what they’re doing and having it sink in as to how good they really are.
One thing I can tell you is that racing even just one year with these guys has helped me immensely. I was talking to Sean Dyson about this when I was racing for him in Australia. In the past, we had really, really struggled at Parramatta (spelling?) and we’ve always never really been good there.
I think a lot of the reason I was never good at Parramatta was because of my driving style. I’ve always been really aggressive and I think that the only way to win races there is to slow down and race with more finesse. Jamie Veal and Brad Sweet are two of the best there and for the first time, we were running up front with them and battling for the lead. I felt like a lot of the reason for that was because of my year on the tour.
I learned to slow down a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried to race more like that over the course of my career. I’ve tried to be more in control and to hit my marks because I’ve realized that is the only way to win the big races.
Having success at Parramatta meant a lot to me because I’ve struggled there a lot. I’ve been trying to be more of a calculated driver. We won some races at Parramatta and when we didn’t win races we were running in the top 5. It gave me a bit of relief because the previous year I had run The Scott Darley Memorial Race, which is their biggest race and didn’t even make the show. To come back the next year and produce results every night was huge.
I felt like when I was in Australia I was seeing the fruit that I had been working on harvesting the whole year and everything was finally starting to come together. You don’t realize when you’re out on The Outlaw tour that you’re really getting better because you’re racing against the best every night. It’s hard to judge if you’re actually getting better or just having a few good runs.
You finally get to race some of those races that you’ve ran in the past against the same competition that you’ve struggled against and all of the sudden you’re up front. Suddenly it’s like, wow, I am getting better as a driver and I’m learning more about myself as a driver and realizing that I am progressing. I may not be seeing it because I’m racing the guys that are the best every night but it is happening.
It’s been really amazing to be out on the tour. As I’ve said, I’ve learned a lot about myself, about life, about adversity and I’ve met some incredible people along the way. Once we finally get this year going again, I can’t wait to see how things progress.
The Drivers Project is a media collective devoted to North American open-wheel racing.