In this week’s exclusive interview, Speedway Media catches up with ThorSport Racing driver and Alabama native Grant Enfinger.
Enfinger entered the racing scene competing in the ARCA Racing Series before moving over to the Truck Series doing some one-off races from 2010-2017. In 2017, he was picked up by ThorSport Racing to drive the No. 98 for the full season. Since then, he has competed full time in two seasons, with one win in 2018 in September at Las Vegas.
Like many drivers who start from a young age in hopes of racing in NASCAR one day, Enfinger always knew racing was what he wanted to do.
“That’s where it’s always started from a young age,” he said. “My dad and me went to Talladega (Superspeedway) as a kid and kind of fell in love with it. He had a friend of his that raced at the local track there in Alabama and we would go with him, and watch him. It’s all I wanted to do, I don’t know if I ever seriously considered anything else.”
Recalling the first time he ever sat in a racecar, Enfinger said, “It was one of those things that you thought were awesome. A friend of ours was actually running an Allison Legacy Car out of Mobile International Speedway. I don’t know when that was, but I was young. He let me sit in the car there before the race and that would be something you always remember. I said, I wanted to do it (racing) before then but yeah, I definitely remember that.”
Enfinger also remembers his first ARCA start at Iowa in 2008 driving for Andy Belmont. It was a humble beginning.
“As soon as I graduated college, I moved to North Carolina and just was working with teams there and started working with (Andy) Belmont,” he recalled. “From there, I start and parked his backup car, that’s what it basically boiled down to, probably three to five times that year in 2008. But yeah, Iowa was the first time for me to be in an ARCA car. Like I said, it wasn’t really racing, only did a few laps or whatever. But that’s how it all started.”
Before he got to the ARCA Menards Series in 2008, Enfinger graduated with a Marketing degree. He explains why and how that makes him stand out from other drivers.
“You know, I feel like you have to do something to set yourself apart,” he explained. “More than anything, you have to convince these guys who are spending all this money on racing and it isn’t returning. You have to find creative ways to get returns because a lot of times, racing is hard to make a return out of. I feel like the Marketing degree has opened my eyes to some of the creative ways, you can actually help this make sense. There are companies out there where it’s not just a benefit, but necessary for them to grow their business and to get what they’re looking for. I think it’s been necessary for me and my career. You know obviously I’ve been a hands-on guy on the racecar and race trucks, but it’s also something I take a lot of pride in that I do have that. I try to utilize that to keep myself racing. You know, at the end of the day, that was the reasoning behind that degree. None of that was coincidence, that’s all I wanted to do.”
Enfinger went on to describe what he enjoyed the most about driving in the ARCA Series before making the jump to the Truck Series.
“I love the ARCA Series,” he said. “I still do. You know if there is an opportunity that pops up, here or there, I’ll jump in one. If the opportunity was right I would do it. Yeah, it’s definitely an experience on those bigger tracks but all those guys from the competitors to the officials and everybody all like that, you kind of just get along with them. It’s a family atmosphere and it’s fun, but you want to do it when you be competitive, when you can be in good stuff. It’s not fun running in the back like anything else. I definitely feel like I learned a lot in the ARCA Series through the years, just to be on a lot of the same tracks that we’re running in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. I feel like that experience has definitely helped me and running for a championship, stuff like that. That’s something a lot of people can’t say and it helps our case.”
However, nowadays it seems like most young drivers don’t take the time to develop their skills in the ARCA Series but immediately jump into an Xfinity or Cup Series car to run in the mid-30s without having any prior experience at those tracks. Enfinger believes you have to gain some experience at those tracks to see if you’re ready to compete at those high levels, but also doesn’t blame someone for taking the opportunity when it presents itself.
“I feel like from the racers aspect, you need to take the stepping stones to get there. Now does that include ARCA or whatever? No. I think you definitely don’t jump into an Xfinity Car or a Truck for that matter. I think there are certain steps in racing that work better than others, but you have to go down the right path. In my opinion, you excel at a lower division before moving to a higher division. I think it’s obvious but yeah some people don’t always do that.
“But from the other standpoint, you have to go where the opportunities are when you’re a racer. You don’t have opportunities to be a top-level car at a lower level. If your opportunity at a higher level in a backmarker is the only opportunity you got, I don’t necessarily blame you but that’s not the opportunity I would be looking for. It’s so tough to make it make sense in all that. I understand people trying that, but that wouldn’t be my number one position.”
The Alabama driver adds there is really no ladder system in place.
“You know there is no sure enough system,” Enfinger continued. “You got some of the guys that get picked up from an early age that they’ll put in 10 or 12 ARCA starts and then they’ll put them in a Truck, put them in Xfinity, put them in Cup but yeah, that’s the proper system if you have the means and resources to do that. But there’s not a set in stone system. When you see the manufacturer get behind somebody, that’s what they will do. That’s probably the way you should do it to have those series.”
It was announced last year that NASCAR would be buying the ARCA Series and possibly merging them with the K&N Pro Series. Enfinger explains his thoughts on the merger.
“You know, I hate that they are in the position to do that,” he said. “But, I do think they are in a position where that needs to happen. The K&N field has been low for the last few years and ARCA is getting low this year. I definitely think it will help, I feel like there’s definitely a place for the ARCA Series and I don’t necessarily think there’s a place for the K&N Series. Where it is right now, they’re going after the same type teams, same type drivers. They’re both unfortunately incredibly expensive to do.
“I feel like ARCA has done a pretty good job within reason of keeping the cost manageable, probably more so than K&N has historically. Yeah, it cost more money to run a full season of ARCA than K&N, but you’re at a different level with tracks and stuff like that. I hope they kind of go with some of the ARCA mentality on things and how they have done it in the past, but we’ll have to see how things go. I don’t think making everyone change over all their cars is the right move and it sounds like they’re trying to find a happy medium there. It’s going to be tough to merge that stuff, but you know like I said, I have a lot of history in the ARCA Series. I may be a little biased, but I hope they don’t change the ARCA mentality to put it like that.”
Enfinger had quite the success in the ARCA Series with 16 wins, 47 top fives and 66 top 10 finishes, along with six poles, even winning the 2015 Series championship. He explains what his biggest victory is in that series.
“It would definitely be the home town track in Mobile (Mobile International Raceway),” Enfinger said. “Number one is my first ARCA win, I’ve run second or third for half of my ARCA starts, it feels like. We would lead a bunch of laps and end up running second or third somewhere all the time. Finally got that win in Mobile in 2013 and they came a lot more often after that. That was definitely the most special win. Friends and family were there, and it (the track) is literally 40 minutes from where I live, my home track. That was the most special. I hate the ARCA Series doesn’t go there anymore. Filled up the stands there at every show. But yeah, that was definitely the most memorable one.”
In Part 2 of Speedway Media’s exclusive interview with Enfinger, available Tuesday, May 28, we will discuss his career in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.