JUSTIN WAKEFIELD LOOKS TO SCORE FIRST NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, SOUTHEAST SERIES WIN SATURDAY AT SOUTH BOSTON DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 24, 2005) -- At this point in the season last year, Justin Wakefield was barely a blip on the radar...
JUSTIN WAKEFIELD LOOKS TO SCORE FIRST NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, SOUTHEAST SERIES WIN SATURDAY AT SOUTH BOSTON
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 24, 2005) -- At this point in the season last year, Justin Wakefield was barely a blip on the radar screen as far as being considered a serious threat at each and every NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series event.
What a difference a year has made for the popular 23 year-old driver from Woodstock, Ga. Wakefield is currently sitting second in the standings after two events heading into Saturday night's Budweiser Salutes Armed Forces 150 at the famed South Boston (Va.) Speedway.
Wakefield began the season with a runner-up finish to defending Southeast Series champion Jeff Fultz at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway before backing that effort up with a fourth- place finish at Houston (Tex.) Motorsports Park. The effort thus far has allowed Wakefield to head into South Boston with a legitimate chance at taking the Southeast Series championship lead for the first time in his young career as he trails current point leader Jason Hogan by a mere five points.
"I wasn't even close last year at this time," Wakefield says. "We really had some bad luck to get last season started. I got caught up in a wreck in the first race and then blew a motor in the second race. I didn't finish either of those two races and that continued through about the first five races of the year. We were a lot further back than we are this season and I'm excited about the rest of the year.
"I'm glad that we've got this season started off on a good note. We've still got a long season ahead of us, so what we've done up to this point really doesn't mean anything if we fall off. We've got to stay strong and keep on doing what we've been doing in the first two races all the way until the end of the season. What really is going to be important is where we end up at the end of the year."
The short term goal that Wakefield is currently seeking is his first career Southeast Series victory Saturday night at the four-tenths mile track where many NASCAR stars began their careers, including Jeff and Ward Burton as well as Elliott and Hermie Sadler.
"I'm really hoping we can have a good race at South Boston and I think we will," Wakefield says. "I love racing at South Boston and it's a great track to race on that has tons of history behind it. It's a fun track and the fans there love their racing, that's for sure. The second time I ever drove a Southeast Series car was at South Boston a couple of years ago.
"To win my first Southeast Series race at South Boston would mean a lot to me and this team. It's hard to win a race in this series when you compete against great drivers like Jeff Fultz and J.R. Norris who are in great equipment and have such good teams. Those guys are hard to beat, but hopefully we'll be able to win a race before too much longer. That would mean a lot to me, but probably even more for all the guys on my team because they work so hard it's unbelievable.
"I do have a little more experience than I did a year ago and that's helped," said Wakefield. "Learning what I need to do in these Southeast Series cars has been a big learning experience for me because I was racing strictly on dirt just three years ago. I've always tried to keep an optimistic mind and think things are going to turn out good and it can get frustrating when you have trouble."
One major asset that Wakefield has in his favor is crew chief Jody Ridley, a former Southeast Series champion driver and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series competitor.
"It's been very gratifying to watch Justin progress because three years ago he'd never raced on an asphalt track," Ridley says. "This year he's starting to show people a little something because he has gotten off to a great start. The team Justin is with was all rookies when they first got started in the Southeast Series and they've learned a lot.
"Justin has learned to be a lot more patient and stay out of trouble, but the main thing is he's a lot more knowledgeable about what he wants as far as the chassis and car's set-up. It was just a growing progress with Justin and our team, and I think we've picked things up a great deal. Justin Wakefield has the potential and desire to make it in NASCAR and he's set his mind that this is what he wants to do for a living."
While Ridley downplays his role in his driver's newfound success in the Southeast Series, Wakefield stresses that the advice and dedication of a former successful NASCAR driver has been a great help in his learning curve.
"The help and experience that Jody Ridley has given me has helped me more than anything," Wakefield says. "Jody has raced at about every Southeast Series track that we race on so he can tell me where every bump is and every angle I need to take. Jody has been huge for me because he knows the exact line I need to be running because he's got so much experience at all the tracks the Southeast Series competes at.
"Jody has been a great help on the radio keeping me calm. Then again, he'll get on the radio and tell me, 'You're not driving hard enough. Let's pick it up boy.' I laugh about it and call back telling him I will pick the speed up. I can't argue with a guy who has as much experience as Jody Ridley."