Up to Speed: Justin Henderson Seeks Another Strong Run at Manzanita Speedway For some drivers it takes an entire career to have success at the legendary Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, but for Justin Henderson, he was up to speed the first time...
Up to Speed: Justin Henderson Seeks Another Strong Run at Manzanita Speedway
For some drivers it takes an entire career to have success at the legendary Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, but for Justin Henderson, he was up to speed the first time he pushed off at the famed half-mile in the Arizona desert.
In just four starts at the track he had three finishes of seventh or better, including matching his career-best finish with the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series last October when he came home third at the track located on the corner of 35th & Broadway.
Henderson made his first start at the track in the spring of 2006 and turned in the fifth fastest lap in time trials and followed that up with a very solid 12th-place finish in the A-Feature, after earning a spot in the Crane Cams Dash. In his second visit to the track in 2006, he finished a very solid seventh.
Last season he was seventh in the spring at the half-mile after leading a number of laps early in the event after a strong run in the dash earned him a front-row starting spot in the 30-lap event. He will have a chance to build on this solid foundation this weekend as the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series contests the Cactus Classic at Manzanita Speedway on Saturday, March 1.
"It's similar to Knoxville (Raceway in Iowa) and when we get there, we are usually pretty close on the set-up," said Henderson of Manzanita Speedway. "We've been fast out of the box. I think a lot of it is qualifying in the right position and making it into the dash to start up front. It's important to start at the front to run up front at Manzanita, because it's tough to come from the back there."
While he had never competed at the track until two years ago, Henderson's father Rod, who is also his crew chief and builds the team's engines, had turned a number of laps at the storied track in the early 1990's and knew what it took to be fast at the track. He used this knowledge and experience to help Justin quickly get up to speed at the blazing fast half-mile.
"My dad always ran well there back with the Slick 50 (Winter) Series in the early 1990's," noted the native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. "He knew we would be pretty good right out of the box and we weren't intimidated. It has long straightaways and the corners are kind of sweeping, so there's really nothing to be worried about there."
After opening the 2008 season with the 37th Annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park in Florida, February 8-10, Henderson and the rest of the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series have had to battle Mother Nature for the last two weekends. After a rainout at Pike County Speedway in Mississippi the teams headed west, only to have rain again interrupt their plans last weekend, as the pair of events at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, California was also postponed.
"Once we get racing, I really don't like having to sit around," Henderson explained. "You have to keep your mind focused and even do some bench racing. You have to always be thinking about what you will do the next time you hit the race track again. Sometimes in the spring, we'll have a couple of weeks in between races. It's always tough the first race back in the car, especially for the younger drivers. For the veterans, it probably doesn't make much of a difference."
When Henderson thinks of Manzanita Speedway, it reminds him a lot of another famed track, and that is Knoxville Raceway in Iowa, where he competed on a weekly basis early in his career. Both are half-miles with long straightaways and the track record in qualifying at each is within a half-second of the other.
"For me it brings back a lot of memories of Knoxville," Henderson said. "It's not quite as wide though."
Last spring at Manzanita, Henderson lined up second for the 30-lap A-Feature and took the lead on the opening lap from veteran Paul McMahan who started on the pole. Henderson would lead the first 12 laps, before his tires started to go away, which made the car very difficult to drive. Early in the race he had two-time defending series champion Donny Schatz chasing him, as well as Joey Saldana and Henderson pulled away several times to a substantial lead before a caution bunched the field.
"It did give me a good amount of confidence leading there," shared the second generation driver. "I wish we could have finished it off, but we had a left rear tire that blistered and then the right rear blistered as well. We finished on two blistered tires and were running about seventh. To know you were fast enough to run up front and to run away from them, that helps a lot. It helps you know that you can do it, and now you just have to prove that you can do it for a whole race."
After matching his career-best finish with a third-place performance last fall at Manzanita, Henderson looks to keep his momentum at the half-mile going. He has a simple approach entering this weekend's event, knowing that the competition will just as tough, if not tougher than last season.
"We just have to keep doing what we are doing until it doesn't work anymore," he noted.
While he always looks forward to the on-track action at Manzanita, Henderson also enjoys the time away from the track when they series heads to the Phoenix area. Over the last couple of years he has met a number of people that live in the area and they always welcome him and his team with open arms when they are in town to race.
"I really do enjoy racing at Manzanita," he said. "We have some great friends around there that we stay with when we are in town and we get to golf when we are out there and ride go-karts. It's always a lot of fun in the Phoenix area."