Justin Haley is in his first full-time season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driving the No. 24 for GMS Racing Chevy. However, just like any driver, he started at a young age. For Justin, it was the around the age of nine.
“I started racing when I was around the age of nine or eight and a half years old,” Haley said. “The reason I got into racing is mainly because of my uncle Todd Braun and Ralph Braun. They owned a NASCAR Xfinity team (nationwide back in the day), but Jason Leffler, Kyle Busch, Dave Blaney, all of them guys ran for them. My little cousin was actually racing a quarter midget at the time for my other uncle and I was at one of his birthday parties, and I thought it was pretty cool that I drove his quarter midget around the next day and I kind of asked my mom, ‘hey can I get one of those? Can I race?’ So I got started late, but I’m definitely thankful I did.”
Haley can remember the first race he competed in and remembers what his emotions were at the time.
“Yeah, so we bought this crappy quarter midget and it was very rough on the edges but we cleaned it up, and made it nice,” he continued. “I spray painted it myself and didn’t have stickers on it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. We built it and had no idea how to set it up. In quarter midgets, there’s a lot of different classes. There’s probably 12 or 13 different classes. I started at Kokomo Midget Club for my first race ever. My sister actually raced quarter midget a little bit later, but the first race I finished was third out of 25. That was pretty cool. Ever since then it kind of took off.”
“I was definitely nervous,” he added. “But I really didn’t know enough at the time to be overly nervous. I was just trying to have fun, going out there, going to the go-kart track for any of us.”
For many drivers, the ARCA Racing Series, K&N Pro Series and for Justin, the Super Late Model Tour series, was a stepping stone to making it to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. It’s a great way for young drivers to get experience before making it to the next step in racing.
“Obviously, it’s a progression,” Haley said. “It’s a ladder of how you do things. I won a few Super Late Model races, CRA which excelled me to ARCA. I got a big break with Venturini Motorsports in 2015. I got a pole for them (Elko). HScott Motorsports signed me on. I won a championship over there in 2016 and then I got some opportunities with Great Clips with Braun Motorsports to do some Truck races, and GMS hired me on. Ever since then, it’s been a great ride. I’ve been living my dreams. I can’t necessarily say one thing helped me to another. I’m still learning today. There’s so much to learn, you know? Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch learn every weekend. I’m definitely thankful for the opportunities I’ve had.”
Throughout a race car drivers career, they will normally have a great race car that they remember well for years later. For Justin, it was the Phoenix race in the K&N series.
“We went to Phoenix in a K&N west car with Hscott with Justin Marks in the 2015 season, I believe,” Haley said. “We did not win the race, but it was kind of an odd race. I just got done racing my full east season over on the east coast and we went over to the west coast to Phoenix., and ran William Byron, Landon Cassill those guys were in that same race. William Byron was my teammate, Dalton Sargeant was over, I think Rico was the next year. Anyway, we qualified on the pole and didn’t practice the greatest but qualified it on the pole by just an insane speed. It was a 100-lap race and I think I had a 15 or 16 second lead on Landon Cassill, and William Byron was third. And then, I ran over something with my right front with three to go, popped a tire and lost the race. It was just an unbelievable car. Probably the best car I ever had in my life. I would have to go way back then.”
“I’ve won races in worst driving cars,” he added. “It just kind of frustrates me that we couldn’t get the job done that night.”
One of Justin’s sponsors right now in the truck series is F.O.E, which stands for Fraternal Order of Eagles. He describes more of what they are and what they do.
“Fraternal Order of Eagles is a non-profit organization throughout Canada and America,” Haley said. “Basically, they just raise money for charity. It’s not a specific charity here and there, but any charity. They seem to be everywhere. You apply to be a member and you have to renew that for any amount of years. But basically, you’re part of this organization and you just raise money for charities. They’ve helped me a lot with my career. They’ve given me so many opportunities.”
“The first time ever they were on my car was at Columbus Motor Speedway in the K&N East series,” Haley added. “I won with them. To kick off that partnership was pretty cool back then and obviously, they are supportive of my truck career as of now. It’s pretty cool to have them on as a sponsor.”
Sometimes a race car driver wishes they can go back and do a race over again. In Haley’s mind, he couldn’t quite come up with an answer.
“Man, I don’t know if I could ever put a race that I would like to redo,” he said. “Any racer I think would tell you that any race you lost, you would like to redo to have another shot at. I’ve raced so many races that I can’t think back to it. I always like to think if I went back in time to when I was 12 racing street stocks or the late models at 13 and if I knew what I knew now, it would be pretty cool to watch. I definitely like to say, any race that I ever lost I would redo it.”
