In 2015, Indiana driver Dalton Armstrong burst onto the national Late Model scene by winning two races and the Pro Late Model championship at New Smyrna Speedway’s nine-day February gathering, the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. He followed that up with a JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour championship that same year, and then became a perennial ARCA/CRA Super Series championship contender for the next couple of years in a Super Late Model.
But this year at New Smyrna, Armstrong’s familiar black No. 4 WinField United-sponsored Toyota Camry was missing from the Super Late Model field, just as it was at CRA SpeedFest in January and the Snowball Derby in December.
The reason is a simple one, yet unfortunate. Armstrong, 23, didn’t get enough money from WinField, a leader in the crop protection industry, for the year, and now he is left in the grandstands, trying to find funding to get back behind the wheel and on the race track.
“There was a little bit, but for what my dad did for them wasn’t really worth it,” Armstrong explained to Speed51.com. “We’ve just been trying to work different things. Right now it’s just trying to find funding to go do some stuff. I’ve still got the Hamke car and two motors. I may sell one of the motors to try and do Nashville (in April).”
Armstrong’s last race came at the Winchester 400, the season finale for the ARCA/CRA Super Series, in early October. It was also the last race with long-time crew chief, Scott Neal, who is now currently working with the Jett Motorsports team with Jeff Choquette and Stephen Nasse.
Choquette finished second in the Snowball Derby in December with help from Neal, and already has a hanful of wins and podium finishes in 2018. Nasse has also scored a SLM win and the World Series championship at New Smyrna with Neal calling the shots.
“It’s unfortunate for Dalton,” Neal said. “We had a pretty good run there for what we had to work with and what we were racing against. I feel like he has a lot of talent and a lot of patience. We got a lot done with very little without having the budget that some of those other teams bring to to the table.”
Finding the Money to Race
The biggest challenge Armstrong currently faces is finding someone who will give him some money to help him race. Anybody who has paid attention to racing at any level for more than just a couple of years knows that a driver can be extremely talented, but money is what puts a car on the race track.
“You can go anywhere once you find money,” Armstrong said. “There are people that want to do stuff, but at the end of the day they’re looking for money. You can have all the talent in the world. I guess you just have to be really lucky and find someone that wants to put you in their ride and has someone with money, but otherwise it’s all about finding money right now.”
Armstrong has multiple ARCA/CRA Super Series wins, two Pro Late Model championships to his name, and back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Super Series points standings the last two seasons. Armstrong said he isn’t even asking for funding for upper-level NASCAR racing. He just wants to race his Super Late Model. He explained that his resume has garnered plenty of interest from people who want him to drive for them, but it all circles back to one thing.
“If you want to win a Late Model race you’ve got to have the best of the best and be able to spend a lot of money to do it,” Neal explained. “In my opinion it’s harder to win a Late Model race than it is to win an ARCA race.”
“A lot of different things can play out. I keep praying about it and I’m trying to stay on the grind to find money. I don’t know who to talk to, but hopefully we’ll get some good news coming,” Armstrong commented.
Keeping Busy Off the Track
Even though Armstrong hasn’t had the chance to strap into a race car in five months, he’s been doing plenty to keep himself busy. In addition to his sponsorship hunt that brought him down to Florida last week as a spectator, Armstrong has been working hard to get the family farm ready for the upcoming corn and soybean seasons later this year.
In addition to that, he and his wife, Brittany, are in the midst of remodeling the barn on their property to turn it into a wedding and party location.
“It’s a little out of my element so I’m trying to learn. I think it has potential to be something. At least to give us a little something extra. She’s all about it.”
He said the goal is to be able to have weddings and other large gatherings inside the barn, and the idea came out of their own venue-shopping experiences when they were planning their 2016 wedding.
“In our area people pay crazy amounts of money for a venue. Our barn is pretty nice as it is. There’s a lot of things we need to change to get things up to code and a lot of remodeling we want to do, but when we were getting married we were looking at all of these barns and they were charging four and five grand. It was like ‘Wow, we could fix our barn up.’ I think it’s a good opportunity and it’s something she really enjoys too.”
Getting the Band Back Together
While Armstrong still has a lot to look forward to away from the race track, his ultimate goal is to get back on the track, and when he does, he hopes to still have Scott Neal in his ear.
“I want to stay with Scott as much as I can, but I’d like to see if I can take him and run with Jeff Fultz and the Fury stuff.”
That idea is something Neal said he is very much open too, and one that he said he hopes will come to fruition soon.
“I know Dalton wants to run up here in the Midwest. I told him I’d be interested because he has the talent. He just doesn’t have the budget to do what some other people can do,” Neal said. “You never know what’s going to happen in life, especially in racing, from week to week. If I could do two, three or five or whatever Dalton can put together, I’d love to do it.”
One thing is for certain, though. When Armstrong does get back on track he’s going to savor every second he’s behind the wheel, every lap he gets to turn.
“In a way I guess there are good things. When you step back it gives you a little bit of a break and when you do get back in a race car it gives you more of a drive and that burn to do things.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo credit: Speed51.com