WINSTON SALEM, N.C. – Audio and story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman – Drive Technology photo –
After several seasons wrenching on Bandolero and Legend cars at the Bojangles Summer Shootout Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway and wheeling an Allison Legacy Series car at an assortment of short tracks around the Southeast, Rocky Mount, N.C. native Justin LaDuke finally has his chance at the NASCAR stage.
LaDuke, a student at UNC-Charlotte, will make his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut in this weekend’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 for the Drive Technology team, coached by former K&N regular Sam Hunt.
LaDuke first tested the No. 18 Toyota at Langley Speedway just over a week ago in preparation for Bowman Gray, and said during open testing on Wednesday at “The Madhouse” that he is grateful for the opportunity – adding that Hunt was an influence on guiding the deal into place.
“We started talking [about a month or so ago],” LaDuke said of the early stages of pulling the ride together. “I met Sam, went up to their shop, and they’re really great guys. I realized [pretty quick] that I wanted to go and race for these guys – they seemed like they knew what they were doing and seemed like they had the right equipment in place.”
“We started working on this deal, passed it through Chris Wright [at Drive Technology] and luckily, we got it together for Bowman Gray.”
For LaDuke, who has graduated up from the Allison Legacy Race Series and tested during a four-hour NASCAR-approved session on Wednesday, the biggest adjustment he battled during the course of the test was getting a grasp on the extra horsepower at his disposal.
“It’s a ton more horsepower [than anything I’ve ever driven before] but it’s a ton of fun when you hit the throttle and there’s something there. The [K&N cars] just get sideways and you really have to be up on the wheel in order to drive them. It’s definitely a lot more fun than anything else I’ve ever driven and hopefully I can do it for a little bit longer [later in the season.]”
LaDuke’s hopes may be realized over the next several weeks, as the young driver revealed he is looking to secure an additional three races with the team before the end of the 2015 season.
“Hopefully we can get three more races this season – I’m trying to get Langley as the next one. Right now though, we’re just focused on the task at hand this weekend.”
“I’m just looking to get a solid run this weekend, bring the car home in one piece and maybe get a top ten [out of it.] That’s the goal right now.”
With words like tight and chaotic often describing the racing action at one of NASCAR’s oldest racing facilities, LaDuke had a similar word for what he anticipates Saturday’s race to be.
“It’s crazy,” LaDuke laughed. “I don’t see how they fit these cars in this place, but I know Saturday’s going to be a really fun deal. Hopefully, we can get the crowd on their feet and put on a really good show for them.”
The home state driver will also have a myriad of family and friends on hand this weekend cheering him on as he looks to survive one of the K&N East’s toughest races.
“I want to make [my family] proud this weekend. With this race being basically a home race for me, they’ll be here and be bringing a lot of friends with them, so hopefully they’ll be excited and be able to see me finish up top.”
“To do that though, we’re going to have to survive. If we can do that, I think we’ll be alright.”
The NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 kicks off at 9 p.m. Eastern Saturday night, with tape-delayed coverage on NBCSN Thursday, June 4 at 6 p.m. Eastern.
For more information on Drive Technology, visit the team’s website at www.drivetechnologyusa.com.
Listen in to an extended cut of Race Chaser Online’s interview with Justin LaDuke by clicking on the player below: