VINTON — Most race teams consist of a driver, a couple friends who like to work on cars and a parent or spouse who holds the entire project together.
After years of helping his dad, Bill, and brother, Ronnie, race at Benton County Speedway, 33-year-old Justin Tharp is back in the driver’s seat after his fiance, Danielle, bought him a car for his 32nd birthday. He is racing in the Hobby Stock division at Benton County.
“She gave me the money and told me to follow my dreams,” Tharp said of his big-ticket gift. “She told me to just make sure we have food on the table and the kids are taken care of and I gladly do that so I can come out here every week for myself.”
Tharp’s racing dreams began while growing up in Dysart, before he graduated from Union Community in 2006. Tharp’s father raced in Vinton in the 1980s and his brother, “Big Ronnie,” was a driver at Benton County from 1987-2007.
“I was lost without him when he retired from racing and moved to Tennessee,” Tharp said.
He bought a 1995 five-speed Ford Contour and raced that at Brooklyn from 2007 to 2012. Tharp then moved to the Micro Mod and Sport Mod classes, but didn’t find a good fit and decided to take a break from racing.
Now Tharp is in his second season back at Vinton with his buddies, Michael Trachta and Ronnie Weston, helping him in his pit.
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“I’m not the fastest car out there,” Tharp said, “but when the car is loaded and is in one piece, that’s a win for me every week.”
The color scheme is a throwback to his family’s historically red car bodies with white lettering, an idea he got from his brother, who died nine years ago.
“I thought about how expensive wraps are and heard a voice from my brother saying to go back to the old paint scheme with the sponsors popping in white,” Tharp said. “I like how it turned out and people say that they can read the lettering on the car from the stands.”
Besides driving a legible car, Tharp said anyone looking for a new driver to root for can find decent qualities in his race team.
“I’m laid back, low-tempered and I don’t get too frustrated about things,” Tharp said. “I like to do it for the kids, that’s how my brother was. I always remember the kids sitting in his car and having a blast. He didn’t really care how he finished, he just liked to see the kids smile.”