By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with GMS Racing driver Justin Haley at Kentucky Speedway. Haley is a 19-year-old NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver. He drives the No. 24 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet Silverado.
Haley is campaigning for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship. He is locked into the 2018 Playoffs via his win at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Seth Eggert: How did you first become interested in motorsports?
Justin Haley: “I first started getting an interest in motorsports when I was a young child I guess. I never really had a big desire for it. I was always one of those kids that would play football and baseball in Middle School and High School.”
“I didn’t really get an interest for it until I was eight or nine. My cousin had a ¼-Midget. I went to his birthday party, he showed me it, and I thought it was pretty cool. So, I drove it. The next week I convinced my Mom to buy me one. It kind of led to all of this.”
“My Uncle and my Grandpa always owned Xfinity teams. So, it was always around my life, but I never really got an interest until that one birthday party.”
SE: How did you convince your parents to let you race professionally? Was it difficult?
JH: “No, not really. I went to my Mom and I was like, ‘Hey, let me race.’ She was like, as long as your Step-Dad does it with you, you can. I had to go convince him, and he was pretty interested in it. He’s a gearhead too.”
“We bought our first ¼-Midget and spray painted it ourselves It was quite that hoot, nothing fancy. We went out there and just out-drove everyone. I finished third in my first race, and I think it was 30 cars. It was just a fun time back then.”
SE: Where and when was your first race?
JH: “Oh yeah, how can you forget? It was at the Kokomo ¼-Midget club in Kokomo, Indiana. It was about an hour-and-half drive from my house.”
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
JH: “I’ve had several different mentors through the years. I think my first real mentor was Michael Self. I went over there and did some Trans-Am Racing, and he was hired to teach me all that. We got together for a few years and he really taught me a lot. I would say that Michael Self’s really been my mentor, but now it’s probably Johnny Sauter.”
SE: What or who inspires or motivates you?
JH: “I don’t know, I’m just always competitive. It doesn’t matter if I’m racing my sister in the driveway on the scooter or racing a truck at Kentucky. I’ve just always been a competitive guy and always racing super competitive. It just fits hand-in-hand with my lifestyle.”
SE: Bo LeMastus (co-owner of DGR-Crosley) offered you a deal to race Formula KTM cars in Austria and Italy. How interesting is that offer?
JH: “It’s very interesting. Coming from road racing backgrounds, and all of the tracks that he said are pretty historic tracks. They’re some of the most historic tracks ever. I might have to go and try to take him up on that offer. I think it would be fun to go over there and see a new crowd for racing.”
SE: You won at Gateway, is there another track that you would like to win at in the Truck Series?
JH: “I’ve always wanted to win a Dover because it has a cool trophy, but that one’s past already. Obviously, I’d want to win at Kentucky because we’d get a jukebox, that’s always fun. I think Eldora would be cool, the Golden Shovel. It’s all about trophies, that’s it. Obviously Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) just because of my background.”
“There’s certain tracks, Talladega would be cool. I want to win at any track, I don’t know why we’re picking out ones that are cooler than others. If you win at any of them, it’s a good day.”
SE: You have experienced both the highs and lows of restrictor plate racing. Can you describe the range of emotions you’ve experienced at Daytona and Talladega?
JH: “Restrictor plate racing has always been fairly good to me. I really haven’t had too many bad days. My first start, I won at Talladega in the ARCA Series. We went with the Trucks later, ran second all day and got wrecked. That’s the low when you get caught up in the big one.”
“We went to Daytona and finished second to Johnny. Last week (at Daytona), it was obviously a great day and proved once again that we are pretty good at Superspeedway racing. Win or no win, we went out there and proved ourselves, worked together as a team, and showed each other that we can do it.”
SE: You won Talladega in the ARCA Racing Series in a race that had skill, fuel mileage, and attrition. Can you describe what goes on between a driver, spotter, and team in a race like that?
JH: “I don’t remember too much about the Talladega race. I do remember that we had a white-checkered, no green, and the leader ran out of fuel. We’ve had days like this, we were at Texas, looking pretty good on fuel mileage and the caution came out. We probably would have won it if it had stayed green.”
“It’s hard to know what’s going to happen, especially with stage racing. You know you’re going to have a break at the end of stage one and two, but stage three is always up in the air as to if you’re going to have a green flag pit stop or if a caution will come out. It tends to be tracks like Kentucky where you’ll have to do a green flag pit stop. Short tracks, you usually get a caution.”
“It’s provided great racing, but it’s always difficult. It the drivers’ seat, there is not a lot you can do to save fuel under race conditions. It’s up to the spotter and crew chief.”
SE: Your teammate, Johnny Sauter is a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion, is it intimidating being his teammate?
JH: “No, not at all. It definitely makes you want to compete and beat him a lot more because you know you’re in the same equipment as him. You learn to compare yourself a lot to him. Johnny’s been good to me.”
“He’s helped me from the beginning, from the first 1.5-mile where I didn’t really know what was going on. He taught me a lot and he’s always been confident in me, never turned me away. I think we have a really good friendship. We’ve really leaned on each other the past few years.”
SE: Not only did you win the NASCAR K&N Pro East Series Championship in 2016, but you became the first driver to ever finish in the Top 10 in every race on the 14-race schedule. What does it mean to you to see your name in the record books?
JH: “It actually makes me mad. I finished in the top-five in every race except one that year. I had finished sixth by an inch. So, looking back on it, I wish I would have moved the guy for fifth-place coming out of the last corner because then it wouldn’t be all top-10s, it would be all top-fives.”
“That’s a heck of a stat, we had an amazing year. We finished every lap, led a lot, won races, had a killer season. Everyone over there at HScott with Justin Marks, Shannon Rursch, my crew chief, they were killer that season on points.”
“That was Mobile, Alabama where I finished sixth. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had a drive-thru penalty for an overly-aggressive restart. Put that one on me, but we still got a ring sitting on the drawer.”
SE: You made you Xfinity Series debut earlier this year. Has the extra seat time helped?
JH: “The Xfinity cars have been a blast. They’re a whole different animal, have a lot more horsepower, a lot less sideforce and downforce. Learning how to drive those and man-handle them has been good. Iowa, I did the double-header, and that took about every ounce of energy I had to do that weekend.”
“It means the world to me, because when I was a kid running dirt races, I just wanted to start a Truck race. When you’re a young kid, you just look forward to the next series to step up too. It’s just been a blast, reaching the levels I have ad proving people wrong.”
SE: What does the future hold for you, where will you be one year from now?
JH:“Hopefully with more success than I have now. I’m not sure where the years are going to lead me. Hopefully sponsorship stays good and we continue moving up the ladder, but right now, we’re just focused on trying to get a Truck Championship.”