Two years ago, TJ Reaid was a household name when it came to the pavement Late Model ranks. He won big races while driving for and working with some of the biggest names in the industry. However, during the winter leading into the 2016 racing season, Reaid decided to make the transition from laying down rubber to ripping up clay. So far, he has enjoyed success behind the wheel of his No. 41 Dirt Super Late Model.
As the Georgia driver now prepares for his World Finals debut at The Dirt Track at Charlotte (NC), Reaid has many thoughts thinking back to his asphalt days.
“Early on, we got hooked up with a lot of really good people [including] Chris Gabehart. We started our program down in Atlanta in my dad’s race shop. Had a lot of success. He moved up to Charlotte and went to work for Kyle Busch and I kind of followed him up there,” Reaid explained. “Got to do their deal. We had our struggles and we had our success’ there too and we got the win at the All American 400. We had a lot of good runs. We parted ways and I moved back home. “
Always being something that Reaid wanted to do, dirt racing was not very far from his reach. He grew up watching his dad race on the dirt and that made it a bucket list item until he finally smashed the throttle on the clay for the first time.
“I got to hanging out at Capital, about six or seven miles from my shop and I built a crate car. I just kind of fell in love with it,” Reaid stated. “The dirt stuff, we’re having a really good time. There’s a lot more racing that pays a lot more money. You can stay a little closer to home.”
In addition to the extremely different racing style and skill set from asphalt to dirt racing, Reaid has also experienced a change in scenery when it comes to big events.
“We’re at the World Finals this weekend and this is definitely something different for me as far as the dirt world goes. It’s a pretty big deal. “
Reaid noted that there are not only a few differences between the two separate racing surfaces, but that it is much harder to carry experience over from one atmosphere to the other.
“There’s not too much you can take over from asphalt to dirt, just because these things drive so much different. It’s a whole different mentality,” he claimed. “You can have a sixth or seventh-place car and search around on the race track in the dirt world and you could have a shot at winning if you found something. In the asphalt world, you’ve kind of got what you’ve got. If you’re a sixth to eighth-place car, you might have some late-race strategy that could help you out or you might catch a wreck or a caution just right.”
As a previous long-distance driver, Reaid finds the shorter races with less strategy and no time to waste a major change.
“The asphalt stuff is mainly one hundred and fifty to four hundred laps. You’ve got a really long race so your first line of business is to take care of your stuff and not tear it up. You’ve got to make it to the last fifty to seventy-five laps to put yourself in a position to go race. Where this dirt stuff, our longest race is fifty laps, so when they drop the green flag you’ve got to be on a mission and getting positions cause this stuff, these cars are so aero dependant so you can’t give up anything. You’ve got to be on the gas and ready to go as soon as they drop the green flag.”
Reaid also admitted that it is sometimes difficult to change the pre-wired mentality to save his car that he has from asphalt racing. However, he does believe there are times when his asphalt experience pays off.
“When these dirt tracks slick off I think the asphalt racing really helps me a lot, because you kind of got to drive them like you’re in an asphalt car. To me I think the only thing I’ve brought over is when everything gets slick and you got to maintain your stuff.
“This stuff is a lot more driver orientated. You have to know how to read the race track and where you need to be at on the race track. I’ve been lucky to be around a lot of great people who have helped me speed that process up.”
One of Reaid’s best moments since switching over to dirt racing was being able to compete and be competitive up against some of the drivers he looked up to as a kid. He hopes that one day he will be only as half as good as the drivers he idolizes.
“Watching your Billy Moyer, Steve Francis, Dale McDowell, Scott Bloomquist and looking up to them as a kid and thinking those guys are so cool. Getting to race with them now, I think that’s the coolest thing for me.”
When asked to comment on whether or not he is entertaining the idea of returning back to the asphalt scene, Reaid did not seem very hung up on his past atmosphere.
“As of right now, probably no. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing right now and I want to put one hundred-percent focus on this. We’ve only got two or three more races to finish out this year. We’ve got some pretty big plans next year about what we’re going to try to do. We’re going to try and run some more Lucas World of Outlaws and catch some bigger shows near my house.”
Reaid admits he would love to have someone offer him a ride at the Snowball Derby. But to back it up, he also realizes that racing the Snowball Derby is a year-long commitment.
“You really need to be in the seat all year long, you can’t really show up to a show like that cold turkey and been out of the seat for a while and really expect to be at your full potential. I read an article a few weeks ago where Daniel Hemric hit the nail on the head. Those guys are doing it week in and week out. You need to be doing it every week to be competing with those guys.”
After a very successful career burning rubber on the asphalt, Reaid made the jump onto the dirt two years ago. He did it gracefully and now he’s loving every moment of it.
-By Kendra Adams, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos