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Toby Porter is one of the most successful modern era Late Model drivers to call Greenville, S.C., his home.
Porter, 35, has raced and won in just about every pavement Late Model racing series past and present. He’s tested the waters of NASCAR national series racing. He’s won many Late Model races at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, his hometown track.
Porter’s many hometown fans will have something special to cheer about this year because the driver will compete on a weekly basis for the first time in his career. Greenville’s historic half-mile oval opens for its NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season with twin 50-lap features for Late Models this Saturday.
“Everything just came together and we’re going to run for the championship,” Porter said. “I’ve raced there a lot, but never for a whole season.”
Porter will be driving the No. 80 Harley-Davidson of Greenville Chevrolet owned by Greg Guarry. The car is based on an ORTEC (formerly Laughlin Racing Products) chassis based in nearby Simpsonville, S.C. The company is long noted for building chassis used in NASCAR’s top-tier series and expanded into Late Model race car construction in recent years. The car will be powered by a crate Chevy engine.
The season-opening race won’t arrive without a little added pressure. The new car wasn’t complete in time for two pre-season open practice days, but a test session at the track is planned this week.
Porter brings a track record of success with him.
His best Late Model touring series season came in 1996 when he finished second to Mike Cope for the NASCAR Southwest Series Elite Division championship. He won four races and four pole awards in 23 starts. His career record in the series includes 11 wins, 42 top fives and 59 top 10s in 89 starts.
The 1996 season helped Porter attract the attention of veteran NASCAR team owner Harry Ranier, who had fielded NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams that included drivers Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons and Davey Allison.
Ranier put together a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team for Porter to drive in 1997. Through the first four races, Porter qualified as high as fourth (Disney) and finished as high as ninth (Phoenix). But Porter was sidelined after a practice accident at Portland (Ore.) Speedway in which he received a cracked vertebra. He was hospitalized less than three days and recovered fully, but the team closed up shop.
“That was a set-back,” Porter said of the Portland accident.
He made two more Truck Series starts for Tyler Jet Motorsports in 1998, but returned to full-time racing and winning in Late Model competition. In 2003 he made one NASCAR Nationwide Series start at Daytona for owner Dale Francis, starting 31st and finishing 26th.
Porter started racing go karts at age 10 and, with the help of his dad, Greg, moved up to a Late Model for the first time at age 16. Although he’s a veteran driver who has enjoyed a lot of success in Late Model racing, the steady Porter is excited about the challenges ahead in the 2010 season.
Part of Greenville-Pickens’ 65-year history is on display for all to see every Saturday night. Each of the track’s Late Model division champions starting with Grady Hawkins in 1957 are painted on the back straightaway retaining wall. Those names include Ralph Earnhardt, David Pearson, right through to Roger Powell in 2009. Winning a track championship at Greenville-Pickens is a significant accomplishment, and Porter hopes for a chance to add his name to join the distinguished list this year.
“It’ll be tough,” Porter says of his expectations for the budding season. “I’ve raced with all of them – David Roberts, Marty Ward and Roger Powell, and they’ve all won championships – and it won’t be an easy season. Those guys are good.
“We’re going to concentrate on the track points and see what happens. Then we’ll see what we can do in the NASCAR (state and national) points.
“It would mean a lot to win the track championship and get our name on the wall,” Porter said. “That’s something we’d like to accomplish. It would mean a lot. It’s a great honor.”
Porter operates Porter’s Customs, a high-performance shop that specializes in building and restoring hot rods. The shop’s location is only a quarter-mile from the speedway, and it’s said an unpowered race car could easily roll from shop to track.
In addition to his own racing last year, Porter also mentored teen driver Kyle Benjamin in Pro Challenge (scale car) racing last year and at one point, had a string of nine wins in 12 races. Benjamin finished second in regional points to his best friend Brady Boswell.
Porter and his wife Mandi have an eight-year-old son, Maxx.