HAMPTON — Parked on pit road next to the high-dollar rigs of a Joe Gibbs Racing development driver and motorsports superstar Travis Pastrana, the trailer Corey LaJoie hauled his Ford in for a K&N Pro East Series test at Langley Speedway would be modest for a Langley Super Street race.
LaJoie, 20, says one media guy likened his low-budget team of young guys to the crew of kids who stole racing parts for Kenny Rogers' character in the 1983 film "Six Pack." LaJoie's dad, Randy LaJoie, gives no indication that they have resorted to larceny, but paying for steals has kept the team afloat.
"There are teams in this series with (unlimited budgets)," said Randy, who won Nationwide Series titles in 1996 and '97. "We wouldn't be able to race technology with no money, but the good thing about the K&N Series is that technology hasn't taken over.
"I can still go to Roush-Yates and Hendrick Motorsports and buy used parts from the (Sprint) Cup side and be as good as anybody. That's because Corey is the Alan Kulwicki of this decade.
"He works on his own race cars (like Kulwicki, the 1992 Cup champion), understands his race cars and drives the heck out of them."
Corey said, "Our budget is about one-tenth of what everybody else has. We're putting all of our money into the race car rather than haulers and trailers. That's the deck they're playing with, and we've got our hand of cards and are playing them the best we know how.
"Sometimes we have to bluff them guys, but we're doing a pretty good job."
Indeed. Going into the K&N Visit Hampton VA 175 at Langley on Saturday, LaJoie is third in the series points standings: with a win, a second, a third and a fourth in six races.
Consider the stock-car racing muscle he's wrestling in the driver lineup for K&N, an increasingly popular stepping stone on the route to NASCAR's big three series. Pastrana is a motorsports icon. Darrell Wallace is on the verge of a diversity breakthrough racing for Joe Gibbs. Hendrick-aligned Chase Elliott is the son of legendary Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott. Ben Kennedy is the great grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.
LaJoie is a legacy whose father earned the respect of his peers, but not a heck of a lot of money. He spends his days working in Randy's race-car safety seat business in Concord, N.C., and almost all the rest of his time working on the race car with a buddy also still in his early-20s.
"I don't think any race-car driver out there today puts the time, the effort or understanding into his cars that Corey does," Randy said. "He understands his race car better than anybody and I'll put him up against anybody.
"I've watched a lot of great race-car drivers and he's as good as anybody I've seen."
But, as all but a few racing talents will tell you, that doesn't pay for your tires. So Randy spends his free time trolling for sponsorship dollars to finance the team.
His creativity in doing so is admirable. For this week, he's wrangled some money from Billy Sawyer, so Corey will run with "Virginia Motor Speedway" on his hood: the equivalent of wearing a Romney shirt to an Obama rally.
"In Iowa a local car dealership will sponsor us," LaJoie said. "It's local businesses trying to get their name on the hood — just a bunch of relationships our dad has built over his career to help us out."
Grandad's wrecker service and scrap-metal businesses help out, too. It's not the kind of money that will launch LaJoie into NASCAR's upper-echelons.
The hope is that LaJoie can catch the eye of the Hendricks and Roushes the old-fashioned way: with a combination of hard-work and talent that leads him often to victory lane.
"Corey is a born racer who doesn't have a silver spoon," Randy said. "I hope he makes it, because the sport needs somebody who understands this game like he does."
LaJoie said, "I can't get caught up in it and talk about it all day long. If (making it big) doesn't happen, shame on the sport. If it does, then I'm in the catbird's seat.
"For now, I'm just having fun with my buddies, going to the race track and trying to kick all these big teams' butts."
VISIT HAMPTON VA 175
WHAT: K&N Pro East Series 175-lap, 70-mile stock car race for up and coming NASCAR drivers.
WHEN: Five-race card begins at 7 p.m. K&N race begins at 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Langley Speedway in Hampton (North Armistead Ave. and Dale Lemonds Lane across from the NASA Langley Wind Tunnel).
TICKETS: $15 in advance and $20 at the gate.
NOTEWORTHY: The K&N race features Chase Elliott, son of legendary driver Bill Elliott, and Ben Kennedy, great grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. Four other races are on tap — Langley Karts, Super Trucks, UCAR and Pro-Six.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun