MOBILE, AL :: Justin South hopes that a single-race appearance in the Tracy Goodson Racing Super Late Model at the Rattler 250 will be the catalyst towards reviving a career that very much stalled in 2014.
South recently separated from Hamner Racing and was in the process of relocating his equipment to a new shop when he received a call from Tracy Goodson — owner of the Buddy’s No. 1 Late Model program out of Pensacola, Fla. Goodson was looking for a new driver to rent his car following the announcement that Mike Garvey was transitioning from the cockpit to a consultant and crew chief role for 2015. Goodson wanted South to be that driver in the Southern Super Series opening event — the Rattler.
“This is a turning point for me,” South told Race22.com. “We parted ways with Hamner and Josh (Hamner) isn’t our crew chief anymore. I’m still great friends with those guys but I wanted to be more hands on after we really struggled last season. The call from Tracy was a miracle. I was using a lot of Hamner equipment but (Garvey) has won a lot of races at South Alabama Speedway and I’ve always been really competitive there.
“It’s a really good situation where I think we have a great shot at earning the big trophy.”
South entered 2014 with ambitions of participating full-time in the Southern Super Series but only competed in four events before returning to his familiar Pro Late Model environment. South has said on numerous occasions that he was able to run multiple Pro Late Model races for the cost of one comparable Super Late event.
But even back in the Pro Late Model ranks, South struggled, leading him to plan widespread changes for 2015. Aligning himself with a team like Goodson that has a better grasp on how to attack the Super Late Model economy could pay dividends, even if they don’t have anything planned beyond the Rattler.
“I’m sure they are hoping to find someone who can bring some funding,” South said. “With that said, I think this is a really good situation for both us. I can’t think of any track where I’ve logged more laps that Opp.
“With Mike changing his approach for this season, I think Tracy still wants to be at the track and wants to be at the track as much as I want to be behind the wheel. They’ve been doing this so long that I think this is going to be a powerful situation.”
South finished eighth in the Rattler 250 last March, but was not very competitive. His car broke a part in the rear-end in qualifying and had to start at the rear of the field. After working his way into the top-15 near halfway, he lost a cylinder and could get no further than 12th. Smart driving and a little bit of good fortune allowed him to survive the myriad of cautions and he survived to a top-10 finish.
He’s hoping for a much better result on March 15.
“I really felt like we were capable of a top-5 if things wouldn’t have gone so wrong,” South said. “So heading into this year, I’m not putting too much stock into what happened there last year. That’s not indicative of how well I’m capable of running there. I really love that track and think the world of (owner) John Dykes.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t contend.”
Garvey Takes A Step Back
For all intents and purposes, Mike Garvey is retired as an active race car driver.
The two-time All-American 400 winner and former NASCAR All-American Challenge champion told Rob Blount of Speed51.com that he and team owner Tracy Goodson are moving towards turning their racing team into a driver development program this season.
“You can’t race forever,” Garvey said. “Things keep changing with the way racing evolves. It’s just time. I’m 52 years old. I’ve got to start building a business for the future. You can’t just keep racing for the fun of it. I’ve got to take care of things and it’s just time to switch gears.”
Goodson told the website that Garvey just didn’t have his heart in driving anymore and that the veteran was more interested in the business and mechanical side of short track racing.
“He enjoys crew chiefing more than he enjoys driving and making cars go fast, and he enjoys working with the young guys,” Goodson said. “So that’s the direction we’re going to go. He’s going to crew chief the deal and we are going to lease the cars out.”
Several comparisons can be drawn to Freddie Query who retired as a Hall of Fame driver following the 2006 season. He has since gone on to have a successful crew chief career for the likes of Kyle Benjamin and Harrison Burton. In fact, Query and Burton just picked up their first two Super Late Model victories together in the World Series of Asphalt in February at New Smyrna Speedway.
South says he has known several drivers who were widely successful behind the wheel who later became a more accomplished crew chief just because they could focus the entirety of their energy and effort to that side of the sport. He believes Garvey could become just as successful as Query in his current role.
“I think Mike is a smart guy and this just makes a lot of sense for where he is in his life,” South said. “No one will ever race you harder than Mike Garvey. No one will race you harder but no one will race you cleaner as well. And now, after 2o or 30 years of doing what he’s been doing, I think he’s going to take that competitive nature and direct it to the mechanical side.”