CALIFORNIA TRANSPLANT: JUSTIN GRANT
Justin Grant Hails From the Left Coast, Calls Eldora Speedway, Midwest Home
ROSSBURG, Ohio (Sept. 20, 2017) – He hails from California and now lives in Avon, Ind. But when it comes to Justin Grant, the racing community in Piqua, Ohio, and the surrounding area considers him one of their own.
And this weekend he’s coming home. The rising star in the United States Auto Club’s (USAC) National Sprint Car Series returns to Eldora Speedway for the 36th Annual 4-Crown Nationals presented by NKT.TV, the site of his biggest victory.
In a few seasons Grant, 26, has gone from crashing on his car owner’s couch to crushing it in USAC as the national points leader.
He enters this weekend with 1,775 points, good for a 70-point lead over second-place Chris Windom of West Lafayette, Ind. Grant, who has four USAC national sprint victories this season and eight overall, scored his most impressive win at Eldora Speedway last fall. His win in the sprint division at the 4-Crown Nationals reverberated all the way back to California.
“I had a pretty subpar year until right at the end when I won a couple of races,” Grant said. “I had calls and texts and I ran into people I hadn’t seen in a few years and they were going on about what a great year I had. I really had a pretty bad year, but I won 4-Crown. That’s all anybody knew. That kind of summarizes what Eldora means to me.”
While he still has a following back home in Ione, Calif., Grant’s biggest fan club might be found in Eldora’s backyard. He spent several years driving the No. 40 for Piqua’s Mark Hery, and living with him, too.
He also established a bond with area race fans.
“I didn’t really spend that much time in Piqua, maybe two years,” said Grant, who now resides in Avon, Ind., with his wife Ashley and their three children. “But the people in that Piqua, Dayton, Troy area are ate up with racing. And Mark (owning the Sunset Meat Market) … we’d sell t-shirts out of the market. I developed a very good fan base there quickly and they’ve stuck with me. It’s neat to go back and see all those people. I still talk with a lot of them even though I’m in Avon.”
Grant partnered with Sam McGhee Motorsports in August of 2016. Together Grant and the 17-year-old McGhee have created one of the more formidable USAC racing teams in the national sprint series. They’ve collected four wins this season, with the first coming on Feb. 24 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. On April 21, Grant won at Plymouth (Ind.) Speedway. He picked up his second #LetsRaceTwo triumph at Eldora Speedway on May 12. Grant’s fourth victory thus far in 2017 came at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway on June 3.
Grant’s biggest career win to date was that 4-Crown triumph on Eldora’s half-mile, high-banked oval. He led 19 laps of the 30-lap feature and beat Windom to the line by 0.24 seconds.
Grant also has a pair of wins in the #LetsRaceTwo event at Eldora. In 2015, he passed C.J. Leary on the final lap. And on May 12, Grant used a slide job to take the lead from Kevin Thomas Jr. of Indianapolis after 11 laps, then held off a challenge from Troy’s Dallas Hewitt by blocking Hewitt’s last-ditch attempt coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap.
“When you win at a place like Eldora or a big place that has that intimidation factor, it makes your chest puff out that much more,” Grant said. “I like those race tracks. I like those tracks you can conquer and everybody knows you were the guy that night. You end up racing the track more than you race other guys.
“From the first time I ran there it’s been one of my favorite tracks. Back in California, that was kind of the place. You didn’t know who won every weekend but you always knew who won Eldora. I wanted to win at Eldora. To be able to win a couple of times now is really special.”
In addition to leading the national sprint points he’s sixth in the national midget division and fourth in the Silver Crown standings. Grant started this season winning both the sprint and midget season-opening races, becoming the first driver in USAC history to accomplish that feat.
Grant moved to Ohio in 2008 and worked on crews, including Jeff Walker’s team, and “bounced around a lot.” Learning how to wrench a ride helped him secure one. He hooked up with Hery, who didn’t have anyone to take care of the car. Grant jumped at the opportunity and moved in with Hery and his family.
“I don’t think there’s any way I would have gotten into some rides without doing that,” Grant said. “When I moved back here I barely scraped enough money together to buy a street car. Going racing on my own wasn’t an option.
“I’ve been trying to grind it out for coming up on 10 years now. Last year I wasn’t racing a lot, to be honest. I was on the couch more than anything else. The timing was right and I got the opportunity to get in the McGhee car. Everything went from me trying to figure out how I’m going to get a job and what I’m going to do for money last summer and fall, to all of the sudden I’ve got great rides in all three divisions surrounded by great people. It was kind of whirlwind-ish.”
Grant looks to kick up some dust of his own this weekend and add to his points lead with nine races remaining. His family doesn’t get to travel with him as much as he’d like, but a trip to Eldora Speedway increases the chances that his wife Ashley, stepson Brogan and 8-month-old twins Quinton and Charlotte will be at Eldora this weekend.
“My wife is awesome. She’s a rock star when it comes to kids and I’m somewhat of a cheerleader,” Grant said of Ashley, the daughter of National Sprint Car Hall of Famer Bubby Jones. “I go off racing and come home, hang out for a few days and play with the kids then I’m off racing again. She really takes care of the hard work.
“It definitely makes you think more about knowing the risks every night. We know what we do is inherently dangerous and always will be. About half the people told me I wouldn’t be any good anymore because I’ll start thinking about (the risks). I want to be around for them. But at the same time this is how I make my living and how my family survives. If I’m going to do this I need to do this well and doing it at a high level because that’s what’s feeding my family. I don’t think it slowed me down as they said it would.”
If anything, Grant has gone faster with the finely tuned No. 11 machine sponsored by Brown & Miller Racing Solutions and Mike McGhee and Associate. And, interestingly enough, his crew chief and car owner isn’t much older than Grant is.
“We’d be out in the middle of Nebraska and there Sam would be working on somebody’s car,” Grant said of his teen-age car owner. “You’re like, what are doing? How did you get here? Where are your parents? He’s been at this a long time. … We really clicked. Sam is 17 but he carries himself as if he’s much older. He’s really, really knowledgeable on race cars and knows what he’s doing. I wish there was more 17, 18-year old’s wanting to do this. I wish Sam wasn’t the exception.”
As they return to Eldora Speedway for the 4-Crown Nationals, Grant and McGhee look to repeat their winning effort.
“You kind of view yourself a little differently,” Grant said of winning at the prestigious event. “You’re strapped in and sometimes you have little moments of self-doubt. When you have that win on your resume you can sit there and tell yourself, ‘You won the 4-Crown. You can do this.’”
The 36th Annual 4-Crown Nationals presented by NKT.TV kicks off on Friday, Sept. 22, with the final appearance of the year by the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series and Eldora Stock Cars. Hotlaps are scheduled to begin at 6:30 PM ET with racing to follow.
On Saturday, Sept. 23, the USAC National Midget, Sprint Car and Silver Crown Series will be joined by the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions Series for the 4-Crown Weekend finale. A USAC driver autograph session will take place in the multi-purposed building located in the Fan Zone at Eldora Speedway at 3:00 PM. Hotlaps are scheduled to begin at 4:30 PM, with racing to follow.
Pit passes are sold day-of-show only and can be purchased for $30 on Friday and $35 on Saturday. Minimum age for pit access if 14. Reserved seating for adults is $29 on Friday and $34 on Saturday. General admission is $25 on Friday and $30 on Saturday. Children ages 12 and under are admitted free.
Tickets can be purchased at www.eldoraspeedway.com or by calling (937) 338-3815.
About Eldora Speedway:
Since carved from a cornfield in the natural amphitheater that existed between the Eldora Ballroom and the Wabash River by bandleader Earl Baltes in 1954, Eldora Speedway has grown to be a frontrunner in motorsports growth and stability. Baltes chose to sell the legendary high-banked clay oval to motorsports entrepreneur and NASCAR, IndyCar and USAC champion Tony Stewart in 2004. Celebrating its 64th season in 2017, Eldora hosts the biggest events in short-track racing including the 23rd annual Dirt Late Model Dream; the 34th annual Kings Royal Weekend; the Camping World Truck Series’ Eldora Dirt Derby – the only NASCAR National Series race on dirt; and the 47th annual World 100. The complete schedule for Eldora’s 64th consecutive season, including ticket and campsite information, is available at www.EldoraSpeedway.com and can be requested by phone at (937) 338-3815. Fans can get behind-the-scenes access of Eldora Speedway by following @EldoraSpeedway on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, hitting ‘Like’ at www.facebook.com/EldoraSpeedway and subscribing to www.youtube.com/EldoraSpeedway.