Not that long ago, Bobby McCarty was like many short track racers in America, working with his family to get the best finish possible every Saturday night. Now, McCarty enters 2019 a breakout star, fresh off winning the Championship Auto Racing Series (CARS) Response Energy Late Model Stock Tour title in 2018.
McCarty started his Late Model career with a family-owned team but earned the chance of a lifetime late in 2016, driving in Timothy Peters’ Nelson Motorsports entry at the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway (VA).
That one opportunity led to a full-time ride with the team as it expanded in 2017. That team opted into the CARS Tour for 2018, leading to a championship run against some of the biggest names in Late Model Stock racing.
The 26-year-old from Summerfield, North Carolina can now lay claim to one of the top prizes in Late Model Stock racing, but still strongly remembers his humble beginnings.
“For me, coming from my family-owned team that my dad and I did, all we were ever concerned about was winning a race,” McCarty told Speed51.com. “We took each race one at a time, we did what we could to win, and we’d come up short more often than not. We never could put a full season together to run for a championship.
“Now that I’m with Nelson Motorsports and we have the capability and the personnel to make those runs, it’s a great feeling for me as a driver to put that on my list of accomplishments,” McCarty said about the CARS Tour title. “As a team and a whole organization, we’re all very proud and happy that the whole year’s worth of work paid off for us.”
The transition to Nelson Motorsports came with an adjustment period during 2017.
“The first eight or nine races I ran with the team were tough,” McCarty explained. “Not because we didn’t have the equipment or because we were getting our stuff right, just because of my mindset as a driver. I never had the confidence in my car to ride for 75 laps and believe my car would be there for the end. I’ve kind of gotten the reputation of, if the race was 50 laps long, he’d probably be your winner.
“Once they broke me of that and got me to where I worried more about saving tires and trusting my equipment, things just started to click,” McCarty added. “We built a relationship with my crew chief, David Triplett, Marcus Richmond, and Timothy [Peters], and we just got our relationship better.”
After settling into his new home, results quickly followed. McCarty won four times at South Boston Speedway (VA) in 2017, while also winning the prestigious Hampton Heat 200 at Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway (VA).
This prompted the team to make a bid to run on the CARS Tour in 2018, pitting themselves against some of the best drivers in Late Model Stock racing.
“You know when you sign up for a CARS Tour race, whether it’s a one-off race or you’re running the season, you’re planning on racing against a Martinsville crowd every weekend,” McCarty said, comparing the quality of the top-tier competition in the CARS Tour to the stars who show up every year for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300. “You look at Lee [Pulliam], you look at Josh [Berry], you look at Deac McCaskill. I’m sure I’m missing plenty of drivers, and that’s no disrespect.
“When it comes down to it, the CARS Tour is the only tour where there’s about 17 or 18 drivers that run it consistently and could win and you’d see it on Sunday on media and it would make sense, it wouldn’t be a shock. They just have that caliber of people who support the tour and want to see it do good.”
At first, McCarty and Nelson Motorsports had no visions of competing full-time for the CARS Tour championship. However, two wins and four top-five finishes in the first four races of the season, including a $10,000 payday in the season opener at Tri-County Motor Speedway (NC), changed plans.
“When we decided to run the CARS Tour, we initially decided to run just 11 of the races,” McCarty said. “We never intended to go to Bristol and make a run for the championship. Things just kept getting better and better for us.
“At the beginning of the year, we were red-hot,” McCarty continued. “If we weren’t winning the race, we were finishing top-five with a really fast car that was contending. The week prior to Bristol, we didn’t want to take one of our cars down there. We were able to borrow a car and put it together in three days. We had an okay outing, considering. It definitely wasn’t what we were wanting, but under the circumstances, we took it with a grain of salt. Things just kind of fell in place for us.”
Ultimately, the championship battle came down to a season-long duel between McCarty and one of the all-time greats in Late Model Stock Car racing, Lee Pulliam. A four-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion and two-time Martinsville winner, Pulliam elected to cut back on his racing schedule and compete in the CARS Tour in 2018. The two series “rookies” squared off over the season, with McCarty taking the final points chase by 17 markers.
“I’ve always respected Lee,” McCarty said. “He’s done ungodly things when it comes to Late Model racing. Any time you can go into a points battle, or even for me if you can get into a dogfight with someone like Lee or Philip [Morris] with 15 to go for the win, I always enjoy stuff like that. That is the best of the best.
“To be able to go toe-to-toe with Lee and all those guys and come out on top, it was tough at times, but I just had to rely on my team.”
McCarty admitted that, as someone who had never competed for a championship and simply wanted to win races, being surrounded by a team loaded with experience was pivotal for his mindset.
“Timothy and Triplett’s won tons of championships and races and Marcus is a hell of a crew chief,” McCarty said. “I just had to rely on them and their experience and trust what they were telling me, go out and do my job. You always want to win races, but you get caught up in those points battles. I just like to win races. I want to go out every weekend and worry about the win.”
McCarty is far from satisfied with becoming a championship driver. He hopes to win even more races in 2019 and improve more behind the wheel.
“The plan, obviously, is to defend the CARS Tour championship, and plan on running the [Virginia] Triple Crown,” McCarty said. “Other than that, I don’t have any really set plans. I want to get better. I’ve learned a lot about myself this year and where I am as a driver. I’ve learned I have quite a bit of things I need to improve on, so I’m going to work on that and trying to make that better.”
“I had a goal last year and didn’t meet it,” McCarty added. “I wanted to win six of the 12 [CARS Tour] races. We came up two short, so I’m aiming for that goal again. I want to win six of the 12. I really want to win Langley and Martinsville.”
While McCarty already has one Hampton Heat trophy on his shelf, he’d love to add another this year and win the CARS Tour’s inaugural visit to the facility this season. However, he’d love nothing more than a win in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.
“I’m really wanting to win Martinsville,” McCarty said. “I don’t know what that track has against me. I think I’m going to head down about Tuesday and camp out in the infield and talk to her. I’ve fared well there as far as driving, and obviously Nelson Motorsports has extremely fast cars there. The first year I drove for the team there in Timothy’s car, the alternator went out. The next year, the flywheel broke. This year, everything was going downhill for us. We started back in the back and got up to the front, around fifth or sixth, and somebody’s transmission broke and tore the car up. Just no luck. I’m going to go down there and camp out around Tuesday and talk to her all week. Maybe we can come to some kind of agreement.”
Despite his championship and success in 2018, McCarty has plenty more to prove moving forward. At the end of the day, he wants his name included when fans of Late Model Stock Car racing are listing the best of the discipline.
“That’s where I want to be,” McCarty said. “I want to be in that category with those guys. I want people to say he’s right there with them, we want to beat him. I want to be the guy people want to beat.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor –Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com