SALISBURY, N.C. – Daniel Whitley came to Millbridge Speedway one year ago for the track’s two marquee races hoping to gain respect and earn his place among the contenders.
This year, he’s returning to the sixth-mile dirt oval with a different goal in mind: winning the sixth-annual QRC Speed51 Open presented by HMS Motorsport and carrying the banner for the West Coast.
Whitley is one of the “out-of-towners” coming east to North Carolina this week, hoping to spoil the party for the track regulars and claim the $5,151 top prize on offer in Wednesday night’s 51-lap feature.
Unlike last year, however – when the 15-year-old was driving his family-owned, silver No. 57 – this year Whitley will have a full-fledged Factory QRC machine at his disposal when he takes to the track.
The deal for Whitley to drive directly for Jimmy Elledge and Factory QRC came together as part of a package that puts the California teenager on Elledge’s team for the full season at California’s Cycleland Speedway, as well as other big races such as the Speed51 Open which fit into his schedule.
It’s an opportunity that Whitley is relishing, calling it “a turning point” for his racing journey.
“The ride with Factory QRC is a big deal for me and for my career,” said Whitley. “I’ve known jimmy for a while and I have a huge amount of respect for him and his whole family. I’ve always viewed his program as one of the best out there and what he has done for so many people in the industry is awesome. I am very thankful for the opportunity he has given me to represent his company and get to drive, in my opinion, the fastest race cars in outlaw kart racing.
“Jimmy has been a great mentor throughout my professional development and I’m grateful that this opportunity is coming to a head at such a prestigious event as the Speed51 Open. It’s really special.”
Whitley made the A-Feature at last year’s Open, but ran into trouble late in the race and was relegated to 13th in the final rundown, retiring with seven laps to go.
He came back to Millbridge in the fall for the KKM Giveback Classic and was running inside the top 10 when he broke a sprocket and had to visit the work area for repairs. After rallying all the way back through the field, Whitley then broke a needle clip in the final laps and ended up finishing 15th.
While he’s endured more than his share of bad luck over the past year, Whitley noted he’s still learned plenty about how to drive the sixth-mile dirt oval and adds that it suits his driving style pretty well.
“Millbridge is such a tricky place to try and master, but it’s so much fun,” Whitley noted. “I would say the only track out west that compares to it is Cycleland; the track is big and at the end of the night when it gets slick is when the racing gets really good.
“Both tracks are places where there’s little room for air and you have to think fast, and for me, I feel like those types of situations are when I’m at the top of my game.”
After cutting his teeth last year at Cycleland and improving on his Open division skillset during the winter months with the Red Bluff Outlaws, Whitley is hoping to cap off back-to-back rookie-of-the-year runs with the biggest victory of his career.
“I’ve won out west, but this race … when you turn on the MAVTV cameras and put big money on the line, the atmosphere jumps up to another level and it becomes something really big for everyone involved,” Whitley said. “It means a lot to race here and to win here would be huge for me.”
In fact, Whitley already knows the way to victory lane at Millbridge. He won the 2015 Box Stock feature during Speed51 Open week, but would love nothing more than to add another trophy to his collection.
“Winning the Open would be the ultimate, at least so far,” he smiled. “I’m ready to represent the West Coast and hopefully we can bring the trophy back to California with us.”
Practice for the QRC Speed51 Open presented by HMS Motorsport at Millbridge Speedway begins on Monday, May 20. Feature racing takes place on both Tuesday, May 21 and Wednesday, May 22.
For more information, visit www.millbridgespeedway.com.
-Millbridge Speedway Press Release
-Photo credit: Factory QRC photo