2007 World of Outlaws Season Review: Justin Henderson
Justin Henderson continued to live his dream in 2007, competing with the World of Outlaws each and every night. The second generation driver put in countless thousands of miles on the road traveling from race to race and numerous hours wrenching the car, but each time he lined up for an A-Feature that made all the longs hours on the road and sacrifices made, worth it.
The native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota completed the 2007 campaign, which was his second full season with the World of Outlaws, with 14 Top-10 finishes. He led a number of laps at the famed Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix in the spring and also paced the field at Cedar Lake Speedway in Wisconsin in July, en route to a career-best third-place performance on the high-banked 3/8-mile. He wound up a very respectable 16th in the championship points.
"It was a very competitive season," said Henderson, driver of the Dan Dan the Sonic Man Rocket. "It was a very tough year as far as everyone is concerned. There were a lot of miles traveled and a lot of races raced. For a low budget team like ours, it was a tough season."
Henderson began the year by finishing eighth on the opening night of the Florida DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, with over 50 of the strongest competitors in the country in attendance. He also was quickest in time trials once this season and picked up a victory in the Crane Cams Dash in the spring event at The Dirt Track @ Lowe's Motor Speedway to earn the pole position for the 30-lap A-Feature.
"It's always worth it," Henderson noted of all the hard work that leads to strong runs. "We were fortunate to lead some races this season. We just couldn't capitalize on those, but we didn't have the winning car. When we have the winning car down the road, hopefully we can capitalize on it."
Competing nearly 80 times against the best sprint car drivers in the world this season, Henderson continued to gain priceless experience and his confidence continued to rise as well. He added nearly 20 more tracks to his list of facilities that he has raced at, visiting tracks in every part of the county and two in Canada. He also had the chance to return at a number of facilities that were on the 2006 World of Outlaws calendar, and had several strong runs at tracks that he was familiar with.
"I don't know if you really ever get used to racing with anybody, because it's always subject to change," the second-year driver explained. "It's always nice to race against the best in the world, because you know that they will not race you ugly. It will be the best competition every night. It's like golfing with Tiger Woods each day. If you can run good out here with these guys, then you can run good anywhere. It helps your confidence, as long as you don't let these guys beat down."
For the second consecutive season, Justin's father Rod, who is a former sprint car driver, served as the team's crew chief and engine builder. Just like in 2006, the team had very few problems with their engines and were fast countless nights in time trials, right out of the box.
"He is very important to this team," said Henderson of his father's involvement. "Unfortunately we put a lot of strain on him. He builds the motors and he is the crew chief and he has to run the truck and trailer down the road. When you are a low budget team like we are, you take advantage of a couple of guys and my dad just happens to be one of them. He works for nothing and he works his butt off."
In addition to traveling with his father and his dog Zues, Henderson also had his wife Heather on the road with him this season, as she served as a roving reporter at the track during each World of Outlaws events. For a majority of the season, the couple traveled in a motorhome that they had purchased in the spring.
"It made things easier for me, not having to think about her being at home and her having to worry about me out here," he said. "She will not be out here next year, but she knows exactly what goes on out here and what I am doing, and that we are too busy to get into any trouble. Next year it will just be my dad, my myself and the dog, so we will have to hire someone to come with us."
As the 2007 season wound down, Henderson and his team experimented on some different set-ups in preparation for 2008. In the series final visit of the season to Manzanita Speedway in October, he continued to show his prowess at the half-mile, matching his career-best finish of third, as he ran with former World of Outlaws champion and race winner Danny Lasoski, as well as two-time defending series champion Donny Schatz for most of the race.
"We did try some things at the end of the year," he shared. "We tried a different motor combination that we may use next year and it worked pretty well."
Upon returning home from the inaugural Outlaws World Finals in Charlotte, Henderson and his father began preparing for next season. The former Huset's Speedway track champion will begin his 2008 season in early January by taking part in the famed Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an event that he competed in last season. He will then depart for Australia to compete in three events at Parramatta City Raceway from January 17-19.
"I'll have a little bit of time to relax," said the always optimistic driver. "We'll get ready for the Chili Bowl. We have a car from last year that we want to revamp and maybe throw a new chassis under. I'll spend a lot of the winter as a crew guy. I don't get paid to be a crew guy, but somebody has to help my dad get everything ready to go."