CLEVELAND, Texas — If you are an active racer in southeast Texas with plans of winning a handful of Limited Modified races, you'll need your ducks all in a row. They play hard down here, with lots of talented teams in the pits every time they gather to do battle.
Yet for 37-year-old Justin Collins, that challenge is something to treasure. The second-generation driver has hit on some magic in recent weeks at 105 Speedway, and he's on a late-season roll. With eight wins (three in Hobby Stock, five in Limiteds), 17 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 26 starts, it's been good.
“I raced quite a bit last year with a friend of mine, Jacky Davis,” Collins said. “My father and I were too busy to do our own thing, so we got together with Jacky. We made some pretty good strides last year with his car, and have worked hard to build off of that in 2023.
“I think I've been in seven or eight different cars this year, but the main focus has been on my new Limited, and it's starting to pay off. I'll say it's been a combination of the new car, my Dad's attention to detail in car prep during the week, and my own improved skills getting it done this year. It's been fun.”
Collins has short track racing in his blood, so it's no wonder he has the passion and drive on race day.
“My Dad, Fran Collins, raced a ton in his career and won a lot of features,” he explained. “He and my uncle David were both involved, so it's been part of my life forever. I got into a full-size race car when I was 14, and they've always kept me in good equipment. I have the same drive to win that Dad had in his career.
“Take this year, for example. I've driven in Hobby Stock, Factory Stock, and of course the Limited Mod. I love to wheel different cars because it forces me to adapt, and I think it broadens my skills as a driver overall. I don't get to travel around to different tracks, so this is how I expand my horizons.”
Collins' profession places big demands on his time, and he has a sideline business, as well. There just isn't a whole lot of time left to pursue his hobby of short track racing.
“The main reason I don't travel to race more is the fact I'm a Houston Firefighter, plus I have a septic business on the side,” he explained. “That's turned into my main job; I do a lot of work here locally. Me and my Dad both are really busy, so for us to leave on a Thursday and come home Sunday won't work.
“It's nothing we can afford to do right now. The way this economy is, you take the work when you can get it. We've had it here lately, so I'm going to stick around and do as much as I can. We hope to travel around to a few more tracks next year, but for right now; working is more important.”
Whenever and wherever Collins unloads his Limited, the level of competition he'll face is pretty stiff.
“When you race in this division down here, you run against some of the very best,” he said. “We all know how tough the legend Howard Willis still is, plus you've got young drivers who are getting faster every time out. It's never a cakewalk to hit the podium at 105 Speedway. It takes a huge effort to win.”
When Collins puts on his safety suit and gets ready to race, he climbs into a top-notch machine.
“The new car that has really turned our program around this year is a 2023 IRP chassis,” he said. “I had Jason Ingalls build it for me this year, and it's an amazing piece. There's less than 10 nights of racing on this car. We're starting to get it figured out a little more, and it has the potential for even more speed.
“As for horsepower, I use Russ Fletcher Custom Race Engines out of Abilene. Russ is an absolute genius when it comes to racing engines; I never question anything he does and our motors are beyond reliable. They make big power and don't miss a beat, which is all we ask. I swear by this man's skills.”
Along with a sparkling new race car and a skilled father/Crew Chief, Collins has some great backing.
“There are so many kind, generous people who make this possible for me,” he explained. “I need to thank my wife and daughter, Shawnea and Sawyer; my Dad, Fran Collins; JC Septic and Construction; Jacky and Vicki Davis at A-ok Auto Sales; CD Auto and Tire; Browders Marina, Seals Hot Rod Shop; Shirley and Sons Construction; Curtis and Son Companies; KTC Construction and HM Motorsports.
“I also want to thank Bailey's BBQ, KMO Racing, Lonestar Waterwell; McNorton Dewatering; IRP Racecars; David Anderson, Jamie Labuff, David Collins, Shane Landry and Elliott Landry. I couldn't do this without all of them, and greatly appreciate their support.”
With Big Show season now here, Collins will load up and try for a few more trophies before he's done.
“We'll finish the year out at 105 here in Cleveland,” he concluded. “We have a few big races coming up there, then I'm going to drive Randy Seals' car in the Lone Star 600 again this year. I did pretty well up there last year; in fact I'm out in the shop right now going over it with a fine-toothed comb.
“I'm trying to make sure it's ready to go within the next couple of weeks. I will run just about anything with an engine. I love to go out, put on a show and do my best to win. But to me, it's the quality time with family and camaraderie with other racers that makes this a great sport.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
Photo by Daniel Regalado