In December, Quin Houff was working in a tractor-trailer shop in Weyers Cave, Virginia.
On January 1, he walked out the door to become a full-time racecar driver.
Houff ran a part-time schedule in the NASCAR Cup Series last season, and was announced as StarCom Racing’s newest full-time driver on November 27, driving the No. 00. The Virginia native spent the last two months getting ready for his rookie season in NASCAR’s top level, filling his hours training in the gym to make sure he’s in the best shape he can be, working in the race shop, meeting his new team, and getting to know his new crew. There was also media work he had to do in Charlotte, North Carolina last month, and time spent with partners and sponsors and filming commercials.
“Living the dream,” Houff said by phone from Daytona, Florida earlier this week. “I mean you’re being a full-time race car driver, that’s what it’s all about.”
The 22-year-old’s rise from go-karts to late models to the Xfinity Series to NASCAR’s top level has been swift, especially for someone who admits he didn’t grow up in a racing family.
Houff started racing go-karts when he was eight, and moved up to mini-cups a year later. It was then when Houff, at just nine years old, decided racing was something he wanted to pursue for a career.
“That’s kind of when I looked at it and said, ‘I want to try to be a race car driver and make it to the Cup Series,’” Houff said. “And (my dad) kind of looked at me and said, ‘We don’t really know what we’re doing at this level, you’re going to have to find your own way.’”
Houff moved up to racing late models at 14, and raced around Virginia, including at South Boston Speedway. He ran on the CARS Tour, a series that races throughout Virginia and North Carolina, in 2015 and parts of 2016 and ’17, when he moved up to NASCAR’s ARCA Racing Series while running a handful of races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
While Houff was learning how to drive, he was also learning the business side of the sport, which he said is ‘very grueling,’ even compared to the action on the track.
“Luckily we met a lot of great people along the way that had kind of been on the team, been there and done that and had a lot of experience,” he said. “We did the best we could with the sponsorship and funding we had each year. It wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t always full time, it wasn’t always up front, which is upsetting to some fans and some people but we did what we had to do to get where I am, and to get to say I’m one of the few drivers out of the hundreds or even thousands of drivers trying to make it to where I am is a humbling thing.”
Being from Virginia allowed Houff to go up against some of the best drivers in the country from a young age. Living in a town that’s just two hours from both Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway, and three hours from Bristol Motor Speedway, it’s easy to become a fan of racing. But the short track racing in Virginia and North Carolina, he said, is where to go to learn how to be a driver.
“That’s the series where I cut my teeth,” Houff said. “There’s a lot of great talent down in the late model level that have been there and are still there and also a lot of talent that has been through with me. I got taught a lot of lessons and learned a lot of things in those races, the twin-75s and the 150s that I raced week-in and week-out through 14,15,16 years old.
“If you’re trying to make it in the racing world as a race car driving and trying to make it to the Cup Series, everyone kind of comes down to North Carolina, they come down and race the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and late model series, and the CARS tour series, and late model stock car or super late models. That’s where all the competition is is in our region. To be able to come from that region, not too far from it, and not be one that came from a racing background or a racing family, I kind of got this bug on my own, it’s pretty neat to have made it out myself with none of that behind me.”
Houff’s 17 races in the NASCAR Cup Series last year taught him a lot about the pace and length of a Cup Series race, and those races helped ease the transition for him this year in a full-time schedule.
There’s one more first he hasn’t experienced yet, though.
Houff will get a chance to run at his home track when the Cup Series comes to Martinsville in May for the first race under the lights at Martinsville Speedway. Houff was a kid at Martinsville just a few years ago, watching races and dreaming of being a race car driver. He was at the late model races at The Paperclip the last two years for night races, but it’ll be a bit different for him this spring.
“Now to bring it over into the Cup Series is going to be very exciting for me and of course all my family and friends and all the people I’ve met through racing,” he said. “It’s going to be very special being a Virginia boy.”
The 2020 Cup Series season will be full of first for Houff, with one coming this weekend when he drives in his first Daytona 500. He hasn’t quite had a chance to step back and soak in getting to drive in NASCAR’s Super Bowl, which he said was a good thing because he can focus on his driving and not let nerves get the best of him.
If Houff wasn’t at Daytona this week, he said he’d still be working in the tractor-trailer shop in Weyers Cave, Virginia. Instead, his view is a bit more checkered.
“I’m sure it’ll be exhilarating. I’m so excited to even see the green flag for the Daytona 500 and experience all the pre-race and all the hype,” he said. “I look forward to running it and I look forward to being there every lap and seeing that checkered flag at the end. If we’re there, it’ll be a great day.
“Just to be sitting here really looking straight across from the start finish line talking to you is pretty cool.”
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