Listening to Justin Wakefield, 28, tell the story, it sounds more like the number 98 chose him than the other way around.
Of course to race fans in the Southeast and in Georgia the #98 is almost as symbolic as the #3 in NASCAR Cup racing. The blue 98 through the years represent one man, and one state.
According to Wakefield, of Woodstock, Ga., when his former owner decided that, “…he was spending too much money and not having enough fun,” Justin decided to check out his other options.
“I’ve known the Carswells for a while and I heard that he was thinking about buying an asphalt team. Basically we went up to Jody [Ridley]’s house and bought all his equipment and hired him on,” said Wakefield.
Jody Ridley, of Chatsworth, Ga. and former driver of the #98, became instrumental in Wakefield’s career. With more than 546 wins in 15 states, including membership in the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame and winner of the 1985 Snowball Derby, Ridley was more than apt to guide Wakefield around any track.
When talking about how Ridley has helped him, Wakefield says, “Mostly patience, because I’m kind of high strung.”
Moving from dirt to asphalt was an adjustment for Wakefield. He says that Ridley, “…would get on the radio and tell me, ‘Calm down. You’ve got a long race. Save your tires.”
“It’s just the little stuff, like these tracks we got to, telling me where the bump is. Where you want to be. Don’t hit that rut or its gonna upset the car this way. Its just stuff like that that makes [Ridley] priceless to have around,” Wakefield goes on to say.
Even though the two Georgia natives aren’t traveling together anymore, don’t think that Ridley’s not around.
“He checks in on us every week,” says Wakefield. “If we ever have any motor issues he’s there in a second. He’ll drive down and he’ll work 10 hours if he has to, just helping us out.”
Even though Wakefield has several wins in the Pro All Starts Series (PASS) South, his desire to carry on the winning tradition of the 98 hasn’t waned. With one win this season at Wake [N.C.] County and several close calls it looks like Wakefield may be well on his way to adding more victories of his own in the 98 car.
When asked what trophy he would like to claim for both himself and Ridley, Wakefield said, “I’d like to win that hundred grand at North Wilkesboro, both of them for both of us.”
As for his other future plans, Wakefield says that he’s happy right where he is. He says, “I’m not leaving the 98 car anytime soon, I can tell you that. The door’s not gonna be open for anybody else to sit in it either.”