DIERCKS READY TO ROUND OUT MASTERFUL SEASON by Jeremy Troiano
First Championship In Seventh Year Of Trying A “Dream”
Honestly, before the 2004 season, did you ever recognize the name Justin Diercks? Maybe you'd heard it before. But the likeliness is that unless you lived outside of Davenport (IA) or Wisconsin, or unless you were a die-hard Midwest Series follower, the name meant little or nothing to you. Just another racer.
Six years after being the Midwest Series (then called the Re/Max Challenge Series) Rookie of the Year, Justin Diercks had himself a breakout season. It was a season that put his name on the lips of lots of people around the country.
Diercks driving and stats did the talking this season. In 13 Midwest Series races, he won six times (including a stretch of three-in-a-row) ands never once finished outside the top 10. In fact, his worse finish of the year came in the last race of the year, where he finished seventh.
He also beat the Midwest Series “master,” Steve Carlson, for the title.
And now he leads the Midwest Series into the Toyota All Start Showdown in California, which won the team portion of the event last year.
“The year has been amazing,” said Diercks, an Iowa native. “We were running in the top four in each of the races we had wheel problems in (Rockford and LaCrosse). Every other race has been in the top three.”
Where did he come from? Where did this season come from? Where is he going? These are all questions that people now want answered, now that Diercks is a regular name in the short track community.
“I look up to Steve though. If there is a guy that can teach you about anything that there is to be taught, it is him. He is a smart racer. He is a clean racer. He is a hard guy to beat. If you can beat him, you can beat anyone. He's taught me a lot just by watching him, both the mental phase and physical phase or racing.
“Nick is a fantastic crew chief. There is a good story behind how he got hooked up with us. He ran Limited Late Models at LaCrosse (WI) and he would come down and run Cedar Rapids (IA) sometimes. At that time, we were getting out of go-karts and looking at getting into Late Models. My dad saw the car Nick was driving and liked it
Justin Diercks had a great season that helped him put his name on the map. (51 Photo)
The car was for sale and he bought it from Nick. We ran a couple of races that year with it.
“A little while later, he called Nick and asked if he would want to run a car for us and he said yes. So he ran a car for us for three or four years. Then, once I was old enough to start running, he backed out and I started. We ended up together then.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
But Diercks knows where his fortunes lie. That would be with his family.
“I just can’t say enough about the opportunity that my mom and dad have given me,” said Diercks, whose father is his spotter and mother is his part-time scorer. “I’m very fortunate and I know it. Not very many 24-year-olds have a chance to go out and race every weekend.
“Racing is a tough business. I don't come from a wealthy family and from a family that has a lot of ties. I just gotta take it one step at a time.”
2004 was a big step for Diercks.
Diercks started racing on the dirt tracks of Iowa. No surprise, since there is only one paved track in the whole state.
“My grandpa was the first to race and it took off with my dad and his three other brothers,” said Diercks. “They all started racing. They got us kids into it. All the rest of my family runs dirt, but me and my dad love asphalt. You are so close with asphalt. Dirt racing isn't' that close. That is why I've always loved it.
“My dad started racing late models when I was 14, so I'd go with him to race tracks. When I was 16, he threw me in the car. Ever since then, I was running late models. I turned 18 in 1998 and that was my rookie season for the Midwest Series. We won Rookie of the Year and every year since then, we've been in the top seven in points and chasing the title.”
Before heading to the Midwest Series though, Diercks tried his hand at ASA back in 1998.
Diercks moved to Late Models and even tried an ASA car (bottom) before heading to the Midwest Series. (JustinDiercks.com Photos)
“We went into ASA for a couple of races and didn't like it. We liked this (Midwest Series) stuff. Back then, there were 40 or 50 cars. If you could run with them, you knew you were pretty good.”
Diercks became the Midwest Series' second-youngest winner in 1999 when he won his first race at Gateway International Raceway just outside St. Louis (MO). The win at an early age put himself in select company. The series youngest winner was Matt Kenseth. The third youngest winner was a man named Mark Martin.
Diercks continued to pursue his Midwest Series career, but the wins were few and far between. In fact, his second win didn't come until 2002 when he took the checkers at Madison (WI).
However, the 2004 season was one like no other.
“I think it really started at Irwindale (during the Toyota All Star Showdown) last year. We had a good car out there. Throughout the whole off season then, this team was just ready to go. We came in with a lot of confidence and tried to keep it going basically one race at a time.”
It seemed to have worked. Six races and a championship later, it looks like Irwindale might have been the key, but not the only one.
“The communication we have as a team is the key. We
have all matured a lot this past year and that can only help. Especially me as a driver. I really matured and it showed on the track.
“We were communicating well as a team. We took it one race at a time. We weren't worried about the points. It's always in the back of your mind, but we were just trying to win races so we can keep our name out there in the internet and in the papers.”
That is important for a 24-year-old boy from Davenport (IA), hardly the hotbed for stock car racing, or any racing, for that matter. While he has a regular, full-time job at his parents construction company where he serves as a foreman, he still dreams of a future in the “big leagues.”
“Davenport, Iowa is not really a racing community. That is part of why we're trying so hard to win races so that my name is out there to where the important people can see it. can see it. They are not going to hear about it if it is not out there. They don't look at second and third. They look at first.
“I want to get the opportunity to go and run with a competitive Busch or Truck team. It doesn't matter to me. I know I could do it. There are guys out there, Jamie McMurray, Scott Wimmer, Travis Kvapil, Clint Bowyer, that have come from this series and made it down there. I've been as successful or more successful as some of those guys. I know I can do it. It is just getting the right opportunity.
“This is a family-owned team. We don't have the money to do our own Truck or Busch team. We don't have the connections like a lot of kids have these days. I think the talent is there and the desire is, but I just don't have the
geography, connections or money to do it on my own. That is why we are racing our heart out.”
A couple of Carlsons have helped Justin become the racer he is today as well. Both are Carlsons he's learned from, but one has taught him on the track and the other off.
You see, Steve Carlson, one of the best short track racers in the business today, is the man everyone wants to beat in the Midwest Series. How good is he? He's never finished outside the top-two in series points since 1990.
The other is Nick Carlson, Justin's crew chief. He is the nephew of Steve.
“It is pretty neat having a Carlson that is a crew chief and a Carlson that you are running against. It is pretty entertaining watching them battle back and forth. They both want to beat each other as much as I want to beat Steve on the track.
Justin is a smart racer, always watching and learning how to do it even better.
Justin races with Steve Carlson (#66) at Wisconsin International earlier this year.