Southern Sprint Car Series Returns to action This Saturday night at 4-17 Southern Speedway
Roaring into 2022 & Driver Spotlight….
By: Shari Phillips
The highly anticipated season opener of the BG Southern Sprint Shootout Series is almost here. The countdown is official. The next Saturday on the 2022 calendar marks the end of the off season.
Breathing is for the weak. Time is of the essence. Grab the list and check off the have to haves and must do’s that dominate the Holiday season while everyone else is Christmas Caroling. Drivers and their families live on a different schedule. Dance to a different drummer. Eating is mandatory but far from a priority.
Drivers covet this eight week break from chasing the tracks, the checkers, and even their rivalries. This is the time that they break those beauties down… have heart to heart talks with sheet metal and lug nuts… and examine every inch of the mighty machine that will roar back to life when it hits the high banks of 417 Speedway on Saturday, January 22nd.
Are you ready? Who is your pick for Victory Lane on opening night? A long time crowd favorite Sport Allen? Last year’s Rookie Bruce Brantley? Maybe hot shoe Troy DeCaire. Or maybe… and it’s just a maybe, the star of this week’s Driver Profile and 2020’s Rookie LJ Grimm.
Time flies. It was just two years ago that Sport Allen sat down with his long time car owner and former track rival Taylor Andrews and talked about a schedule shift at work that was going to prevent him from making every Saturday night’s races. Looking for a substitute driver would have been a challenge if it wasn’t for the faith that Sport had in Open Wheel Modified driver LJ Grimm. Seemed just about anything LJ strapped into found its way to the front of the pack. Perhaps it was prime time to see if that science worked in a Sprint car.
Not one crazy enough to turn down this amazing opportunity, LJ shook hands with Taylor and started prepping for his first night in one of the most competitive classes in Florida short track racing. A quick round robin with LJ started with a preemptive sigh. Naming five things, LJ was tasked with reflecting on his first emotion for each of the following…
Strapping Into The Car “Oh shxx, what did I sign up for?”
First time putting his foot on the throttle. “Oh shxx, what did I sign up for?”
Wait a minute LJ, dig deep. There are more emotions rolling around that head…
First time grabbing the steering wheel, “I was shocked where it sat. Kind of like sitting at a kitchen table. Nothing like a Modified where it sits in front of the driver at an angle.”
First time exiting turn 4 to take the first green flag. “What have I gotten myself into?”
First time exiting turn 4 to take his first checkered in a Sprint car, something LJ Grimm had mastered in other classes on numerous occasions leading up to this night, “Finally.”
Because everyone expects to win a Winged Sprint race in one of their first 5 times on the asphalt. Veterans have been known to wait years for that desired trophy chase. The wind down lap post race is all the preparation they have for the Victory Circle interview. Even the laid back Taylor Andrews congratulated him with a good job, good race hug.
We are scrolling on the BG Southern Shootout Winged Sprint Series Facebook page, but interviewing LJ Grimm leaves a few questions out there. LJ has recently upped his game and gravitated from asphalt to dirt in an Open Wheel Modified. Something he has contemplated for about ‘5 or 6’ years. He openly admits he waited patiently for the courage to take the jump. Watching fellow driver and good friend Shane Butler make the move was another motivating factor. LJ has even tested the dirt ‘waters’ with a Sprint at both East Bay and Hendry but plans to prioritize the BG Series and asphalt for the 2022 season. Towing his Modified to a dirt track will be reserved for his off weeks from the series. He currently plans to run the Modified during Speed Weeks at East Bay 1/25-1/29.
LJ is quick to extinguish any thoughts that making the move from the modified to the sprint car was easy. “they are a completely different animal. Unless you take the wings off.” With the beautiful wings you must relinquish some control while you pick up speed. “My thoughts were let’s run this thing wide open and just steer it.”
Goals as LJ enters 2022 are to win as many Winged Sprint races as he can and pick up a win in the dirt Modified and one or two in an asphalt Modified. A stout goal, but one that LJ is ready to tackle full bore is to try and qualify for the Little Indy 500, held at Anderson Speedway Memorial Day weekend. LJ will be joined by fellow drivers Shane Butler, Tommy Nichols, and Davey Hamilton, Jr. Another driver he would like to see make the trip is John Inman.
Asked if anyone gave him specific advice when he made the transition to the Sprint car, LJ reminisces listening to Stan and Shane swap stories about their many years behind the wheels. He made attempts to absorb and categorize all the information in hopes of one day utilizing some of their information. He claims that Shane is notorious for telling him, “stick with me kid, we will go places. I don’t know if they will be good or bad, but we will go places.” As a matter of fact, LJ’s one piece of advice to any young and/or upcoming drivers is to “listen to the old timers and never give up.”
Curious if LJ has any superstitions of last minute things he does before a race he was quick to shut that down but then replied, “I always put drops in my eyes before I hit the track in the Sprint car. It helps. Not having a windshield is a game changer.”
Even LJ Grimm has a hero or two (or three). His dad, John Grimm raced for years. John has quite the collection of trophies and racing stories of his own. Proud Mom Linda is easily LJ’s number one fan. LJ remembers cheering on Wayne Jefferson for years. “Wayne is focused on one thing at the race track. The win. Most people don’t understand how important that is.” As LJ started competing in the Open Wheel Modifieds he gravitated to Robbie Cooper. “Both of them are really talented. Good people.”
With competing in 3 cars this year, LJ’s list of people and sponsors to thank is HUGE! So a true shout out to all these people that make our sport what it is by supporting LJ and his peers. They are the true backbone.
Sprint Car- My parents, Taylor Andrews, Sport All, Ron, Tim, and Jerry Stucky. Sponsors include Dayton Andrews Dodge, BG Products, Hurricane Racecars, Herbie Cope Signs, Jimmy Cope Race Engines, Butler Speed & Supply, and Finney Racing Shocks.
Dirt Modified – Justin Holt, Steve Boyd, Mike Boyd, Ricky Coffin, and Landon Butler. Sponsors include L & L Fire Protection, TTI Machine, Lilley Air Conditioning, Proto Type Chassis, Rick’s Hauling & Tractor Services, Bronson Lube, Maverick’s Portable Bathrooms, Butler Speed & Supply, FatBack Race Engines, and Finney Racing Shocks.
Asphalt Modified – Mike and Lacey Sweet and Travis Roland. Sponsors; Too Sweet Racing, Travis Roland Motorsports, Finney Racing Shocks, and Robert Binns Roofing.
Started at 5 in a go-kart, proceeded to a Sportsman by 13, and tackling a Winged Sprint before 30 – LJ Grimm is the real deal. If you have a chance to stop him in the grandstands. Shake hands with one of the best. On and off this track, LJ is a true gentleman. An ambassador to the sport.
By Shari PhillipsSouthern Sprint Car Series Returns to action This Saturday night at 4-17 Southern Speedway