DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Justin Haley has been a triple-threat so far during Florida in February.
In a busy two-week stretch, the 18-year-old drove his motorhome down to the Sunshine State and then competed in every night of UMP Modified week at Volusia Speedway Park during the annual DIRTcar Nationals.
On Friday, he’ll complete the trifecta when he straps in for GMS Racing to race in the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
For some, such a run to kick off the year might be viewed as surprising, just as much as it is grueling.
Not so for Haley, however.
“I just love to race, man,” Haley said during his two-day break between the end of the DIRTcar Nationals and the start of Truck Series on-track activity at Daytona.
And race he has, putting up several strong runs during the seven-day stretch of UMP Modified racing that made up the heart of the first half of the DIRTcar Nationals.
Piloting his own No. 99 Lethal Chassis modified with support from former Roush-Fenway Racing engineer Matt Smith, Haley raced out of the B-Main and drove through the field to sixth in the opening feature on Feb. 6, coincidentally a race that was won by Lethal Chassis head man David Stremme.
He tied that result during the fourth night of competition and then posted respectable runs of 13th and 16th during the final two nights of action, making four out of six features and looking like a driver who was finally starting to get comfortable in a discipline that isn’t his usual element.
“People forget sometimes that I grew up dirt racing in Indiana; that’s where my roots are,” said Haley. “I did some outlaw kart stuff at Millbridge [Speedway] in the past … just for fun, to fool around and enjoy myself, but when I got one of Stremme’s old house cars last year I knew I wanted to step it up. I’ve always had a good relationship with him – he used to drive for my uncle (Todd Braun) back in the day – and he’s been a lot of help to me in this deal as well.”
Haley and Smith were a two-man band for the entire week, and while as racers, their goals were to rack up strong finishes, the bigger picture was to enjoy the moment while they chased that mission.
“Matt works full-time for me now, and we took it upon ourselves to do all seven nights of DIRTcar Nationals this year, which was probably a little crazy … but we pulled it off,” Haley admitted. “Between me driving, and cutting tires, and changing transmissions and everything else … that stretch was probably the hardest I’ve ever worked.”
“We were undermanned, but we still made the big show (Monday’s Gator Championship) and had a ton of fun doing it. I had the time of my life at Volusia this year, for sure.”
For a driver who has competed at both the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway in a late model and at the DIRTcar Nationals in a modified, Haley admitted he couldn’t settle on which of the two was more difficult.
“I’m honestly not sure which one was harder,” he said. “I know that of the two, cleaning the modified was definitely not as enjoyable as just unloading the super late (model) and wiping it off, but either way, it’s racing and I’m having a blast.”
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