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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Matt Henderson is one of those guys at the track who quietly gets the job done. If his name comes up in conversation at LaCrosse (Wis.) Fairgrounds Speedway, fans might chat about the immaculate appearance of his race car before discussing his most recent race. Henderson performs well, wins once or twice a year and has been a championship contender.
Henderson, 25, of LaCrosse, was under the radar for most of 2013. He and wife Brittany became parents with the arrival of son Kolton; and Henderson changed jobs. Racing got pushed down a few notches on the priority list.
Observers believe Henderson may be poised for a breakthrough season in 2014. Henderson doesn’t discount his potential.
“We’re slowly but surely doing better,” Henderson said. “We were really fast every night we could race last year. Every season we’re learning more and we’re better prepared. That makes us feel like anything is possible this year.
“Our goal is to be competitive and consistent. If we do that we think wins and championships will come. If we have any struggle, it’s keeping up with how the track changes week to week. If we can handle that, we’ll be alright. I think we’ve got a rocket ship for a race car and we’re very optimistic. We’re really fast.”
In six starts last year, Henderson posted two top-fives and five top-10s. He acknowledges how tough the competition is at LaCrosse.
“We’re basically a family operation going up against some of the best late model drivers in the Midwest,” Henderson said. “Steve Carlson has been racing at LaCrosse for years.”
Carlson, 56, of West Salem, Wis., is one of the all-time greats in late model short track racing. He’s the 2007 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion and a three time track champion, including last year. He also won the 2013 NASCAR state championship. He’s a standard-bearer in the division.
“I grew up watching guys like Steve Carlson and Mike Belling race,” Henderson said. “I think it’s great to get to race against Steve. Some people don’t like that he wins a lot. I think if you beat him, you know you’ve done something good.”
Henderson moved from go-karts to late models in 2005. He got his first feature win during his third full season of 2008.
“That was a relief,” Henderson said. “It happened on the fourth of July. My late grandpa was a U.S. Army veteran, so that made it really special.”
Henderson’s dad, John, owns the 2006 Chevy Impala race car. It’s based on a Lefthander chassis and powered by a Tesar racing engine. Sponsors include Altra Federal Credit Union, DriveAltra.org, John’s Drywall and Hungry Peddler. Their race shop shares space with John Henderson’s drywall business and a tractor repair shop. The family farms 153 acres producing corn, soybeans and hay.
LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway opens with a special Sunday afternoon Frost Buster race on April 27.