Scott Lagasse Jr. wants a ride for next month’s Food City 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, but he doesn’t want to settle for any old ride.
Lagasse, who was participating in the Carter County Car Club’s car show at the Borla Muffler plant in South Johnson City on Friday, said with 10,531 miles completed in 49 career Nationwide Series starts, he has plenty to offer NASCAR’s top car owners.
“I don’t think you’ll find anyone more hungry than I am,” said the 30-year-old Florida driver. “I don’t know how most drivers are anymore, but I grew up building and racing my own cars. There’s something that comes with that, understanding the cars. I feel I’m very good at getting things turned around and headed in the right direction.”
For a long time, the direction of Lagasse’s career was simply upward.
He scored victories in go-karts and motocross before winning his first ever race in a Modified car at age 15.
Making a name for himself on the Florida short tracks, he won races both on dirt and an asphalt. At his home track of St. Augustine Speedway, Lagasse won 11 of 15 races during the 2001 season and captured the track championship.
He moved up to the American Speed Association and raced three seasons in that series before entering the Chip Ganassi Driver Development Program in 2005.
As a driver for Ganassi, Lagasse showed enough raw speed to warrant an opportunity in the car owner’s Nationwide Series cars for a pair of races in 2007.
In the three years since then, Lagasse’s career has seen its shares of ups and downs. The past two seasons, he ran partial schedules with CRM Racing and Baker-Curb Motorsports, before missing the first part of this season as his former team scaled back.
“It’s been a frustrating couple of years for me,” he said. “I’ve seen my teams grow to good-caliber race teams and then due to economic reasons, the doors are closed or owners pull back. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the opportunities and what they’ve done for my career.”
He has been mulling over some other offers to race, but wants to be careful not to get with a start-and-park situation where he’s viewed in a negative light.
He explained it’s hard enough already in the Nationwide Series, where he’s often racing against Cup Series drivers like Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards in the best of equipment.
“It’s always difficult because those guys are very, very good,” Lagasse said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to test against some of them and run with them. But, with the level of teams and the talent of those guys, they’re tough to beat. It makes it difficult for you to get your opportunity.
“On the flip side, it’s no different than when I played basketball. When I was in middle school, I played against the high school kids to get better and when I was in high school, I wanted to play against the college kids. It tells you if you’ve run well at the Nationwide level, you’ve done something.”
In one sense, it is amazing where Lagasse’s career is at.
His father was an accomplished road racer with three SCCA Sports Car National Championships, and someone who set three FIA World Land Endurance Speed records.
Although he has plenty of racing experience, Scott Jr. has just one career road course start.
“As I was growing up, I was around the road racing world quite a bit and I enjoyed it,” he said. “But, the oval track stuff was close to home with St. Augustine Speedway. At the end of the day, I loved the close contact and the back and forth.
“It was ultra-competitive and I enjoyed it. But, at the end of the day, I’ll race anything.”
Bristol is the one oval where he gets the biggest kick out of. He has two career starts at Bristol, both resulting in 13th-place finishes.
“Bristol is the coolest race track as a driver you’ll ever come to,” he said. “I love the place. When you walk into there, it’s amazing with all the people screaming and cheering.
“To run that quick and that close together, it’s a very cool facility. It’s fast and it’s fun.”
There were over 400 vehicles pre-registered for the event and hundreds of cars on display Friday.
Besides the classic cars, some of race cars on display included Randy Moore’s Monster Truck, one of former NHRA World Champion Shirl Greer’s Funny Cars, a Pro Modified drag racing car co-owned by Elizabethton firefighter Mike Williams and an open-wheel car from the Skip Barber Racing School.