January 8, 2014 — Audio and story by Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — Cover photo by Rowana Ray — MONROVIA, IN — Most 15-year-olds have their hopes set simply on graduating high school and their time spent cramming for exams and projects.
Not many can say they are part of one of the most elite lists in Midwest open-wheel motorsports history.
For Justin Peck, the latter has been part of a whirlwind of events over the past two and a half weeks that has led to unparalleled optimism in advance of his 2014 racing campaign. The Monrovia, Indiana teenager spent his winter holiday behind the wheel of a Steve-Clay owned national midget, and stunned the racing world on December 28th when he scored a triumphant victory in the 16th Annual Rumble in Fort Wayne indoor midget championships.
Peck’s victory eclipsed Bobby East in becoming the youngest winner in Rumble Racing Series history, and put the entire Midwest on notice that he’s not just another young shoe.
“I still don’t think it’s entirely sunk in,” Peck said earlier this week in an exclusive interview with Race Chaser Online. “I’ve been on Cloud Nine since we left Fort Wayne; it’s just been unbelievable.”
“I knew all along that we had had a good car and would have a shot, but man, when I messed up (in Turn 1) and Gamester got around me, it was that thought of ‘Okay, now what?’ Just had to get settled back in, and it all ended up working out.”
For onlookers, Peck’s win at the 2013 Rumble was not a total shock, though how he took it was a surprising twist (after Russ Gamester’s engine expired coming to the white flag). The Hoosier teenager claimed the unofficial Rumble Racing Series overall championship at the 2012 Rumble in Fort Wayne after finishes of second and third across the two-night affair at Memorial Coliseum. In all, the young talent has three podium finishes in four career Rumble Series A-main appearances and an average feature finish of 5.5, with the only blemish on that sterling record being a DNF in the Friday portion of this winter’s Rumble.
Peck’s racing reach stretches far beyond Fort Wayne, however. The young prodigy began racing quarter midgets when he was just five years old, and after finding Victory Lane in just his second-ever racing start, he was hooked with a need for speed.
“I’ve just always had a drive to go fast,” Peck says with a smile. “It’s in my blood. From the quarter midgets on up, it’s just more fun than anything else I could dream of doing. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of being on the race track.”
The young Hoosier decimated the quarter-midget ranks over the five years he raced in them, scoring ten National Championships before advancing to micro midgets and then into both winged and non-winged Outlaw Midgets in 2009 and the beginning of 2010. His quick learning curve and exploits in the Outlaw-style midgets triggered a phone call from Mel Kenyon and the Kenyon Midget Series at the beginning of 2010 that not only shocked the race team, but surprised the driver as well.
“When the Kenyon Series called us and wanted to know if I would race with them; I was 11 at the time, and I remember thinking, and my parents actually said, ‘You’re not old enough!’ But they wanted to make an exception for me, and after a lot of talking about it, we decided to go for it.”
And he didn’t just go for it, he again proved youth doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. Peck not only became the youngest driver to ever start a Kenyon Series A-main, he became the youngest winner in series history as well, grabbing a pair of wins in the seven races he competed in to claim the 2010 Rookie of the Year honors for the tour.
The past three seasons have brought additional new challenges, with runs in both the POWRi Midget Series and the ARCA/CRA JEGS All-Star Late Model Tour among the highlights of Justin Peck’s recent racing successes. Peck added a third Kenyon Series victory to his tab and finished top-15 in the 2011 Tulsa Shootout after locking into the A-main. Peck also finished in the top 20 in the nation in this year’s POWRi National Midget point standings.
His run in this winter’s Tulsa Shootout, however, did not go as he would have hoped, with motor problems plaguing the team the entire weekend. The young Hoosier ran B-mains in both the winged and non-winged outlaw midget classes, but says even though he could not get to the A-feature this time around, he still learned a great deal.
“We had our struggles down in Tulsa this time around, but you can’t win every race. I learned a lot because running dirt is so much different than running indoors, and it really taught me a lot about battling back from adversity. I’ve got so much more to build on for 2014 now and I’m confident we can use this as the first step down the road.”
Beyond all his on-track exploits, the young driver also keeps his life on-track and moving forward away from the racing surface as well. Justin is an honor roll student at Mooresville High School and hopes to become an engineer in addition to his aspirations of driving race cars for a living.
To assist with his public speaking and communications skills, Justin heads a driver safety seminar for three first grade classes at a local elementary school every May as part of their Indianapolis 500 unit. All of his off-track experiences, he says, helps him shape his motivation on-track.
“For me, it’s not just about what I do behind the wheel, but I want to make a difference in the world as well. Balancing everything I do with school and work outside of the cockpit isn’t easy, but it’s taught me responsibility and shows that just because we drive race cars every weekend, that’s not all we can do to make a difference.”
Justin and the Peck Motorsports team now look towards the 2014 season, which revs up full-bore now after opening last week in Tulsa. Peck will look to compete largely in the POWRi series again in 2014, but hopes to add some dirt sprint car starts as well in addition to his outdoor and indoor midget schedules.
“I really want to hop in a dirt sprint car this year if we can make it happen. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try and it’s just another step of the open-wheel resume that I want to check off my list,” Peck said enthusiastically.
But the part he’s most looking forward to? The return of the indoor season, and a chance to defend his 2013 Rumble championship, among other indoor starts, for his indoor car owner Steve Clay. Both owner and driver say now that they’ve hit on it once, they’re ready to hit on it again and make something special of the runs they do have as a team.
“I am so fortunate to have him drive my car,” Clay said of Peck. “What he’s done over the last two years has been incredible, and I only hope we can keep it going. He’s a fantastic kid to work with and I feel like he’s only going to get better.”
“I’m ready for 2014, but I can’t wait for the Rumble to swing back around,” Peck added. “Defending champion, I like the sound of that.”
But regardless of what happens in 2014, Peck says the past season has been one he will never forget.
“There’s been so much good happen over the past 12 months; it’s still hard for me to believe sometimes. The Rumble win was the biggest moment I’ve ever had in my career. I look at the trophy and tell myself, ‘we did something really amazing.'”
“It will be a moment that has a special place in my mind the rest of my life. It means that much.”
Listen in as we caught up with Justin following his Rumble in Fort Wayne victory and his run in the Tulsa Shootout: