The 14th annual NAPA Idaho 200 kicks off today at Stateline Speedway with plenty of Late Model talent set to dethrone reigning champion Garrett Evans.
From multi-time Idaho 200 winner Gary Lewis to Canadian star Trevor Emond and local drivers including David Garber, Braeden Havens, Nicole Behar and Blake Williams, this year’s field is sure to be one of the best in the event’s history.
One driver making his debut in the Idaho 200 will have plenty of name recognition for race fans in attendance as NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Justin Lofton will be part of the mix.
Lofton, who is set to run for Eddie Sharp Racing in the final nine Truck Series races of the season, has a diverse racing background but admits it’s been some time since he’s wheeled a Late Model race car in competition. Getting the opportunity to drive for an up-and-coming team was one of many reasons Lofton jumped at the chance to run the Idaho 200, he said.
“I haven’t been in a Late Model since 2007 at the (Las Vegas) Bullring. I was lucky enough to have Travis (Monett) ask me to race the No. 88 AMS Ford Fusion (in the Idaho 200) and I’ve always wanted to race in the Northwest so we’re coming out for it. I’d like to take Travis’ team to the next level. The car is a (NASCAR Northwest) tour style which is what I raced back in ’07 and I’m hoping the shock package we’ve brought out this weekend will help.”
Lofton has been part of Robby Gordon’s inaugural Stadium Truck Series, which runs a format similar to off-road, large-scale arena racing in North America. With roots in that form of motorsports, the California native has been busy in support of Gordon’s show while running a partial schedule on the NASCAR circuit.
“The biggest thing of running a partial schedule was it allowed me to see where I wanted to take my racing career. Doing the Robby Gordon Stadium Super Truck Series is really cool to be in on the ground floor, but coming to Idaho has more pressure because I’ve had a lot of success back East (in the Truck Series and as an ARCA champion). Next year I’d like to run in the Nationwide Series or Trucks (if things go well for the remainder of 2013),” Lofton said.
The Idaho 200 carries prestige throughout racing and Lofton knows that the competition will be every bit as tough as a NASCAR or Stadium Truck Series event, he added.
“I’ll have to impress so we don’t lose a little creditability,” he said. “There are a lot of good race car drivers in the Northwest and I know Gary Lewis is a guy to watch out for and the locals at the track will be tough. With me coming out here I know they’ll drive harder to protect the home turf.”
As a teenager, Lofton raced mountain bikes before an injury and fate allowed for his career to blossom as a race car driver. Humbled by his experiences, Lofton is eager for Northwest fans to see him race in person prior to moving to a busy fall schedule. This weekend’s event gives him a chance to be in a different environment and tune up for his return to NASCAR at Bristol in late August, he explained.
“When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was race mountain bikes. I was injured and things came together (for a professional racing career). I’ve lived a fortunate life and I’ve traveled all over the country and race all kinds of cars. This weekend will allow me to see a different side of racing. I hope the fans come out (and support the show) and all I ask is come out meet me and have some fun.”
As a race car driver, Lofton is always on the lookout for the chance to race and take the checkered flag. The NAPA Idaho 200 is no different, said the 27-year old.
“Racing is a way of life and my livelihood,” he said. “Whether I’m racing my buddies on a bar stool or here in the Northwest I just want to win.”