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Nationwide’s Matt Carter Is A Driver And A Racer

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 12 2009
Matt Carter may not have the money of Roush Fenway Racing and Carl Edwards, but he's got the same love of the sport.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Matt Carter may not have the money of Roush Fenway Racing and Carl Edwards, but he's got the same love of the sport. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

When Brandon Whitt and Specialty Racing parted ways following the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ visit to The Milwaukee Mile in June, team manager Doug Taylor didn’t have to look very far for a replacement.

For the past two years, Taylor’s Ford Fusions have been housed in Statesville, N.C. in a shop owned by legendary crew chief Travis Carter.

So it wasn’t surprising to see Taylor turn the driving chores of his organization over to Carter’s 28-year-old son Matt, a short track standout and last season’s rookie of the year in the ARCA RE/MAX Series.

“From February until about six weeks ago, I didn’t even have a job,” said Matt Carter, who finished a respectable 24th in his debut in the No. 61 Ford in the Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 27. “I was sitting at home watching races on TV. So I’m just happy to be here.”

Carter’s first brush with racing came shortly after he was born in 1981. That’s the same year his father Travis oversaw the formation of a new team in the series today known as Sprint Cup with veteran driver Harry Gant.

Their No. 33 Skoal Bandit entry owned by Hollywood stuntman Hal Needham quickly became a dominant force in NASCAR’s top circuit.

He was only a kid, but it didn’t take long for Matt Carter to develop a lifelong friendship with Gant.

“Back in the 1980s, my dad and Harry Gant were both my heroes,” Carter said. “Harry Gant was my favorite race car driver and he still is today.

“If he was still racing, I’d pull for him.”

Bit by the racing bug, Carter cut his teeth in the sport wheeling Late Models throughout the southeast, predominately at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

He claims the best decision he ever made in racing was competing in the USAR Pro Cup Series earlier this decade. That trumps his 17th-place finish in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Martinsville, Va. in 2003.

“A lot of these kids nowadays skipped some of that stuff and they get into these Nationwide cars or trucks or whatever and they can run fast, but they don’t know how to race,” said Carter, whose debut in the Nationwide Series came in 2007 in Memphis in a Ford prepared by Taylor. “They can go out on the race track and run a fast lap, but they can’t race.

“The [USAR] Pro Cup Series, in my opinion, is by far the toughest racing I’ve done so far. I would say it’s tougher than running the trucks and I’d say it’s tougher than running Nationwide.

“When I was racing Pro Cup, I bet there was 15 to 20 cars capable of winning a race any given night. In Nationwide, you’ve basically got five cars. And the trucks are sort of the same way. In Pro Cup, you’re racing side-by-side with somebody for 250 laps every race. You just keep learning. And that’s what it takes.”

After ARCA legend Frank Kimmel split with car owner Larry Clement following the 2007 season, the door opened for Carter to take over one of that series’ most competitive rides.

Carter capitalized by winning in Toledo, Ohio and posting 14 top 10 finishes in 21 starts.

He outran notables such as Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to capture the 2008 ARCA rookie of the year title. In the process, he just missed winning the overall championship.

“That was our goal, kicking off the year, to win rookie of the year,” Carter said. “One bad race at the road course actually cost us the championship.

“But it was a fun year. It was a good year. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of miles driven up and down the road with a lot of late hours. Anytime you work that hard and anytime you can reach your goal, that’s huge.”

Carter, who has enjoyed success at every level of racing, hopes the trend continues in NASCAR’s junior circuit. But he realizes it will be a monumental challenge.

“We’re a small team with a really low budget,” said Carter, who finished a career-best 15th in the Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona last month. “The ARCA team was similar. With the limited resources, limited help and all of that, it makes it tough for a team like us.

“So we’re doing good. Usually, I’m the guy that kind of talks to a friend here and a friend there and we figure out what springs and shocks to put on the car every week. We do it, and that’s just kind of what we got.”

Handicapped with just four cars in their stable, Carter does have the advantage of being able to lean on his father Travis, who owns 31 victories in the Sprint Cup Series as a crew chief.

“He brings a ton of knowledge,” Matt Carter said. “He knows how to handle situations and deal with people. I think he’s probably one of the smartest guys that’s ever been in this business.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 12 2009
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