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When the 2010 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season started, Justin Funkhouser thought he’d be able to carefully test the waters of racing stock cars with a partial schedule as a driver on Jack Sellers’ team.
He also thought he would have his dad to lean on for advice and direction in his first season racing in the West Series.
Funkhouser looks like he might finish the remainder of the West Series schedule with Sellers after one of his drivers fell out of favor with the team. Funkhouser will also have to go the rest of his racing career without his dad who died of a heart attack in June.
“He just still had a long life to live and a lot of fun watching me race,” the 26-year-old Justin Funkhouser said. “Right before he passed I had won a race down here in Chico in a sprint car. The next weekend I went up and ran Roseburg and got a top 10 in a NASCAR division. Everything was looking up. It was in our blood, racing.”
Bob Funkhouser, Justin’s dad, was a veteran of the old NASCAR Northwest Series, racing against Greg Biffle among others, and knew his way around a stock car. Justin Funkhouser, a wingless sprint car driver from Chico, Calif., was counting on his dad’s knowledge and experience in NASCAR. Now, he will shoulder the responsibility of organizing his team and preparing his cars for races.
Justin Funkhouser is a third-generation racer. His grandfather raced open-wheel sprint cars throughout the Northwest. His uncle was an open-wheel racer who made his share of appearances in the Copper World Classic in Arizona. Both will be able to guide Justin Funkhouser as his NASCAR career progresses. But Justin’s dad was the expert in NASCAR.
“My uncle was the open wheel guy, my dad was the stock car guy,” Justin Funkhouser said. “He ran street stocks, super stocks, late models and Northwest Tour cars. He ran California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon.”
Justin Funkhouser said his life has changed dramatically over the past six weeks. When his dad died, he took over the family landscaping business in Northern California near Paradise. He and his dad were partners, but now Justin Funkhouser is responsible for hiring workers and fulfilling contracts in addition to running his sprint car and K&N Pro Series West teams.
“We were partners in this whole deal,” Justin Funkhouser said. “I took everything over, hiring help when I need it, trying to keep up on everything. We got fall coming up here. There are a lot of trees up here in Paradise. The oak leaves and the pine needles, it just starts getting crazier and crazier. We race all the way up to November. It’s going to be a lot of work, you’re working long days.”
Bob Funkhouser was only 50 years old when he died. Justin Funkhouser said it was sudden and unexpected.
“My life has changed quite a bit in the last month and a half, just taking over his business and a lot more weight on my shoulders, trying to find people to go with me to the shop to work on the cars,” Justin Funkhouser saif. “It’s been a little different than it’s been in the past.”
Funkhouser was supposed to race a partial schedule in the No. 51 K&N Pro Series West car for Sellers. He started the season opener at All American Speedway in Roseville, but pulled off the track after completing only 38 laps. He made his next start for the team at Douglas County Speedway in Oregon in June. He posted a surprising ninth-place finish that impressed his team owner.
“That was his best race,” Sellers said. “The first Roseville race, we put him in and we didn’t let him run the whole race. We just started him there. We went to Roseburg and he did pretty well. He’s riding around in a 1,400-pound car normally. We put him in a 3,300 pound car. There’s a big difference. Going from dirt to asphalt, that’s a big difference.”
His next start was supposed to be at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah in September. But Sellers said Johnathan Hale, driver of the No. 5 car for his team, quit before the race in Portland, Ore. Justin Funkhouser drove the No. 5 car in the Portland race and finished 22nd, having to withdraw early because of engine problems.
Justin Funkhouser said he hopes to finish the remainder of the season with Sellers, but it won’t be easy. One of the challenges in front of Justin Funkhouser comes this weekend in the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge 150 at Montana Raceway Park. It is the first of back-to-back weekend races in the K&N Pro Series West. The next race is at Colorado National Speedway on Aug. 14. If Justin Funkhouser wants to race in Colorado, he has to make sure his car finishes the Montana race in one piece.
“We’re not going to be going all out and getting all crazy,” Justin Funkhouser said. “If it gets to a point where I’m not going to pick off any more positions, I probably just pull off. It’s not worth tearing the car up. We’re really excited about Colorado because I think we have a better chance there.”
Seat time is more important than results right now to Justin Funkhouser. He wants to learn as much as he can in the remaining races on the K&N Pro Series West schedule. With luck and patience, he might be in the last five races and perhaps even the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale in January.
“I am basically learning. This is just a big learning curve for me,” Justin Funkhouser said. “With all the different adjustments you can make on the cars, you never stop learning with these cars. My dad was a huge help, telling me about the suspension, put a pound here. I watched him do it all. Now that he’s gone, it’s all in my own hands.”
Tim Haddock is a freelance writer and author of the blog www.haddockinthepaddock.com. Follow him on Twitter @thaddock
Justin Funkhauser has teamed up with series veteran Jack Sellers and hopes to run the remainder of the schedule. Getty Images for NASCAR