Not every driver can go from being a car owner, to being a proverbial helmet in bag kind of driver. Some drivers never find a way to get on the same page with somebody that may see things differently. Especially when the owner used to be a driver himself. Franklin, PA native Matt Lux found a way to do that, and it sparked his re-emergence on the Late Model scene after some time away. Taking over for veteran Big Block Modified ace Brian Swartzlander as the driver of the Jim Detman owned Super Late Model, Lux has managed to get himself up to date on how the car has changed, how to make adjustments, and poured his years experience and knowledge into a program that has turned heads since the driver switch happened in the summer of 2015.
|Pat Miller Photo|
Not many that has seen his career develop since his days in the area Street Stocks would have ever doubted he'd find victory lane in the Late Model again. Once the passion is inside a driver, a little time off only makes the heart grow fonder. And the talent to return to the fold successfully was already inside him. It was a perhaps unusual path to the full fendered cars for Lux however. The 42 year old driver was got his first taste for racing watching some classic legends of Central, PA in his youth which he remembers fondly.
"My parents were huge into sprint racing actually," Lux said. "It's what they looked forward to. We'd take vacations based around sprint car racing in the Williams Grove, Selinsgrove area and camp for a week at a time and we'd hit everything we could. So that got me into it, it was a family deal and we've always been real close so that was the start of me getting into racing. "
After becoming indoctrinated to the sport via open wheeled fandom, Lux started to entertain the possibility of driving in his early 20's with none other than his wife giving him the final push towards jumping into the pool, which had the added bonus of getting to spend quality time as a family at the track week in and week out.
"I never entertained the idea of racing a sprint car. I don't know why. I guess because when we first got started it was just dad and I that had the idea that we should try some sort of stock car to see if we would enjoy being father and son and spending the weekends together and stuff like that. And then eventually when we got into a stock car, it was about growing and learning a little bit more each time we were at the track. My wife, she was actually my fiancee at the time, was actually the one who pushed me into this. She said we had to quit talking about it and just do it. She was actually finding cars and calling people, and we had no idea she was doing it."
Lux made his way through four years of area Street Stocks, calling Challenger Speedway home and bought his first late model in 2001 where his talent for driving started getting attention of just about everyone in the region. Lux took home a feature win in his rookie Late Model campaign at Chellenger, and his career in the headline divisions was off and running.
"I wanted go to a late model. We bought our first car from Gary Lyle back in 2001 and it was a good car and he didn't change anything so it was already set up pretty well. So what do you do then? You go and race the track that you're most familiar with and get used to the way that the car reacts as compared to a slower stock car. So that's kind of what we did, we just hung around home and didn't really try different race tracks. Challenger was one of my top five favorite race tracks of all time. I had success in the stock car there and then my first year in a late model we had success and won a feature about halfway through the season."
|Pat Miller Photo|
Lux made himself a student from the minute he stepped into the car, and attributed his early success to a couple of the area's best when it came to the teaching who told him what it took to develop into a driver capable of winning and sustaining success.
"I was racing with guys that I looked up to, guys that I used to let my stock car just sit for so I could go watch the late model feature. But when you race against those guys, you get run over if you don't learn. You have to go for it, you have to test your limits right away. And I did. You spin out in front of enough cars and get hit enough times and create enough money issues to where you destroy a car because you dumped in front of somebody, you just have to learn. It's all about how quick you can pick it up and the good people around that are willing to help a young guy to learn how do this. There have been a lot of people that I've been involved with that said hey, why don't you try this, and sure enough a lot of it has stuck in my head. And 20 years later I still go back to those times and think about what they said I should do at this point and time. The technology has changed over the years, but the advice still hasn't. When you're learning from a David Scott or a Chub Frank, you take what they have and you run with it and try it until it doesn't work for you anymore. I still look back on their advice and am grateful for what they taught me, without them, I'd have been a fish out of water still struggling. I'd have been out of money and done."
The pieces started coming together for Lux who soon found himself not only competing, but competing for wins both at the local and regional level. He also extended his talents to the E-Modifieds, driving for owner Scott Bidwell both locally and at higher paying shows where he carried a simple approach for success, centered around preparation and communication.
"You win races in the race shop. I learned really early that a guy that doesn't unload a car until Friday and wants to go race on Saturday is never going to be as successful as a guy that sits on a chair and looks at his car and says I wonder if I could try this or that, I wonder what would that do. The more people you have to talk in your group, the more successful you can be. It all about taking notes and bouncing ideas off each other. If you have somebody to talk to, it just makes it a lot easier to say, yep, I'm going to do this."
Having achieved victories at not only Challenger, but Marion Center Speedway, Lernerville Speedway, and McKean County Speedway, Lux found himself able to catch the eyes of people that can help make things happen at a higher level. He won the 2007 Rookie of the Year in a regional series, and began to travel extensively as 2010 approached where he would have to learn how to navigate high quality fields in big paying events.
"We had good sponsorship from Iowa and Arkansas, and they were good sponsors that I never had money wise. So I kind of got to expand the racing deal a bit, and after that we had the regional series which were good. We had the MACS (Mid Atlantic Championship Series) which back in the day was a fantastic learning series for us. It wasn't the Outlaw tour, I didn't want to do that many races, but I can do 20. And I had a good job at the time that would let me do that and learn on different racetracks. It's one of the best things I've ever been able to do is hit a new racetrack. I think I'm up to 63 different race tracks. It all attributes to getting better (traveling) you have to learn quick. You hot lap and go right into a time trial. Getting to travel was so key. If I quit racing today I still have the memory of doing shows in Wisconsin and Iowa and Kansas City (Lakeside Speedway). Those are my memories. I never got to do Florida which is still one on my bucket list that I could never cross off, but getting to get away on a 17 hour trip for me was a really big deal. I had a lot of family support, a lot of our family members even traveled with us. I never had to say that I was leaving my family for a whole week, they were with me. I got to do nine days on a Canadian/NY Outlaw swing even."
Lux even got the opportunity to try his hand at the Knoxville Late Model Nationals, and gave a good showing as he tended to do at many of the larger shows. The final results weren't always great, but at nearly every show, he had a moment that made people take notice.
"I'd never been to Knoxville and it was my first time running there at the Nationals and I drew a number 1 pill. Not exactly what you want to do as a rookie. I was two seconds off the pace when qualifying was over which put me on the pole of a heat race which sounds good, but the guys starting twelfth can catch you and those are the guys getting the passing points. I made the preliminary night shows, but by the time the final night came around, I was in the consi because I didn't have enough points, but you learn."
Reality sets in with every driver at some point though. His job and personal ownership of the late model situations changed and although he kept the Modified program, he'd missed significant time driving Super Late Models. Meanwhile, Swartzlander had been having some promising runs in the Detman car, but was having trouble finding the consistency that both he and the owner were looking for while racing weekly at Lernerville. Enter Lux, who took a look at the program and joined Swartzander and Detman as they car towed to Rocket Chassis for some expert advice, and climbed in the seat, a move that Swartzlander helped inspire as both he and Lux had been good friends for years. For Lux, the reset button had been pressed, with a new ride and a new outlook. One that saw him with the sudden ability to just focus on setting up the team and driving with much less financial pressure.
"It's nice to know I can climb into a car that is well maintained. It looks great, Jim does a great job in taking pride in how the car looks which is something I've always liked. If you want to keep good sponsors, have a good looking race car. If you really don't care about it, you're not going to have sponsors on the race car. Whenever this deal happened, the first couple of races we went out and just wanted to see what the car was doing, so essentially we were wasting a night every time. But I don't want to be the one to jump in and say that everybody's wrong. I'd been out of it for a year and a half, technology had changed and I wanted to know how we did things now, it changes so quick. It was crazy how much I'd lost just trying to get back into it again, late models are constant change now."
|Pat Miller Photo|
The change in Late Model technology was some thing that Lux had to get back up to speed on in a quick way. And he was able to impart the importance of having everything necessary to be competitive, readily available on his new team.
"If you don't race a lot, maybe one night a week, you're not going to do a regional or an Outlaw show and actually have success. There's nothing against racing just once a week, it's just that you're not ready for that kind of stuff. You can't think that quick, and if you don't run well in your heat race, you're right back in a consi really quick so you have to adjust quick. Those are things that I've tried to teach Jim and the crew. Things that I've done over the years. There is no substitute for preparation for a race. Having spare parts, and carrying this and that, and having the most important stuff that could otherwise keep you out for a night. If you hit the wall because the track is slimy in hot laps, you're done, you're going home early. So we make sure we have everying in the trailer. And now he seeing how good the car can run with the good equipment that he has, it's just about getting consistent. If we bend a ball joint or an upper control arm I can race from Friday to Saturday because we have one we can change. Before, we'd have to order things from Rocket and wait to get it, and now we have spare stuff and that's what's great about these guys. They have no qualm about it, if I ask for them to do it, they think about it and then sure enough I have it the next day."
Lux has also learned how to balance work with his racing in his new situation as well, pointing to potentially more touring in the coming years.
"I'm an assembly supervisor in the steel industry at a local company in Oil City where I've been for four years now. Back when I started, I wasn't racing and worked a lot of weekends and long hours. Now I'm kind of getting the itch to where I want to get out of work and go racing, but I still have to feed the family. That's something I've learned in the past as well. You can't take your job for granted because racing is going to end sometime and you need a job until you can retire. You have to be smart about it. So if there's a night like a Thursday show at McKean, I more than likely can't get off for the next day because I start at four in the morning. So it's been local stuff, hit and miss. We're not going to at Bedford or a Hagerstown, but we're working up to that. We're taking some small steps before we can run."
Once he was firmly entrenched in the seat, Lux committed to running Lernerville weekly on Friday nights where he has enjoyed eight feature wins over the years and two wins in the Steel City Stampede, year end special event.
"When you go Lernerville, the way it's been the last year and a half, it's wide open and you have to be up on the wheel. And the guys that your running against are very good guys, and they're young, talented guys that I'm trying to catch up with. They make it look easy whereas I'm struggling sometimes to catch them. The group of guys at Lernerville are just fantastic to race with. They're turning a 16 second lap in the features nowadays and I remember when we were running 19 second laps. You have to have respect. And there's going to be those nights where you make a mistake and I'm going to hit Mike Pegher Jr. or I might bump Alex (Ferree), it's going to happen. But for the most part, it's wide open and you respect the guys, I'm not going to dive at them knowing that I'm not going to clear them. You have to have a different mentality.
And on most Saturday's, he can be found at Marion Center a quarter mile bull ring that suits his driving style requiring patience while at the same time demanding that a driver has to be opportunistic while driving clean. He's won many a race there over the years, and it sharpens his skills against a different track and a different set of drivers.
At Marion Center, it feels like more of a racer's race track. You have to be good with the gas pedal and you have to be smooth and straight when it gets slick. And that's the biggest difference between the tracks. I love Marion Center. But no matter how good the guy is that you're racing, it's very tough to pass them. They can make the car wide and you've got to find a way to be a little smoother and find your line. You're not just going to blow around them on the cushion. You just don't do that there. If you start 10th, you've got a long road to go, it doesn't matter how good the quality of the cars are in front of you, it's very difficult and I like that. It tests my skill. That's why Brian Birkhofer and Jimmy Mars used to go and test there. It's a neat track to race on, it tests you all the time. You can come out of there with a lot of cosmetic damage, but you earn it. It's an awesome place and I wish more people knew about it. I've always enjoyed my trips there. It's kind of a relaxing race track for me. At Lernerville you're so stressed out running the top against those six to eight guys, and I come to Marion Center and just have fun. It brings to mind the old weekend warrior deal where you just go out and have fun."
So what does the future of the Lux/Detman relationship hold? The welcome addition of another car to the stable and more extensive touring for sure. And he will be a driver to keep an eye on in the coming season both locally and on the regional touring scene. His return to the fold makes fields deeper and adds one more winning combination to a stout mix of competitors within the area. His preparation and skill make him a threat anywhere he runs, and with another year together, the pairing's best work is probably yet to come.
"Jim and I have talked at the end of the year and we we're going to do one more year together and now I think we're having a lot of fun and it looks like we're going to try two or three more years together. He's going to buy a second car this year which is going to be cool. I'll house one and he'll house the other one. So if something rains out down south, we can throw everything in my trailer out of my shop and go up north to Stateline and Eriez. He definitely wants to get out and travel a little more this year. We talked with the UFO people and they put together a really good schedule of 12 to 16 races and that's perfect. It's not too stressful. We're going to get the new Rocket car put together and use it for a lot of our touring races and for the other races we'll use the Rocket we have in my shop. His group and my group have meshed together really well and it's really helped and we're looking to stay together for a couple more years, we're just having fun."