Stage racing was implemented last year for all three series and every driver has a different opinion on it.
“Everyone was a little bit skeptical at first, but I think it really helps sell business opportunities and helps the competitiveness on how we race,” Haley said. “It really shows at superspeedways more so than a mile and a half, where we are all single file and just running. The strategy of the races has changed. Fuel mileage. NASCAR has done very good making them non-fuel mileage races, eliminating that factor. So we have good competitive races. I think it’s been good for the sport. I think it needs to evolve and it was a step in the right direction. I can’t wait to see what’s next!”
Justin also has an idea on what could be added to the NASCAR Truck Series schedule.
“I think it would be cool to add some more road courses to the truck schedule,” he said. “We have Mosport up in Canada and we’ve run really good up there. With my road course and dirt background, they all seem to fit me pretty well. I like to have my advantages on the road courses. Any road course. I think Road Atlanta would be cool. Road America. Places like that, I think we could do the Homestead roval, which would be really cool. They’re doing the Charlotte roval this year in the cup series, so maybe that can transform in later years to the lower series. That would be really sweet.”
Haley was signed on to drive for GMS Racing in 2017. In any way, owner Maury Gallagher has helped him grow as a person and driver.
“Maury is just a cool guy,” Haley said. “He is a business guy and he’s a leader for the sport, and GMS Racing and everyone involved. He’s given us all opportunities and people behind us. GMS is an empire. You walk in the building and so many people, so many faces, so much brain power and it’s absolutely unbelievable. Having Maury put Mike Beam, even Spencer his son in there, all the crew chiefs, Joe Shear Jr or even Johnny Sauter being in there. As a whole, he’s done so much for the sport and I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for my career.”
Prior to the June race last year in Texas, Justin won his very first NASCAR Truck Series pole. It was a great moment for him and the team.
“Yeah, that was for sure cool,” Haley said. “The mile and a half stuff we kind of struggled on the 24 team last year, but we progressively got it better. That’s why it was so special to me and my team. We may have not started the best. We had our ups and downs. We had some podium finishes on the mile and a half’s, which was really cool but to go out there and be faster than anyone else really shows what kind of determination, and willpower that my guys have. We have a no quit attitude. To go out there and get my first career pole; that was insane.”
“Obviously, Daytona last week and getting the second place finish that capped it off even more,” he added. “We have a lot of momentum going into Atlanta.”
Johnny Sauter can most likely be seen as a leader for his teammates at GMS Racing. Justin has been able to get some advice on the truck throughout the weekend.
“Johnny was really good at racing,” Haley said. “He’s just been around for so long and I can just feed on him for what he has to say. I was new to this mile and a half racing and I did the short tracks, and I did the superspeedways as well as the road courses and raced on dirt too. But, I hadn’t worked the air on the mile and a half’s yet. Last year at the beginning of it, we were new teammates and I just took everything I could from him and the crew chief Jerry Baxter, and everyone over there, Spencer too. Johnny has been great with me. Obviously, we’ve been working really well together. It showed last week when we had a 1-2 finish. It’s been cool to have that partnership.”
2018 has started off hot for GMS Racing with a 1-2 finishing position at Daytona last week. Haley explains why they’ve started off well.
“We’ve got some good guys this year,” he said. ” A new mechanic and front-end mechanic. New interior guy, tire guy. Having them guys, showing them what I’m capable of and my willpower, my overall strength in a race car. I think it built our team a lot and we walked in Monday morning having a smile on their face, and pumped to go to Atlanta this weekend. It was really positive it was what we needed. We need another strong finish here at Atlanta and hopefully lock ourselves in the chase.”
Justin will be heading to Atlanta this weekend to make his first ever track debut.
“I’m very prepared,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot of film and looking at raw data. Alex Bowman filled in for me last year. I have a lot of resources. I’ve been at a Chevy on the simulator and turning laps for hours. Leaning on everyone at GMS for the support and having that technology behind me is really helpful.”
Finally, Haley has set some expectations for the 2018 NASCAR Truck Series season.
“Winning the championship,” Haley added. “That comes with making the final four for my expectations. I’ve told everyone this. We are a championship caliber team and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the final four. We just need to go out there and focus on every race, and individually can’t get wrapped up over one lap and one race. I think if we just stay focused on our goal and task at hand, I think that’s what we will do best.”
You can follow Justin Haley on Twitter at @Justin_Haley_.