If there’s any piece of advice Sam Hunt wants to impart on his young driver this season, he wants him to remember to never take any race for granted.
"Sometimes it’s all of a sudden, you don’t know when next one is," Hunt said this week. "Or if there’s going to be a next one at all."
Hunt, co-owner of Hunt-Sellers Racing, knows that firsthand. After a full season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series in 2012, the then 18-year-old Virginian ran partial schedules in each of the following two seasons. He’s never started more than two races in any of the three seasons since.
Armed with a business finance degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, Hunt – now 24 – saw another avenue for remaining in the racing game he grew up around. He started taking mental notes, even as a teen-aged full-time driver, about what set aside successful team owners. He obtained some cars that were in the Joe Gibbs Racing camp when that team exited the K&N Pro Series before partnering with Peyton Sellers to form HSR from the ground up.
It meant Hunt wouldn’t be a driver anymore, but he felt it was a step worth taking.
"I’d kind of come to terms that it was going to be tough to keep driving with my financial situation and the way the sport is," said Hunt, who made two starts in 2017, finishing a high of ninth at Langley in September. "I had interest in having my own business and starting my own team.
"I love to drive. I’ve been racing my whole life, but I realized that if I’m going to run this team, I need to be all in as a team owner not a part-time driver and part-time owner.
"The pieces are coming together."
Enter 17-year-old Colin Garrett, a fellow Virginian who made his K&N Pro Series debut with an impressive sixth-place finish at Langley in the series’ most recent race. Originally only slated to run up to four races in the HSR No. 18 Toyota, Garrett’s showing at Langley had his team – and Rick Burtner, owner of Garrett’s primary sponsor, Propel GPS – rethinking its goals for 2018.
Expect to see Garrett run the remainder of the K&N Pro Series schedule. Just a few weeks ago Garrett was gearing up for his first full year in the Late Model ranks with an ambitious 30-race schedule centered around chasing the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship at Dominion Speedway, where he’s already the point leader with one with in three early-season starts.
But, as Hunt suggested, you never know when the next race is going to be. For Garrett, it’s going to be the Who’s Your Driver Twin 100s this weekend at South Boston Speedway – the very track where he was the Limited Late Model champion last season.
"(Burtner) and my dad and the team all got together after the Langley race and it went from ‘We’re not running South Boston’ to 24 hours later and ‘We might make a run for the rest of the season.’ It was a big change in about 24 hours," said Garrett, who spent most of the Visit Hampton VA 150 running inside the top five. "It’s pretty crazy when you think about it.
"I was already leading the championship points at Dominion. I just figured, ‘If we keep on smooth sailing, we’ve got this’ and then this (K&N opportunity) was like throwing me to the wolves instead. I’m getting adjusted to the new cars because everything is so different."
Garrett realizes that he only began racing in 2015, and that the K&N Pro Series is a long way from Limited Late Models. But he has a couple of things going for him – the first is Hunt, who only a few years removed from trying to climb the NASCAR ladder as a driver himself can relate to what Garrett will experience this year, and the second is Sellers. The Sellers family has been hands-on in Garrett’s racing career since his entry-level days at South Boston, and Sellers has himself been a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion out of South Boston with on-track experience in the K&N Pro Series, the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Garrett hopes that his experience at South Boston, coupled with the Virginia racing roots of both Hunt and Sellers, will pay off this weekend.
"It’s 20 minutes from my house. It’s my hometown track. It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s new pavement," said Garrett, who grew up a passionate Jeff Gordon fan deep in Jeff and Ward Burton country. "At South Boston, I’ve got the track record in the Limited Late Models. Having laps anyplace is good – I know how car is going to react throughout the night. At the very least, I have the upper hand of a few thousand laps around the place."
For both driver and owner this weekend, their respective K&N Pro Series participation may be happening ahead of whatever schedule they laid out for themselves a few years ago, but it could already be paying big dividends.
"We’ve missed two (races), but I think it’s still realistic to get Colin into the top 10 in points by the end of the year," Hunt said. "I think top-10 finishes for him and his family, that’s their ultimate goal. That would be a good way to really put some good things in place for next season."
HOME COOKING: The home track advantage has been a good one at South Boston.
Last season, local driver Travis Miller won one of the two Twin 100s at South Boston with eventual series champion Harrison Burton winning the other. Burton is the son of Jeff Burton, the former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver and South Boston standout.
There have been seven different winners in seven races in series history at South Boston, dating back to Matt Kobyluck’s win in the inaugural race in 2007.
Only Harrison Burton won at South Boston en route to the K&N Pro Series East championship the same season.
STORMING FORWARD: When DGR-Crosley drivers played the tire management game at Langley and came storming onto the podium, they also stormed their way to the top of the K&N Pro Series East standings.
Tyler Ankrum, who is still seeking his first career win, finished third for his third straight top five to begin the year and took over the point lead. Tyler Dippel won at Langley and moved into second in the standings behind Ankrum.
The teammates are the only two drivers to finish in the top five in all three races thus far in 2018.
HOME TRACKS: South Boston Speedway has been home to NASCAR racing since 1960, and boasts the Late Model Stock division that has produced NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship drivers in Philip Morris, Peyton Sellers and Lee Pulliam. In addition to the Late Models, the track also holds weekly racing events in the Limited Sportsman, Pure Stock and Hornet divisions.