During the week, 32-year-old Brandon Whitley is fighting fires and, on the weekends, he trades one fire suit for another.
Whitley, who lives in Elm City, has been a fixture on the racing scene in Eastern North Carolina since 2002, but has predominantly raced at the County Line Raceway dirt track in Elm City the past few years. This weekend, he’s making the transition back to asphalt racing and will compete in a Limited Late Model at Southern National Motorsports Park.
“I’m pretty satisfied with our car right now,” Whitely said after testing the car last week. “First time out with the car, we turned some really competitive times. I’m really looking forward to coming out on the 31st and seeing how we stack up against everybody. It’s been six years since I’ve turned any laps out here.”
Whitley first began racing at Southern National in 2002, while also racing some at East Carolina Motor Speedway in Robersonville, mostly in four-cylinder cars, before transitioning to dirt. He raced at Southern National again when the track reopened in 2012 in a Charger car but has not raced at Southern National since.
During his time away from the high banked track in Lucama, the surface has changed. The track surface is grittier, leading to less grip and more tire wear.
“The track definitely has more wear and tear in it,” Whitley explained. “A few more bumps here and there. We explored the track, figuring out where they were and worked through them. It’s lost a little bit of grip. I think this track was last repaved in 2006 so you can definitely tell it’s got some age on it. It doesn’t have as much grip and is a little looser.”
During the week, Whitley is a firefighter for the City of Wilson’s fire department.
“It’s a selfless job,” Whitley remarked. “I’ve been there for 11 years. Sometimes, it’s a lot of long hours. I try to stay cool and calm in intense situations and that kind of transfers over to racing.”
Now that he’s back in a racecar at Southern National, Whitley’s goal is the same as any other driver’s goal – winning.
“I wouldn’t leave the house if I didn’t think we stood a chance at winning,” Whitley commented. “I think, overall, we’ll be pretty good. There’s a lot of stiff competition in Limited Late Models. I’m just fortunate enough to have support behind me getting this car out here and I hope we can put it to the front.”
Whitley’s Limited Late Model debut will come on Saturday in the Easter Bunny 100 which will also feature racing for the USAC Easter Midgets, Mini-Stocks, Legends, Bandoleros and Any Cars. The green flag will fly at 2pm. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for kids ages 6-12 while kids five and under are admitted free.