By Phil Whipple. Photo credit: Lloyd Collins/FastTrack Photos
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
DUBUQUE, Iowa — Across the great state of Texas, hundreds of hobby-level racers dream of a life in racing. They slave away at their day jobs, hoping some day their big break will come and they can earn a living working in motorsports. For most, that day never comes.
Yet for 31-year-old Austin native Garrett Alberson, a full-time life in racing has become a reality. He's gone from a part-time racer without a clue to working on a championship-caliber team in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, and now, has a ride in the Midwest Late Model Racing Association (MLRA).
After spending the last two years working for Earl Pearson Jr.'s team on the Lucas Oil national tour, Alberson now drives for Iowa-based car owner Ken Roberts as a teammate to former IMCA National champion Jeremiah Hurst. It's a solid race team with great equipment and the skills to do things right.
“It has been really good to get back behind the wheel,” Alberson said. “It had been a while since I raced regularly, so there was a little bit of adjustment at first. After 10 races now with this team, I feel like I'm getting my confidence back and can get up on the wheel. I'm excited to be back into a rhythm again.
“I almost had a deal earlier this year, but it fell through. When Ken called me to ask if I would consider driving a second car on his team, I was a little hesitant at first. This is the team's first full season of open-motor racing, so I didn't want to disrupt their focus. Adding a second team can be stressful.”
Once he accepted the offer and joined the organization, however, Alberson found out this team is solid.
“I was worried initially because it stretches all of your resources a little,” Alberson added. “But Ken has really stepped up, and he has some very talented crew members. It is a lot of work for everybody, but I think the results are starting to come around. Everybody here sees our potential for success.”
While joining this top-notch race team was a huge opportunity, the driver also brought a lot to the table.
“I've been really fortunate to have been able to use some of the knowledge I gained building these cars to this team,” Alberson explained. “Not so much from behind the wheel, but in the general preparation process for each race. There's just so much to it, you can ever be too well prepared for any race.”
Involved in this great sport for 16 years now, Alberson has risen steadily through perseverance and hard work. Born in Austin, his family moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico when he was very young. His first experience in racing was humbling, to say the least.
“When I was about 10 years old, my Dad raced at the local track in Las Cruces. One night we heard the announcer say they were planning on hosting a couple of Enduro races. I told my Dad I wanted to run them, but I really didn't think he would go for it.
“When he showed up at the house with a car on a trailer, I was shocked. We put that car together and went racing. Officials found out afterward there was a 10-year-old kid in that race, and I didn't get to drive again for three years. It seemed like an eternity.”
Alberson's next opportunity to race, however, was a lot more enjoyable and whole lot more successful.
“They had a Dirt Truck class over there in New Mexico that was kind of unique to that area,” he said. “It was a Spec chassis built off a metric frame with a truck body on it. My Dad traded some tile work and money for one of them, and it ended up being a good piece. I won the feature my fourth time in it.”
Alberson's biggest opportunity in the sport came when he was hired by Ronnie Stuckey at Black Diamond Race Cars in Shreveport, Louisiana. Stuckey is a guru of dirt Late Model racing, and his brand is the choice of champions across the industry. Four years working for Stuckey was huge.
“That was without a doubt my biggest break, working for a legend and getting to meet so many people in the sport,” Alberson said. “Racing has always been as much about who you know as what you know. Learning in Ronnie's shop and working on Earl's team was priceless to my career, no question.”
Landing this new ride meant he had to leave Pearson's team, since driving in the MLRA and wrenching on the Lucas Oil national series is not humanly possible. It wasn't easy, yet Alberson is a driver first and foremost.
“I had actually told Ronnie, who owns Earl's team, late last summer that I was going out on my own in 2020, ” Alberson explained. “It was just a matter of trying to figure out how to make it work. Landing a ride these days is pretty tough if you don't bring funding to the team. Open-motor racing is expensive.
“But I kind of feel like I've worked my way up, gaining experience as I went along. I won a fair amount of races in New Mexico, and learned a ton working at Black Diamond. I'd say my work building these Super Late Models is what helps me understand what I need as a driver. I've been very fortunate.”
As a fairly young driver with an eye towards technology, Alberson knows there's always more to learn.
“This sport is getting more technical all the time,” he said. “We can't use data acquisition in the races, but we use it in testing so we can learn where we are and how to improve. Keeping up with all of the technology and changes is a challenge, but it's one I enjoy very much. It keeps us on our toes.”
After six years as a full-time mechanic in racing, Alberson is more than stoked about this new ride. He loves to race, and he's good at it. He knows this is a great opportunity, and he'll make the most of it.
“Ken has been really great to work with and his team is truly world class,” Alberson said. “I feel like this has brought new life to my driving career and I am extremely thankful. This is a situation where it can be as good as I'm willing to make it. If we work at it, I feel we can be successful this season.”
As you can easily imagine, there are a lot of people and marketing partners keeping this two-car team on track in the ultra-competitive MLRA circuit. Alberson is surrounded by good people every day.
“I have to thank my car owners Ken and Beth Roberts for this opportunity,” Alberson said. “I also need to thank Jeremiah Hurst, Justin Tharp, Jeremy Roeth, Ian Hurst, Chris Smith and Dani Alberson. I couldn't do this without all of them.”
Along with all the people working behind the scenes to keep his program moving forward, Alberson also has a nice group of marketing partners that make the no. 59 ride more competitive.
“We are fortunate to have some excellent marketing partners on this race team,” he said. “I'd like to thank Black Diamond Race Cars, Stuckey Enterprises, Bader Construction, Roberts Custom Software, Capri College, Dirty Slots Slot Cars, Lucas Oil, Nutrien Ag Solutions, A&E Freight Service, Dish Premiere & Google Nest Powered by Done Right TV & Security Solutions, Preston Telephone Company, Roemer Machine & Welding, and Sling Studio. It would be impossible to compete at this level without their valued support.”
With his confidence back where it belongs, a fast race car and dedicated team behind him, Alberson has some realistic goals in mind with the heart of the summer season now upon us.
“I feel like with a little more time together, we can put ourselves in a position to be top three in points and maybe even win a couple of races before we're all done. I'm just thrilled to be competing again. Building race cars and working with Earl's team was nice, but behind the wheel is where I belong.”