*Editor’s Note: Stephen Mallozzi’s The Memoirs of a Small Time Racing Driver are presented by Win The Race, a NASCAR DFS strategy website that utilizes True Performance Ranks and other useful, effective data.
So, there I was, ready to walk away. And truthfully, for the first eight months after my NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut at Mid-Ohio, I truly was content. I spent all offseason telling most of the industry people I knew, including Josh Reaume and Toby Christie, that I would not ever step foot inside of a NASCAR stock car again. I had accomplished what I set out to do, which is more than most racers ever get to do.
Josh immediately questioned my reasoning, stating that he knew deep down that, “I couldn’t resist coming back”.
He was right.
March had rolled around, and I was struggling to find a life direction in Charlottesville, Virginia, as I graduated college a semester early and spent most of my days bored and doing mindless tasks. For that reason, I decided to take a trip home and work as a mechanic/driver coach for my Mid-Ohio sponsor, Team Fulkrum and CompKart, as the team needed assistance.
I owed them one, to say the least, considering they were the primary sponsor of my first Truck start.
I worked the weekend and told reminiscent stories to the team about my short-lived driving career. At the conclusion of Sunday’s event, Noah Nichols, who, as I mentioned in the last chapter, was my Mid-Ohio spotter, called me and asked me to join him on a casino trip up in Bethlehem, PA.
I was exhausted and a little sick, so I politely declined.
Noah remarked that he hadn’t seen me since Mid-Ohio. He was right, and he was one of my best friends. I missed the guy. At the end of the day, after telling me the girl he liked, her roommate, and our devious mutual friend would also be joining, I decided to make the trek up to Desales University.
Now, these three people, Lauren, Ariel, and Alex, combined to make me understand something I hadn’t before: my NASCAR start was something that meant a ton to Noah. So much so, that he had told them all of the racing stories I had to tell. These three knew phrases and lines I thought were only exclusive to me and my best friend.
It was at this time that I had a revelation: why, if this meant so much to Noah, did it mean nothing to me to just walk away? Sure, I was tired of the grind, worn down from the constant all-nighters and ripping my hair out over the ridiculous parts of racing. But I realized that night that if I didn’t keep trying, I’d regret it in twenty years.
We had such a wild group experience that evening, I ended up staying a week in Pennsylvania. It was nice to have a sense of normalcy.
My college experience had been plagued with NASCAR and COVID and a cancer-ridden dad. For just one week, I just felt like a normal guy. I spent time with the lads, let go of some of my harsher life responsibilities, and may or may not have developed a tiny crush on that roommate (I should’ve known it would happen; it is ALWAYS a redhead thing with me). It’s what I imagine college is probably like for most people.
Truthfully, it was exactly what I needed to reset so I could keep digging.
Near the end of my week, I called Josh to tell him I needed to get back behind the wheel, and we agreed the best place to do it would probably be the 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway.
At this point, it was already the start of April, and Martinsville was just a couple of weeks away. I told Josh I would sell my beloved street car if it meant I could race at ‘The Paperclip’. Spoiler: I never had to sell it (well, not for this race at least).
You see, in the years before I was a driver, I fell in love with NASCAR through a means other than driving: Gambling.
Obviously, as a driver, I had to stop (which is why I stopped writing my wildly successful DFS articles for TobyChristie.com). But, my connections lasted throughout my gambling retirement. A bunch of people in the NASCAR betting community came together to get on the truck. Stacking Denny’s, a gambling podcast run by Nick Giffen and Jordan McAbee, did a fundraiser that got them the primary scheme. So many people came together to help make it happen.
Not only did we find a way to get enough money to cover most of what I needed, but I had enough excess in my bank account to get behind the wheel of the AM Racing No. 22 Ford F-150. That was huge because it would guarantee me a spot in the race. Of course, I have to give more credit to Josh Reaume too; he actually gave up his seat in the No. 22 so I could have it.
He and I really have a true father-son bond going on, and for that, I am eternally grateful. In the end, Josh would take a spot in the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 34 Ford, but would ultimately withdraw before race day.
In the days leading up to the race, I was a little nervous. It had been months since my last time in a stock car, and with my limited funds, we had to make every opportunity count. The weather for the race looked questionable at best, and there was a real concern we wouldn’t get any practice or qualifying in. If that were to be the case, I would have to go into my first oval NASCAR start without any laps on the track.
