By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Sean Folsom
MARBLE FALLS, Texas — Any time a weekly racer decides to go touring, there are usually a handful of challenges to overcome. Learning to adapt one's driving style to different tracks and keeping up with chassis setups needed to remain fast and consistent are just two of the issues they can face.
Yet for 50-year-old Larry Baggett, those challenges weren't all that daunting. The North Carolina native and resident of Marble Falls dove into the inaugural Texas Dirt Truck Series (TDTS) schedule head first this year, and came up smelling like roses.
With only one race remaining and a comfortable margin over second place Russell Rust, Baggett only needs to take the checkered flag in the season finale at I-37 Speedway in Pleasanton on Saturday, Nov. 9, and he will earn the points title. Things went well for the former Street Stock racer at Cotton Bowl.
“It is a sweet feeling that is hard to describe,” Baggett said. “I never dreamed when we started in this truck series, with as little as we knew going in, that we would be the 2019 champion. We had to learn as we went along, and thanks to my good friends, it all worked out for us. We've had a great season.”
To put his story in the proper context, we should first take a quick glance at the TDTS and how it came about. When I-37 Speedway General Manager George Jones first had the idea of creating the series, it was nothing more than a concept. Texans love trucks and dirt tracks, so that concept was pretty solid.
“The reaction we've had from fans this season at every track is what I have enjoyed,” Baggett said. “I always make it a point to get out into the grandstands to give kids some Hero cards and maybe a t-shirt or two. The smiles I see on their faces when I do that, or when they come pose for a photo with the truck, or when I put a kid into the truck for a picture – that right there is worth more than any trophy.”
Baggett has been involved in racing nearly all of his life. While growing up in North Carolina, he spent his weekends going to drag races with his sister, Audrey Pope. He enjoyed hanging out in the pits and learning the ropes.
He also loved watching NASCAR races as he grew up and started going to the local asphalt tracks around the area. He made friends quickly and hooked up with a local racer who became his closest friend. Baggett helped him with his car at all the races, and together they notched several wins.
“My experience helping that friend was rewarding and got me hooked,” Baggett explains. “From then on, I knew I was going to race on my own some day. Today, I'm just amazed at how well it's turned out. I have some incredible people behind me, and would never be in this position without them.”
Larry always wore his cowboy hat at the tracks, so everyone called him 'Cowboy.' He spent 20 years as your local “Larry the Cable Guy,” servicing all of Texas Hill Country and finally decided he wanted his own company. Today, he owns his own successful lawn care business known as By The Bay Lawn Care & Landscaping.
He was finally able to buy his own race car in 2016, which was a Chevy Camaro for the Street Stock class on dirt. His finished a respectable eighth in points for his first year behind the wheel. In 2017, he purchased a Chevy Nova to run in the same class and finished fourth in final points.
“I had an absolute blast during my three seasons in Street Stock, but this year with the TDTS has been the most fun I've ever had,” Baggett said. “The people I've met, the friendships within our pit area, and how we all love to support this series and see it grow is what made that bond very special. George says he's got a great group of supporters in his inaugural season, and he's absolutely right.”
When it comes to supportive people, one stands out above the rest who drives Baggett to push himself. His fiance, Shawna Waite, has fallen in love with racing and the truck series family. Waite knew Baggett had his work cut out for him this year, so she pitched in and helped out.
“I have so enjoyed this season and all the lessons we've learned,” Waite explained. “Going to different tracks, tweaking the setups, working in the shop and just all of it. We've had quite a season, and seeing Larry work hard for this title has been inspiring. We've been blessed in so many ways in 2019.”
Along with Waite, Baggett also has a handful of other folks responsible for his solid 2019 campaign.
“I am fortunate to have my sister, Audrey, right there by my side working to keep us on track. I sure do appreciate the unconditional support I get from her, no matter what I do. My friends RJ Pope, Bruce Hinson and Ryan Childress have also been a big help. It takes a lot of hands and input to do this right. I'm so blessed to have them.”
That learning curve for Baggett and his race team was real. Trucks are different, and tracks can be slick.
“We worked on this thing almost constantly every race,” Baggett said. “Right from the opener back in March at I-37, which we barely were ready for, to this last race at Cotton Bowl, it has been a challenge. We'll change tire pressure and stagger, we'll put wedge in the thing, we really had to stay on top of it.
“If you don't adjust for different tracks, it can get away from you and you'll be out to lunch. I was shocked at how loose the truck was at Cotton Bowl on September 28. This past race, we spun out again in the heat, so we made several changes. In the feature, it was perfect. We've learned a lot this year.”
Looking ahead to the 2020 season, Baggett is all about the truck series (as he's been all year long). When asked about his plans, the Pride of Marble Falls is quick to mention his hopes for the TDTS.
“I really think this thing has some great potential,” Baggett said. “I'd like to see it expand out a bit to cover more of our great state, and I'm confident we'll have more trucks in 2020. The chassis, engines and overall components are affordable compared to some classes, yet these things are still pretty racy.
“I want the truck series to succeed, I plan to add a second truck next year to boost truck count and be able to share information as we learn new tracks. This title is going to mean so very much to me; and I'll spead the gospel of the TDTS during the off-season. I'm just thrilled and honored to be here.”