Over the last several years, Jensen Ford has established himself as one of the faces of dirt Pro Late Model racing in the Southeast. The 31-year-old driver from Johnson City, Tennessee finished second in FASTRAK Racing Series points in 2017 and is a threat to reach victory lane anytime he shows up to the race track.
His next stop at a race track will be this Saturday night when he makes his way to Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tennessee for a $3,000-to-win FASTRAK Racing Series event. That race will be streamed live on the Speed51 Network for monthly and yearly subscribers.
Ford joined Speed51.com’s The Morning Bullring to preview this weekend’s race at Volunteer. He considers the eastern Tennessee track his home track and is excited for the series’ return to “The Gap.”
“For me, it’s only an hour down the road from here. It’s where I grew up and where I started racing,” he said Monday morning. “I’ve raced there a long time. Here in the last recent years we’ve been traveling around some. They haven’t had a FASTRAK race there in several years and I’m looking forward to going back.”
Ford goes into this weekend’s FASTRAK Racing Series event believing he has the all-important home-field advantage over the traveling competitors. He says the 4/10-mile, high-banked track is different from any other place the series regulars will see this season, and he hopes it will parlay into a successful night.
“Bulls Gap is pretty different from any other race track you go to,” Ford claimed. “It’s very high-banked, very fast; even when it’s slick, it’s still fast. That’s what makes it hard for some of these guys that travel, they can’t come in and get a hold of the place. They’ve never seen anything like it. Hopefully we’ll have a little bit of a home advantage this weekend when everyone comes in.”
Ford competed with some of the top talent in the southeast when he began racing weekly at one of the toughest tracks in the region. He acknowledged racing at Volunteer Speedway made it difficult to transition to other race tracks, but says the competition and the challenge the track throws at him has made him a better driver.
“Whenever I first started racing, Bulls Gap as a weekly deal you had Shannon Buckingham and all these really tough guys you had to race against, and it made me a better racer,” he began. “But at the same time, it hurt me for everywhere else. I was so used to the speed, then we’d go somewhere where you had to slow down at these flatter tracks and stuff, and it hurt me in ways. I was used to going fast and getting better at the track condition. I enjoyed growing up and racing at the Gap, I think it’s helped me more than hurt me. When these guys come in, they don’t know how to react to this place, it’s a different animal.”
Despite the struggle to acclimate to other race tracks around the southeast once he started traveling, Ford is confident in his team’s ability to be successful anywhere they go. He hopes to transfer the speed his team has had to this weekend’s FASTRAK event at his home track.
“I always feel like we have a shot anywhere we go,” he said. “If the track’s fast, the big tracks, we’re usually good on those, better than some of the smaller stuff we go to. I feel like no matter who comes in, we have a shot to win. We’ve got our program going pretty good right now; we’ve had some very bad luck this year but we’ve got speed and I feel like we can transfer our speed over to Bull’s Gap. We just have to see who all shows up. I know there’s several other big races going on that weekend, but hopefully they’ll get a good car count.”
Pro Late Model racing has taken a deep grip in the southeast in recent years. Ford talked about the draw to crate racing from the driver’s standpoint, as well as the difference between it and Super Late Model racing.
“It’s competitive, you know. Everybody’s pretty much got the same stuff,” he said. “Nobody really has an advantage; you have to go to work as a driver and make your car better and get your setup better. There’s always places to gain speed in these and it’s a little bit harder to do that with this spec engine. Everybody’s pretty well equal on horsepower. I do like that, and I like the fact that they tech everything and you know you’re racing against the same motor you’ve got. If I get beat by somebody and we think they’re illegal and it turns out legal, then it makes us go back to work and get back on our setup program and see what we need to do there.
“As a driver, you have to be perfect all the time,” he continued. “Unlike Lucas Oil (Dirt Late Model Series) and the bigger motors, you make a mistake and within fifty feet, you can fix it. But with the crate cars if you make a mistake, that’s three positions automatically. It’s crazy how even everybody is. It makes it interesting for everybody.”
Ford does not have any plans to run for points in any series as of now, but acknowledges those plans could change. He has a win already in the American Crate All-Star Series, and with only one race having been completed in the FASTRAK Racing Series season, a good run this weekend could go a long way as to deciding his team’s final plans for 2019.
“At the start of the year, we’ve ran three different series and we didn’t really have any plans of running for any championships, but if we’re up in the points in any of these, we might continue following FASTRAK or one of these others,” he admitted. “I don’t know, it just depends. At Toccoa, we had a fast car down there and had a little of a driver error. For the most part, we’re going to try to hit the bigger races, the closer to home is better. We plan on racing with FASTRAK quite a bit and just hitting these bigger shows when they come.”
When Ford straps into his No. 83 Pro Late Model this weekend, race fans unable to make the trip to Volunteer Speedway will be able to watch a live video stream of the race on the Speed51 Network. The live broadcast will be available to monthly and yearly subscribers. Subscribe today by clicking here.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI)
-Photo credit: Tara Chavez