The racing world is like the business world in so many ways. Your success is based on your wins and losses. You get noticed when your stock goes up (and it does when you're a consistent winner.).
All successful businesses start with a plan, generally divided into short-range and long-range. Most businesses aren't immediately successful, but that's okay because it's part of the plan. It's the only time when you can succeed to fail. From that point forward, it's all about the successes.
At some point in a racing career, you have to make the decision to succeed. If you want to make a living in a race car, you have to bite the bullet and get that plan in place. You need to fulfill the short-term goals with an eye on the long-range plan. The successful race team can't rely on lucky breaks to work its way to the top.
The decision rests solely with the team. Thousands race on the weekends and do so happily with no aspirations beyond the track championship. If your goals are a little more ambitious, we have some suggestions from those who have been there, or played an integral part in helping others reach their desired status.
A Bigger Pond
If you've reached the point where you're the biggest fish in the pond, what do you do? You find a bigger pond. For many weekly racers, the transition can generally come anywhere from three to 10 years after the start of a short track racing career. Those who started at a higher level than the entry-level divisions may have taken a big leap forward, but they could also have short-circuited the time needed to gain some much needed experience.
Shane Huffman spent three years in Late Model Stock competition, culminating with a win in the NASCAR regional championship in 1999 (Blue Ridge Region of the then Winston Racing Series). The regional title was a team goal and they narrowly missed the national crown. "We put every effort into winning the region," recalled Huffman. "We worked hard to get the program to be the best it could be at Hickory (North Carolina)." In 21 starts at Hickory, Huffman won 17 races and never finished outside the Top 5. His program was also successful in some major Late Model Stock events at places like Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) and Concord (North Carolina).
The successful push to excel opened up opportunities. "I was ready to make the move," said Huffman, "but after we won the region, we got the attention of a sponsor and that made the decision better. Johnsonville wanted to come on board and help us, so we looked at different ways to go. We talked about different series, but we didn't want to travel much. Plus, we had to have a series that was a televised series to help our sponsor."
The choice became the USAR Hooters ProCup Series and Huffman, now sponsored by Jennie-O Turkey Store, competes in the southern division. There was a certain amount of transition involved from weekly racer to touring series.
"The biggest transition was the horsepower," said Huffman. "In the Late Model Stock, we were running 350hp engines. These cars are running 600hp engines. Of course, the cars are a little heavier since they weigh about 250 pounds more. That's nothing that time didn't work out, though."
Huffman pointed out that that cars are demanding more attention during the week. Maintenance programs and car preparation are taking more time from an average day.
To complete the transition, Huffman had to make a lifestyle change that involved a great risk. He had a job that was paying the bills and putting food on the table. To make the next step, he'd have to walk away from his position doing upholstery work in a furniture plant.