Elmwood graduate makes debut in NASCAR truck series
Written by KEVIN GORDON Sentinel Assistant Sports Editor
Saturday, 03 August 2013 08:33
WAYNE — Jeff Babcock first crawled into a race car as a 3-year-old in 1983.
|Jeff Babcock (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
He eventually made his first start as a driver at age 15 and made a handful of starts over the next three years.
Babcock’s first full season came in 1999.
He scored his first career win that year and he’s still going strong.
The 33-year-old made his first start in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last week at Eldora Speedway.
The 1998 Elmwood High School graduate started his career by racing stock cars and modifieds.
This season, he’s competing in dirt modifieds and the modifieds, and it all led to him earning the chance to drive in the truck series for Saint Marys-based Best Performance Motor Sports.
He began driving for BPMS late last year and was signed for the truck race six months ago.
Babcock started 27th in the truck race, but finished last after a broken rod caused his engine to blow just 63 laps into the 153-lap race. He moved into 21st place before the engine problem ended his night.
“The most exciting feeling I’ve probably ever had in racing,” Babcock said of the truck race.
The trucks are one of the developmental series for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Sprint Cup regular Ryan Newman, who won Sunday’s Brickyard 400, finished third in the truck race.
“It seemed like I had raced 18 years to get to this point and I finally made it,” Babcock said. “I went farther than I probably thought I ever would when I started racing.
“Just being a part of the truck series itself, the excitement of the crowd and just the atmosphere there ... to be racing with them guys was just a pretty neat feeling ... a great experience. I’m definitely excited about it and I’m still excited about what happened with it.”
Thirty cars took part in the truck feature. Qualifying consisted of five heat races of seven cars each, although the top 20 drivers in points were locked into the race.
The first truck race on the famed dirt track drew national attention and received rave reviews.
“The qualifying was gut wrenching and once I knew I was in the final, that was a huge relief,” Babcock said. “We were going along pretty well in the final race, passing cars ever other lap and then the engine gave out. That was a tough way to finish.”
Babcock previously raced at Eldora and knew how to get around the track quickly. The drivers had two practice sessions before the race.
“I felt pretty comfortable getting right up against the walls and some of the other drivers were a bit hesitant at first, but once they got some laps, they picked up on how to run the track pretty quick,” Babcock said.
Babcock primarily is running the dirt and late modifieds this season.
He’s run at tracks in Attica, Wauseon and Lima in Northwest Ohio; and at tracks in Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
Because of the number of tracks Babcock competes at, he isn’t running for a season points championship in any series.
“We’re just try to win as many races as we can and see if I can get to the next level,” said Babcock, who posted his 150th career win earlier this year.
He’s competed in 50 races this season, winning five times. He also has 17 other finishes in the top 15.
Many of Babcock’s family members are involved in racing. His dad, who also is named Jeff, raced stock cars at Fremont Speedway and is now a car owner.
The younger Babcock helped his dad work on his race cars at the family race shop when he was going up.
When Babcock started racing full-time in 199, he also had an apprenticeship to become a millwright that year.
“It seems like everyone is involved in racing in our family,” Babcock said. “From the time I was a little kid, I’ve always liked racing and I’ve always wanted to be a race car driver. I won a few races early and that helped, and I just try to get better every day.”
Racing satisfies the thirst for competition for Babcock, who played football and ran track at Elmwood.
“I’m a competitive person and the adrenaline you get from racing is pretty neat,” he said. “It’s like a Cedar Point ride. I’m a thrill seeker.”
Babcock is hoping the truck series race will earn him additional opportunities in racing.
Although he declined to be specific about what those opportunities might be, it probably involves more races in the truck series.
“There are a few other opportunities that may come up. Hopefully, it’ll work out,” Babcock said.
Babcock has thought about running in the truck series full-time.
“That’s been talked about, but I’m pretty content and happy doing what I do do because I like being around home here,” Babcock said. “With (a full-time ride in the truck series), you do travel quite a bit. If it does work out and it’s the right opportunity, I’m definitely probably going to take it.”
By racing primarily on weekends, Babcock is able to work as a project manager for GEM, Inc. in Walbridge. Babcock lives in Wayne with his wife, Kelly, and their three children.
“If everything works out, I think it would be right for me,” Babcock said of the truck series. “But I do like the job I have now and I like the people I’m surrounded with (at GEM). Everything would have to be really good for me to leave. I don’t know what would happen.”