Two track championships and a grandfather under the hood.
That’s one way Matt Emmerling could tout his open-wheel modified team that claimed Carolina Speedway’s track championship in 2013, and earned the same title at East Lincoln Speedway in 2012.
Emmerling focuses on the car’s chassis while his grandfather, Jim Westlake – better known as “Gramps” at the track – builds its potent engine and serves as the car owner.
“He’s been in it for 40 years now,” Emmerling, 29, said about his grandfather. “That’s where I got it (interest in racing) from.”
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Initially, Westlake owned a super stock driven by his brother when the family lived in New York. That apparently triggered the racing fever in Emmerling, who began racing go-karts around age 11 in Buffalo, N.Y. He then advanced to street stocks at Freedom Raceway in Delevan, N.Y.
When the family moved to Ohio, Emmerling obtained a new chassis and continued running dirt street stocks. It wasn’t until the family moved to Lincolnton that Emmerling turned to modifieds about eight or nine years ago.
“I like the looks of them and the way they drive,” Emmerling said when asked what attracted him to the modifieds. “They’re on an eight-inch tire as opposed to a 10-inch tire, which the late models run. They’re hard to drive. You’ve got to really get up on the wheel to drive one. They’re more of a challenge.”
And it definitely was a challenge that Emmerling faced last year in the title competition at Carolina Speedway. The championship wasn’t determined until the final race.
“We had to be on our game throughout the year,” said Emmerling, who won four races at Carolina Speedway and two at East Lincoln in 2013. “That last race, Manuel (Johnson) finished two spots behind me. If he had finished in front of me and I would have broken or something, he would have won the championship.”
It’s also that challenge that keeps Emmerling on the dirt tracks.
“I hate asphalt racing. I think it’s boring,” Emmerling said. “In dirt, you can find a different line – up on the cushion, on the bottom, the middle. Asphalt is more on the bottom, follow-the-leader.”
A full-time used-car technician at Hendrick Honda Hickory, Emmerling works at night on his modified, which was built by Kyle Strickler Motorsports in Mooresville.
“I’ve been up until 3 a.m. working on it, then have to get up for work the next day,” said Emmerling, who must be at work by 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., depending on the schedule. “It’s no big deal.”
This year, Emmerling will have the same sponsors that supported him last season, including Hendrick Honda Hickory, Stock Car Steel and TJ’s Motorsports Warehouse in Denver, but he plans to compete in the renegades division more often, while also seeking another modified championship.
“Last year I wasn’t going to run for points, but I started winning and I got the points lead and then figured I might as well run for points since we were leading the standings. We’ll just see how it goes,” Emmerling added.
Three area dirt tracks – Carolina Speedway, East Lincoln Speedway and Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney – have joined together to form a new division in the DIRTcar Racing Series.
The Southern Open Wheel Modified division will consist of a 24-race schedule involving only those three tracks. A division champion will be determined as well as each speedway having a track title holder.
World Racing Group, which oversees the DIRTcar series, is headquartered in Concord.