Toyota Dirt Driver Spotlight
NOS Energy Drink RMS Racing Toyota
Hometown: Ione, Calif.
After moving to Indianapolis as a teenager with hopes of just getting a chance to work with race cars, Justin Grant now finds himself heading into the seven-race NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series West Coast Swing looking to become just the eighth driver in history to win the USAC Triple Crown with championships in the USAC Midgets, Sprint Cars (2022) and Silver Crown (2020). Grant won three races in last year’s swing, and he enters the final seven races second in points to Buddy Kofoid. We go in-depth with Justin Grant below.
- Justin, where did your journey begin?
JG: I’m from Ione, Calif., up in gold country about an hour or so south of Sacramento. I grew up racing at Red Bluff and Cycleland. I ran against Kyle Larson, who was a little bit younger, as well as the Becker brothers, the McCain brothers, Tyler Wolff. Basically, the generation before all the guys that made it out of the karts. When I ran karts, it was a pretty tough crowd to race with. Jimmy Ellis always calls me ‘the forgotten kart kid.’ I won the inaugural West Coast Nationals and raced karts for a handful of years, then went midget racing in 2006.
- So how did you get to where you are today?
JG: I was racing on the West Coast running midgets and I made some connections and met Jeff Walker, who had a sprint car team in Indiana. So, I moved to Indiana and lived in his shop and worked for his team when I was 18. I worked for him while Chris Windham was driving full-time for him, then we had some other amazing drivers running part-time like Levi Jones and Dave Darland. I worked for him for a year and a half and got to work with these great drivers and I learned a lot from Jeff and the drivers. Then Jeff let me get in a car at the end of 2009. Then I was hired by a team to run the last couple of events in 2009 and we ran full-time in 2010. I’ve been racing full-time ever since.
- Did you even imagine back in 2009 or 2010 that you would be winning races in USAC Silver Crown, Sprint Cars and Midgets all in the same season?
JG: There was a lot of years when I never thought I’d ever run a midget, sprint car or silver crown car. To have won in all three is pretty amazing and to even have a ride in all three is more than I was ever dreaming was possible. I was just a kid that loved racing. When I moved back to Indiana, I didn’t have a grand plan that I was going to work for Jeff Walker and then be hired into this and then hired into that. I just loved midgets and sprint cars and it was an opportunity to be around it. I had the opportunity to go to races and work on cars and get paid to do it. I thought this is the coolest thing ever. Then somebody let me get in a car and I thought this is the coolest thing ever. And every step along the way has been the coolest thing ever. It’s all way past anything I ever thought I was going to do.
- You’re in your second year with RMS Racing, what’s it been like?
JG: RMS is just a great group. They give Thomas (Meseraull) and I everything we could want or ask for. All you have to do is say you need something, and they provide it. RMS shows up to win races. They’re a great group of people who work hard and have fun. Maybe a little rougher around the edges than some of these teams and I kind of like it that way. It’s a little looser atmosphere and we have fun and win our share of races, but there’s no shortage of focus or opportunity here.
- The RMS team really seemed to hit its groove at last year’s Western Swing and since then you’ve earned seven national wins, as well as the Shamrock Classic special event. What’s it been like?
JG: It’s pretty awesome. It’s really fun to show up at the racetrack and know you’re in the hunt every night. I spent a lot of years just hoping I could do enough to get in a better car and now I’m in the best car and it’s awesome to show up with confidence and a little bit of swagger. When I first got going, I was driving around to midget races and sleeping in my car and spent what money I had to get a pit pass. And now I’m rolling in with semi-trucks and trailers and so much support. To be with a top-notch race team and have NOS Energy Drink plastered along the side of it and Toyota engines in the car, it’s crazy to have this much support. I was a kid scratching and clawing trying to get noticed and now to be in this situation it almost takes a little bit of adjusting, but I’m trying to make the most of it.
- You’ve won two legs of the USAC Triple Crown, what would it mean to win in Midgets?
SC: We won the Silver Crown championship with my Hemelgarn guys, and now we won the Sprint Car championship with TOPP Motorsports. To win a midget championship would just be awesome. I grew up as a midget fan and going to races with guys like Johnny Rodriguez on the West Coast. I didn’t know if I would ever even get a chance to run a national midget race and now to be with a team like RMS and have sponsors like NOS and Toyota and everyone who makes it possible to be in position to go chase down a title is incredible. Winning it would be the icing, the opportunity to go do it is the cake.
- One thing people may not know about your RMS team is that you work with Lacey Doyle, who’s the only female car chief in the sport. What’s that been like?
JG: Lacey is awesome. She’s always switched on. She’s as good as anybody I’ve ever worked with. When I arrived at RMS, everyone worked on all of the cars and then found the car they were home with. Now we’re more car specific and Lacey worked her way over to my car and I’ve really enjoyed working with her. She does a really good job.
- Finally, what do you want people to know about Justin Grant?
JG: Well, I am aggressive, and I am a bit rough. I take everything I can get on the racetrack, and it rubs people the wrong way sometimes. But this is all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was five years old - to be a USAC national race car driver. I have that opportunity now – and this is the way I pay my mortgage, feed my family, keep the lights on at my house and heat on in the winter. I’m out here trying to make hay while the sun’s shining. Every night I show up at the track I’m fighting for my career, my livelihood and I race every lap like this is the lap of my career. I came from the bottom of this deal. I showed up as a broke kid with $500 and a beater car, scraping mud. To come from that to where I am now, I feel like I owe it to my partners, my teams, and my fans to take every inch that anybody will give me.