Luckily, that didn’t happen. We ended up running practice and qualifying. Just like at Mid-Ohio, I was last in both sessions. Yet, I felt confident. I had learned a ton, and after chasing a couple of competitors in practice, I really felt as if I had learned a lot.
My spotter, Will Rodgers (yes, the NASCAR driver), had walked through some SMT data with me, and I really believed I understood exactly what I was doing wrong.
Before I knew it, we were moments away from my second NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start.
It was time for driver introductions. I waited for my name to be called, and I was about 10 feet from Kyle Busch. Let me tell you, that is a crazy experience. I am just a random guy from New Jersey. To stand next to Kyle Busch, waiting to go out onto the same stage for a pre-race ceremony? It made everything I had done up to this point feel so real.
After driver introductions, I got in the truck and fired the engine.
As the nerves really started to set in, a NASCAR official looked at me and told me to cut the car off. Like most of the NASCAR season this year, weather in the area had put the race in a lightning delay. I got out of the car. Little did I know, that would be the start of a long wait.
I spent a lot of time with my friends. I talked to Josh and Pickle (AM Racing’s truck series crew chief) about a game plan. I goofed off with some of the Reaume Brothers Racing guys.
Hours and hours rolled by. Many of us began to question two things. One: why didn’t we just call off the race until the morning? Two: why, if we had wet weather tires, weren’t we using them?
At around 10 PM ET, we found out why NASCAR waited; We’d be participating in NASCAR’s first-ever rain oval race. My goodness, as if I hadn’t been nervous enough at that point.
Even the pace laps started off hairy. So hairy in fact, I laid off four seconds at the start of the race, thinking there would be a quick caution.
It never came.
While I did run the back of the field down (and even made my way up to 32nd), I would still end up losing a lap before the competition caution. At the comp caution, we rode around for 10 laps trying to decide whether or not the track was dry enough for slicks. This started a pattern.
The race was a complete disaster from that point on.
It was a few laps of green flag racing, and then a caution, either for rain, a spin, or a stage break. And it wasn’t like any major incidents occurred either. It was just weird; we even got out of our cars for fifteen minutes at one point for ANOTHER rain delay.
I ended Stage 2 fighting around the top 30 and was in contention for the lucky dog. However, after a Daniel Dye spin, disaster struck: the battery in my truck died in Turn 4.
I took a push from a tow truck around the short oval and got pushed back to the garage, where we replaced the battery.
We returned to the track, nine laps down in last place. Of course, out of all the truck races I could’ve entered, I enter the one race where everyone is still running. It literally never happens. The Truck Series is infamous for people crashing. And yet, somehow, in a rain-soaked race at Martinsville, everyone was still running.
Shortly after we returned to the track, it started raining again, and NASCAR officially called the race for weather around midnight.
The whole premise of attempting the race that night was bogus.
We ran 126 laps or so, and over 65 of them were under caution. We hardly did any real racing that night. It was so unfortunate that one of my big opportunities in NASCAR had gone so poorly and involved so little racing. But I was hungry. I was ready for my next shot.
That trip to see my best friend in Pennsylvania a few months prior, along with some Josh Reaume encouragement and some wise words from my old man, had sparked my racing love once more. And we had improved a lot; we were competing with a lot of the trucks in the back of the pack, and had made numerous green flag passes (including one on Ross Chastain).
However, the most critical part of my story from Martinsville came after the race itself.
I got back to my apartment in Charlottesville around 3:30 AM ET, only to wake up in the early afternoon and immediately head for my shift at Outback Steakhouse.
I Tweeted about my experience, pointing out how utterly crazy it was. One night, I’m racing in NASCAR. Next, I’m asking if you want extra Bloom Sauce with your Bloomin’ Onion and seeing if you need a soda refill. The Tweet gained a ton of traction.
So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like being a small-time racing driver…
Yesterday I drove myself to @MartinsvilleSwy at 7 AM.
I drove myself back to my apartment, getting back around 3 AM.
— Stephen Mallozzi (@DriverMallozz) April 15, 2023
It’s a Tweet that might change my career. But, more on that later.
We needed to keep moving up the ladder to get to the next goal that I had set: Daytona. I earned approval for all tracks 1.25 miles and shorter, which made Gateway our next target. And, looking on the bright side, there was no way it could go worse than Martinsville, right?