By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Rachel Plant
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — You've seen it in the eyes of athletes and racers across the spectrum of competitive sports. It's that burning desire to win, to be better than their rivals at one specific event, race or point in time. It's what drives those with competition in their blood to push harder than most.
For 31-year-old IMCA Modified driver Justin Delgado, the dream of winning races in a division loaded with talent motivates him every week. The first-year dirt track driver and former asphalt Go-Kart racer is going after it hard in 2019, earning one top-five and six top-10s in 11 starts at Texana and I-37.
He's on the cusp of that first feature victory, paying his dues and soaking up knowledge every time out.
“Rob Sanderson is a good friend of mine, and he's been helping me on the chassis setups,” Delgado said. “He's the one who got me pointed in the right direction, getting the right springs in the right positions and other key suspension items. He's taken me under his wing and really got me going better.
“I've also had a couple of other guys who are key. Rick Greene and Chris Carroll have been helping me out a lot, and I really appreciate it. It takes guidance for a new guy to get these cars figured out. There is a lot to it, so figuring out the engineering aspects and mechanical details is a major challenge.”
What makes his rookie performance so notable is the fact that Delgado is a disabled military veteran. He suffers from severe PTSD, yet racing helps keep his mind occupied. In 2011, he was on the USS Ronald Reagan that was among the first responders to the horrific Tsunami disaster in Japan.
He was also exposed to radiation during his tour and fears that one day his health may suffer as a result of breathing in what looked like “snow” in actual fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
“Being consumed in racing takes me away from all those things on my mind,” he said. “I'm doing well as long as I have this to think about. I saw things that I'll never forget, but I'm doing the best that I can.”
A highly skilled welder by trade, Delgado put in over six years at the Toyota plant in San Antonio. He earned Welder of the Year honors with Toyota in 2017, and also did high-end welding in the U.S. Navy.
His background in Karting dates to 2013, when he first competed at Hill Country Kart Club in New Braunfels. He drove a Kart on pavement for three years, racking up numerous top fives along the way. It was an ideal place to hone his skills, although it wasn't the most common path to dirt track racing.
“I learned a ton about racing in general, but dirt track racing is another animal,” Delgado explained.
Like his weekly rivals throughout south Texas, Delgado faces some challenges as he pursues that dream of winning races and hitting the podium. Two are common among hundreds of teams.
“Getting guys who are available to come to the track and help out can be a challenge,” Delgado said. “I actually ran the race at Texana last weekend all by myself. I went out there alone, tried to do my best, and it worked out for me with my first top-five run. I'd say people and money are my key obstacles.”
While a burning desire to succeed and good equipment are key, Delgado does have some important people working behind the scenes to keep his program moving forward.
“I have to thank my wife, my son and my father, because I couldn't do this without them,” he said. “My father has been very helpful this year, and I want to thank David Lawrence and Brandon Lawrence for all they do for me, as well.
“I also need to thank Rachel Plant for her quality photos, and J.W. Hallas for the kind mentions in his race recaps. I really appreciate all they do for local racing.”
As a competitor in IMCA Modified competition, Delgado competes for Rookie-of-the-Year points on both the regional and national levels. He's currently seventh in South Central regional Rookie points, and stands 35th in the national rankings. Not bad for a guy just learning the ropes of dirt track racing.
“I feel the IMCA Modified class is one of the most competitive in the state,” Delgado said. 'It's tough.”
Along with a dedicated crew to keep him on track, Delgado also has a pair of marketing partners who are invaluable to his program.
“I'm very blessed to have the support of Sanderson Motorsports and Twisted Engines,” he explained. “They both have help me out a ton, and I simply wouldn't be able to do this without them.”
As the 2019 season starts to progress through the second half, Delgado has a couple of goals in mind. Some days, he even dreams about where's he'd like to be in racing in the future.
“I'm really focused on earning that first feature win right now,” Delgado said. “A top-three finish would make me happy, but a win is the ultimate goal. I'd also love to compete on the USMTS some day down the road. That is a fantastic tour that goes to some great tracks and is loaded with talent.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I've wanted to race. I'm just trying to live my dream and be successful at it. I don't have money or even rich friends, but I'm loving every minute of the experience. I'm giving it all I can, and feel like I'm gaining traction. I can tell you that first feature win is going to be special.”