The 5th annual Leftover at the 411 Motor Speedway was a two-day event contested on the Friday and Saturday immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday. The dirt racing venue played host to a total of more than 200 cars spread out over multiple divisions. One of the Schaeffer’s Oil Iron-Man Modified Series machines on the grounds of the Seymour, TN facility was driven by veteran NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor Justin Allgaier.
The lure of racing on dirt during the NASCAR off-season proved to be too much for the 34-year-old driver to resist. With a busy Xfinity Series schedule throughout most of the year, Allgaier’s opportunities to race on dirt are limited while in season. However, by working in conjunction with Elite Chassis owner and racer Nick Hoffman, he has been able to keep his car on track.
“Like a typical racer, we can’t get enough racing.” Allgaier explained in an interview with InsideCircleTrack.com. “We’ve been lucky enough, this Modified stuff has been a lot of fun for us. We’ve been running a lot of laps throughout the course of SpeedWeeks earlier in the year and we ran our car all summer long, Nick Hoffman ran our Federated Auto Parts Elite Chassis all summer.”
Allgaier was coming off of a successful venture to Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park where picked up a win in a preliminary race then finished second to Tyler Nicely in the main event just before he arrived at the dry and slick 411 Motor Speedway. His family’s Allgaier Racing Shocks company is heavily involved in racing near the driver’s hometown of Riverton, IL and the NASCAR star uses his own dirt racing program to assist customers of that brand.
During his weekend in east Tennessee, the Xfinity Series regular since 2009 earned a runner-up finish behind Nicely on Friday night then placed third behind Hoffman and Nicely on Saturday evening.
“I’ve gotten to run these last two weeks down at Volusia, which is obviously a lot different than coming here to 411 Motor Speedway, it was extremely wet and tacky and it’s anything but that today,” Allgaier said. “But it’s a lot of fun. These guys put a lot of time and effort into dirt car racing back at home. We’ve been a shock builder for a couple of years, we’ve built a lot of Modified, Late Model, and Open Wheel shocks in the Midwest. It’s good to have a car and be able to work on stuff for our customers. So far, so good. We’ve had a good go of it here in my first time ever being here and it’s always good to get to a dirt track.”
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Racing in one of NASCAR’s top divisions is accompanied by tremendous pressure. The constant grind to remain in the thick of a points battle then to work toward advancing from round to round in the NASCAR Playoffs can be taxing. But even with all of that, Allgaier does not necessarily find racing on dirt to be therapeutic.
“Honestly, I’m nowhere near as good of a dirt racer as I am an asphalt racer so this is maybe a little more stressful for me,” he pointed out. “I don’t want to not hit my marks. I want to be competitive and it doesn’t matter if I’m racing here at 411 Motor Speedway or on the high banks of Daytona, I’m equally as competitive, I want to run up front and win races. This has been a challenge for me.”
And the particular type of car he has chosen to compete in is not exactly the easiest to control.
“These Open Wheel Modifieds are extremely difficult to drive,” Allgaier stated. “For me, I’ve gained a ton of respect for my competitors and what they go through. I’ve been dirt racing my whole life and this has definitely been the hardest class of car I’ve had to master and feel like I’m competitive at. We’ll keep digging along and having fun but if there’s a dirt race and I can be at it you can bet I’m going to be there and be a part of it.”
A number of current and former drivers involved in NASCAR participate in short track racing as team owners. Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. are among those who join Allgaier in that role.
Do these stars at the top level of the sport maintain their ties to the short tracks because it’s fun or because they want to give back to the grassroots side of racing?
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” the winner of 14 career Xfinity races replied. “I think getting fans to the race track is the most important thing we do. We love going to the track and running good and winning races, but if there’s nobody there to cheer us on and be a part of that and build that energy that comes from that, it doesn’t really make a whole of sense with the time and energy you put into it.”
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Furthermore, there is an electricity that comes along with racing on dirt and paved short tracks.
“I know that every Friday and Saturday night you can go anywhere in the country and there’s packed houses, obviously 2020 has been a little bit different because of COVID, but packed houses. We know that race fans love short track racing and it’s great to be a part of that and give back a little bit, but also, go have a little bit of fun and hopefully be competitive and win some races.”
During the past season, NASCAR Xfinity Series competitors saw unprecedented changes made to their schedules. New tracks such as the Daytona Road Course and events held on unusual days of the week challenged teams as the sport battled coronavirus and the regulations that came with it. But Allgaier enjoys new environments such as 411 Motor Speedway just as he looks forward to upcoming challenges such as will be faced at venues like the Circuit of the Americas in 2021.
“It is a lot of fun,” the driver who placed second in the final 2020 Xfinity Series standings said. “I think you learn a lot really quickly. As a racer, our job is to absorb as much as we can as quick as we can when you come to a new race track. Nick Hoffman, he’s the owner of Elite Chassis, so we’ve got great notes to go off of because they’ve been here before.”
Like so many others in this unusual season, the JR Motorsports racer found an aid to help him adjust to new settings.
“I think from my standpoint, iRacing has been a great tool even though 411 Motor Speedway is not on iRacing,” he declared. “Just getting behind the wheel and making laps and giving yourself a fighting shot at it. I tell kids all the time when they ask what that next step is, what should they do to try to make it to that next level and my two things are; number one, go to school and learn how to sell yourself, learn how to sell sponsorship. Number two, work on your skill, work on your craft if that’s iRacing or going to the race track and crewing on a car or whatever it is, learn that skill and I think that’s important.”
The Xfinity Series will not compete next spring when Bristol Motor Speedway is covered with dirt for the NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. But that doesn’t mean this dirt racing enthusiast won’t try to get himself on the track in some way.
“The Trucks are going to be there and the Cup cars are going to be there so with me being a dirt racer at heart, maybe I’ll try to dabble a little bit and put something together,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve loved watching Eldora(Trucks), I’ve not been lucky enough to be a part of it. I know this year the Trucks are going to go to Knoxville and that’s going to be a great show. I think it gives our fans who are true dirt track fans a really cool crossover.
“It’s not the same,” he added. “A stock car is not meant to be on dirt, it wasn’t built to be on dirt. There’s a lot of things that if you’re used to watching cars on dirt that are going to be different. I think it gives our fans something unique and exciting to watch the driver try to adapt and that’s the most important piece of it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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