Justin Taylor has been a staple at Bowman Gray Stadium for nine years, but 2019 was the first that he actually went all in on running for a champion.
After years of hearing from competitors, the fire grew in Taylor and he knew he needed to prove to them he was capable of winning a title.
"We let everybody else fuel our fire," Taylor said. "Everybody else talked about how good they were, how fast they were, and we said, ‘Well, let’s shut that operation down and show them who’s really the one they need to look out for.’ "
Taylor and his team proved they were the ones to beat in the McDowell Heating & Air Sportsman Series at Bowman Gray, rolling to a 2019 championship at the NASCAR sanctioned quarter-mile track in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Unlike in years past when Taylor said he was mostly just racing for fun, every time he and his team went to the track last year it was to win the race.
"No matter if we started 16th or started second, we had the same mentality and that was to get to the front as fast as we could and race for the lead," he said. "There were plenty of cars over there that spent gobs of money and we didn’t, and they still couldn’t catch us. They put big motors in, they were doing everything they could to catch us and they still couldn’t catch us."
Taylor found Victory Lane three times, and finished in the top 5 in 17 of 21 races. He found success despite a lack of big sponsors. Taylor funds the team mostly all through his work as a business owner for a landscaping and tree company. That business is one he runs on top of his full-time job he works from 6 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily.
When he gets off from one job, Taylor will go to his landscaping business for a few hours, and then after that it’s off to the race shop, where he’ll sometimes stay until about midnight, while needing to be up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning.
"I get about four hours of sleep," he said. "It’s always been, ‘Well, if I need that I’m going to have to hustle pretty good this week to get it.’ I’ve got to earn everything I’ve got. That’s just the way we’ve always raced."
An increase in business last year helped provide the financials to allow Taylor to pick up his workload on the track.
Taylor has found his most success in the sportsman car – 2019 was his first championship – but he’s never held back in what he drives. He has a modified, as well as dirt and asphalt late models.
He also has a late model that came from another 2019 race champion – Kyle Busch.
In 2010, Taylor and his dad, Jason Taylor, went down to the late model shop of Kyle Busch Motorsports, and Busch gave him the body off of one of his late model cars.
"That was about the coolest thing," Taylor said. "Even before that I was a big Kyle Busch fan because he’s got so much heart in the sport and we need more of that. There’s not many people out there who have the same heart and desire that me and Kyle have. I’ve only met the guy like one time but I still look up to him. He’s still my hero and I’m glad I got to share a championship with him."
The body is still sitting in Taylor’s backyard, where he plans to keep it.
"We raced with it and it took it’s beatings but it’s still right back behind the shop. I won’t get rid of it," he said.
Taylor and his dad have been all over the world of racing in their time with the sport. Winning the championship in 2019 was about keeping a promise to the elder Taylor. In 2010, Jason Taylor faced serious health issues doctors didn’t think he could recover from.
After an emergency surgery, Jason came back and has been helping with Justin’s race team ever since.
"He has his setbacks every once in a while but I told him, ‘If you take care of your health a little better I’ll run a full season and I’ll give you a shot at a championship," Justin said.
"So between stressing about that and bringing a championship home for my dad, it was pretty special."
Justin said there are very few people he would ever allow to work on his car, but his dad is one of them. Knowing they put in all the hard work together made the championship more special.
"It was way more satisfying knowing that I earned everything I had and everything I’ve got," he said. "My setup guys and my dad are just, they’re in a whole other area code when it comes to race cars. That’s all they did is study race cars, study race cars, study race cars.
"There are few and far between when it comes to who I would let work on my race cars. Literally if somebody called me right now and said, ‘Hey, I have a truck ride for you, what would it take?’ I would say, ‘It’s going to take my setup guy and my dad to work on it, and I’ll drive it.’"
Racing has been a way of life for the Taylor family before Justin was even born. Now the sport is more than just a hobby, and they do it for more than just the fun.
"There’s nobody who will ever roll up to any race track with more heart than we’ve got,’ Justin said. "It’s just the love of it. We don’t really do it for fun. Yea, it’s fun, but we love it. It’s our way of life. If we couldn’t race I don’t know really what we would do honestly.
"He loves it way more than I do. I just put it that way because if it was up to him I’d be living in a cardboard box, but we’d have one bad race car."
Justin plans to be back at Bowman Gray this season. Whether that’s to run for a championship again or not is still to be determined.
He knows, though, that from the beginning of March until Thanksgiving he plans to be at a racetrack driving something every weekend. And no matter what or where he’s driving, he has the confidence he can win.
"It makes up for not being paid to race or not racing against some of the best of the best, but that’s okay," he said. "I can lay my head down at night and know about anybody around here I can wheel right behind them… I can drive about anything with wheels and a steering wheel if you just give me the chance. That’s all it takes, and I’ll show you."
Even if he never wins another title, 2019 will always be one to remember in the Taylor house.
"That story will never, ever, ever die," Justin said.