To say that Justin Fontaine is excited about making his NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing debut this weekend at Kingsport Speedway would be an understatement.
Mother Nature washed out last weekend's scheduled start of the 2014 racing season, so “The Concrete Jungle” will now roar to life on Friday, April 4. The six division racing program in the Model City will be headlined by the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stocks, along with the Street Stock, Mod 4, Pure 4, Rookie Pure 4, and Legend divisions in action at the .375-mile banked concrete oval.
The first racing experience for Fontaine was in 2008 when he tightened the belts to race a quarter midget in Salisbury, N.C., competing with the North Carolina Quarter Midget Association. Next up for Fontaine was a move to the Volunteer State to race at Newport (Tenn.) Speedway, where he competed for a couple of years and visited victory lane several times in the Mini Cup division, and later chauffeured a Mini Stock.
JPF Motorsports purchased a Late Model Stock in mid-2013 that had been raced by former Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. For Fontaine, from mid-summer on last year was spent practicing, just getting a feel for driving a full-bodied stock car. Fontaine was under the guidance of noted motorsports figure Wade Day, who has worked with several teenage racers over the years.
Justin’s cousin, 32-year-old Chris Fontaine from Lakeland, Fla., has raced late models at various tracks around the Sunshine State and also is a veteran competitor with 49 starts to his credit in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Plans for Fontaine and JPF Motorsports in 2014 will find the 16-year-old high school sophomore racing weekly on Friday nights at Kingsport Speedway. The team tentatively is looking at competing on Saturdays in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series events at Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Va., with the first race scheduled at LPR on April 12.
“Oh yeah, I can’t wait until the first race at Kingsport Speedway,” said an excited Fontaine from the JPF Motorsports shop. “I realize making my first-ever NASCAR Whelen All-American Series start in our Late Model Stock will be a big deal, and I’ll probably be a little nervous. We’ve practiced a lot, all last summer and throughout the fall and this year during the preseason. But I know that practicing and being the only car on the track will be much different than being out there with a full field of competitors.
“To be quite honest, the goals I have set for my first race are to run as competitively as possible and be running at the finish when the checkered flag waves. If it’s a 15th-place finish or wherever, I’ll take it just as long as I’m still running at the finish and we’ve got a car not damaged to load back up in the trailer. Hey, I’m a rookie and I need the seat-time to gain experience. I know if I’m sitting parked in the pits with damage to the race car and not out on the track racing, I’m not learning. And that’s what I need to do, I just need to be behind the wheel of the car running laps and getting the valuable seat-time. That’s how you get experience.”
The young wheelman Fontaine knows his racing career is in good hands with Day overseeing his racing efforts.
“To be quite honest, I feel like I’m being coached and mentored by one of the very best in the business in Wade Day. He knows all there is to know about these race cars. We’ve practiced a lot and Wade’s really worked with me, telling me what I need to do in driving the car and what I don’t need to do. I’m just his student, and I want to learn every aspect of how to drive the race car and also be able to know what I feel in the car to be able give good feedback to Wade and my car chief Duke Bare. I guess I’m just like a sponge, wanting to absorb all I can. I learn something new about driving the race car every time I strap-in. I know when Wade and Duke both tell me anything, they know what they’re talking about because they both are racers and know what it’s like sitting behind the wheel.
“I know that by working with Wade and Duke and with knowledge they have about race cars, it will greatly lessen our learning curve as I get up to speed. I know they’ll give me a good car to drive, and that’s all I can ask for. The rest is up to me. Rookie or not, I’ve got to get the job done behind the wheel. When you look back over the last three years at Kingsport Speedway, you could easily say it’s ranked as one of the top NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanctioned short-tracks in the United States, because week in and week out there would be at least a 20-car field of Late Model Stocks present. Race time is here, and I’m really looking forward to my rookie season. I know I’ve still got a lot to learn about racing, but I’m going to give it my best effort this season.”
Day realizes he’s working with a young racer with limited experience.
“Justin’s a great young kid and he’s really got a passion for racing,” said Day about his driver for 2014. “He’s very focused, and I can see he’s got the determination and drive to succeed. But, the bottom line is he’s got no actual race experience – just all the practice time we had last year and this winter. We’re taking it step-by-step with Justin. They say you’ve got to crawl before you walk, then walk before you run. He’s got a good bit of practice time under him, so he’s past the crawling stage and we’re walking. Now we’ve just got to get him running.
“Running laps and getting seat-time, and the more laps he runs he’s going to begin getting more comfortable driving the car. Who knows what the car count will be, but just going off the past there will probably be at least 20 cars at Kingsport Speedway for the season opener and for the weekly racing. Hopefully we will begin the season with a finish of at least 15th, and then steadily improve as the season goes along. I’ve got confidence in Justin, but it’s just going to take some time for him to develop as a driver. He’ll get there. I’m behind him and all the guys on the team are, too.”