Short track racing devotees have another of their own to cheer for in NASCAR’s touring ranks this year.
Super Late Model ace Derek Griffith announced Thursday evening that he will make his NASCAR national series debut later this summer with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Griffith will be entered in the August 20th NCWTS race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., a weekend anchored by the NTT INDYCAR Series.
And the Hudson, N.H. racer will be at the wheel of a Toyota Tundra prepared by Kyle Busch Motorsports, a team that has already won eight times in 2021.
For Griffith, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
The 24-year-old broke the news on Speed51’s “The Bullring” program, with a formal release by KBM outlining the details. Griffith will drive KBM’s potent #51 Tundra, the entry typically driven by team owner Busch in his limited NCWTS schedule. Busch won races at Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway earlier this year; fellow NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex, Jr. steered the team to a third win at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Development drivers Drew Dollar, Parker Chase and Corey Heim have rounded out the schedule for the #51 team thus far. Teammate John Hunter Nemechek, with five wins of his own, leads the NCWTS championship standings.
Sponsorship support for Griffith’s start comes from regular KBM and Toyota backer JBL Audio, as well as Hudson Speedway, the New Hampshire bullring on which Griffith honed his racing skills. The venerable quarter-mile, a fixture on Griffith’s cars and firesuits, will be boldly featured on the truck’s quarter panels. Griffith finished third in a Pro All Stars Series feature at Hudson two weeks ago.
Griffith has not raced at the 1.25-mile flat oval formerly known as Gateway International Raceway, but he has several strong runs in a Super Late Model at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The one-race deal pairs Busch, one of NASCAR’s most polarizing stars and an ardent supporter of short track racing, with one of the discipline’s emerging national prospects.
Unlike his new car owner, though, Griffith’s career developed largely out of the limelight.
Racing with the budget-conscious Granite State Pro Stock Series, Griffith caught fire in 2015 with his first four touring Super Late Model wins and the GSPSS championship. Griffith and his team moved to the Pro All Stars Series in 2016, where he earned multiple victories against New England’s top Super Late Model talents.
After clinching the PASS National Championship crown in 2018, Griffith broke through as a PASS North title threat the next year. Griffith won five times and narrowly missed the series championship in a battle that went down to the season finale.
Spot starts in events outside of New England, and a 12th-place run in the 2019 Snowball Derby, hinted at the young driver’s potential on a larger stage. Griffith opened 2020 at Speedweeks, claiming New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing championship. While running a limited PASS schedule, he racked up a few regional Super Late Model wins, including back-to-back $10,000-to-win shows in September. Another trip to the Snowball Derby in December resulted in a solid ninth-place finish.
This February, Griffith became the first driver since 1994, and one of only five drivers ever, to win consecutive World Series titles at New Smyrna. A fourth-place finish in the Rattler 250 was followed with back-to-back PASS Easter Bunny 150 wins at Hickory Motor Speedway, and another PASS win at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut in April.
Griffith’s Super Late Model success, and his inclusion in the Kulwicki Driver Development Program, paved a path to an ARCA opportunity in 2020. A second-place debut at New Smyrna helped secure sponsorship for a partial schedule in Chad Bryant Racing’s Fords. Despite minimal practice at unfamiliar speedways, Griffith showed speed and maturity with top-ten results in all but two of his starts. A new sponsor opened the door for a two-race deal this year with Venturini Motorsports. In his superspeedway debut at Daytona, he raced his way to the lead, only to be wrecked from the point a lap later. His second start, at Kansas Speedway, netted him a fifth-place finish.
While his ARCA opportunities have been with established operations, Griffith’s Super Late Model team is as grassroots as such a program can be in 2021. Louie Mechalides, Griffith’s longtime car owner, turns the wrenches; Louie’s sister Dolly is the spotter. The team’s appearance is spartan, hauling to even the biggest races with a trailer hitched to a one-ton GMC. But while more resources are always welcomed, Griffith’s performance reminds everyone that they have exactly what they need to win. Mechalides’ team is a “mom-and-pop” operation; they work hard, and they play hard, too.
Griffith’s opportunity with Kyle Busch Motorsports is reminiscent of that of fellow New Englander Ryan Preece, who famously “bet on himself” in 2017 with a two-race NASCAR Xfinity Series deal for Joe Gibbs Racing. Racing a top-flight car adorned with the decals of his long-time short track backers, Preece finished second to Kyle Busch at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, then won at Iowa Speedway. Preece’s success earned him additional starts for Gibbs, another win in 2018, and ultimately a NASCAR Cup Series ride in 2019.
Like Preece, Griffith is one of modern short track racing’s blue-collar stars, balancing his days at his auto import business with long nights at the race shop and weekends on the road chasing trophies.
Like Preece, nothing so far is guaranteed beyond one Friday night in a pickup truck.
But just as Preece wowed the crowds five summers ago, Griffith will look to do the same with cameras watching.
And like Preece, Griffith has the tools at hand to do it.