One question has repeated race to race for Jacob Allen.
The Hanover, Pa., driver went from one World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series win in eight full seasons to collecting three before the halfway point this season.
So, what changed?
“You know, I really don’t know,” Allen said with his characteristic surfer boy-like chuckle.
But the true answer was in his laugh: Happiness.
His mannerisms always spoke the loudest. In the early stages of Allen’s career, his slouched body language and lack of a smile race to race only highlighted his frustrations. At one point, he even considered quitting as he struggled to find success.
But with the support of his family and friends, he stuck with it and discovered a pursuit to happiness.
“He would get down and say, ‘Logan (Schuchart) can make a living out of this. It’s just not cut for me,’” said Sprint Car Hall of Famer and Jacob’s father, Bobby Allen, after Jacob’s first win. “Well, I knew one thing. I talked to him about it. I said, ‘Jacob, you have speed. You just need to get to the next level. The next thing and do whatever. It just takes time.”
Jacob Allen listened, taking steps to better himself. He limited his drinking, started eating healthier and working out.
While he went winless in 2021, he showed more progress, earning a career best 20 top-10 finishes. However, questions of his future raised again at the beginning of 2022 when Allen arrived at DIRTcar Nationals in February without his corporate Drydene sponsorship.
Instead, he had a blue Bobby Allen throwback paint scheme with Pells Tire Service as his lone sponsor.
He silenced those questions early, though, with a victory at Lake Ozark Speedway in April. Five races later, he did so again in a big way, winning at Lincoln Speedway — about six minutes from his Hanover, Pa. shop. He was a lap away from backing that up with a win at Williams Grove Speedway for the Morgan Cup but ran out of fuel.
About a month later, he made up for it by claiming his third win of the season at Wisconsin’s Cedar Lake Speedway.
Each win came in the tribute scheme to his father that also represents his newfound comfortability.
“The paint scheme that I’m running this year makes me think of my dad,” Allen said. “I didn’t grow up watching my dad race sprint cars. But if there was a car that I could picture the most, that is the one I’m racing right now. Beside the look of it, or I guess it falls into the same category of look, it looks like where I come from.
“It looks like the shop to me. It makes me think of the shop. My shop, my dad’s shop, it’s nothing special. It’s a pretty rough little shop,” Allen continued. “It’s from the 1950s. It’s not been the most well-kept place in the world and all that kind of stuff. It just looks like where I come from, and I take pride in that. I do think that gives me a little bit of something. I don’t know what you want to call that. But that gives me a sense of home.”
And bringing that car to victory lane has added a special meaning each time.
“I just love seeing (that paint scheme in victory lane),” Allen said. “That is just a special thing, especially winning at Lincoln. So many fans around home are like, ‘It looked like your dad out there racing.’ That’s just special to hear that. I’m glad to be able to create new memories with the younger fans and my generation of people. But also relive some memories among the older fans as well.
“I think that can get two generations pumped up and excited. And I think a lot of people do appreciate the house car look,” Allen continued. “It’s definitely great to have all the sponsors and all the big-time look, or whatever you want to call it, but I think anybody, whether it be racing or football or basketball, everybody likes the underdog. Just what it is, and I appreciate that. I am an underdog, even though I have equipment that is top notch caliber. But that’s what it is. That’s what Shark Racing is. It’s an underdog team.”
It’s also the team that “wasn’t supposed to make it.”
Shark Racing, owned by Bobby Allen, debuted for its first full World of Outlaws season in 2014 with a budget of pennies. Allen and Schuchart had limited time in a 410 sprint car and no experience on a country-wide tour. They also ran the tour out of one trailer with a limited crew.
Because of that, people said they wouldn’t make it past the West Coast Swing. But they did. Then, they weren’t supposed to survive the rest of the year. They did. Then, they weren’t supposed to survive the next year. … They still did.
Now, 34 wins later between Schuchart and Allen, two full teams per driver and a trailer per team, Bobby Allen’s vision evolved to its full protentional. And for his son, it was a journey of self-evaluation and comfort.
One aspect he had to find comfort in was his competitors.
“For some reason, it sticks in my mind that when I first started racing, I raced against guys I looked up to, you know … Joey Saldana, Daryn Pittman, Shane Stewart and Donny (Schatz) and those caliber drivers,” Allen said. “And I didn’t really belong on the World of Outlaws tour. It’s hard to learn when you’re kind of intimated by getting in one of those guys’ way. I don’t want to be in their way or cause controversy with guys you look up to.
“You don’t want to be that lapped car that’s costing the race for somebody,” he noted. “I spent so many years trying to learn for myself and trying to get up to speed for myself, but at the same time trying to stay out of those guys’ ways and earn their respect because I didn’t not want to have those guys’ respect.
“So many years, I spent feeling that way. Now, with so many kids in my age group and I’ve put in the time, traveling up and down the road. I’ve raced these race tracks so many times now and understanding my race car better now. Kind of like my own crew chief kind of deal. I think between those three things it’s taken time to put all those pieces together and that’s created some success this year.”
While Allen has gotten to the point where he can go toe-to-toe with drivers like three-time World of Outlaws champion Brad Sweet and 10-time series champion Donny Schatz, he knows he still wears the “underdog” label.
“I don’t feel like an underdog,” Allen said. “I don’t feel like the equipment we have, the experience we have, the motors we have is all underdog caliber stuff. I feel like when average fans are looking at our race team and they might not know the story or are looking at the whole operation, all those things, I think it is just naturally known as an underdog team.
“I think that’s what is tattooed on our team is an underdog team… That is just what we are. And in some sense, that’s true. We are an underdog of some sense. We’re not that top tier of underdogs.”
It’s a tattoo he wears as a badge of honor, embracing it and using it to help others with the same marking.
“You have the understanding of what it’s like to run there,” Allen said. “The understanding of what it’s like to be a driver who works on his car and is grunging, not always staying in a hotel. Anything of that stuff. So, you can speak with the racers that go through that. I don’t think you speak with the racers that are older. But the kids that are going through that. And I say kids, but they’re probably my age.
“They dream of having the big sponsor. They want to race for a living on the Outlaw tour and I appreciate talking to those guys because racing is so much highs and lows,” Allen added. “It’s easy to not enjoy it. Even though you love it, and that’s why you keep doing it.
“It just like, emotionally, like, can beat you down. A lot of people grow up winning and being the hero of their local whatever they race. They’re so amazing and then they come into this and this ain’t the little kid leagues anymore,” Allen noted. “This is the big leagues. And guess what? You’re going to get knocked down and you might get knocked down for years or whatever.
“I appreciate my team able to go and talk to people trying to make it. If they struggle you can go and talk to them,” he said. “You know where you come from, and you can hopefully keep their spirits up. Hopefully see them have the success they want to have.”
Having the success he’s always wanted, Allen has found what he’s really been looking for the entire time.
“I think that is something you can get yourself wrapped up in, just not being happy with like your results which can carry over to your life and you’re just walking around mad at the world or whatever you want to say,” Allen said. “I’m not mad at the world at all. I’m a happy guy. I love life. I love racing. I’ve always loved racing. I think as I’ve gotten more mature and spent some time thinking about everything, I don’t put so much pressure on myself. I’m just going to prepare the way I do at every racetrack and I’m going to go do my best. That’s all I’m going to do.
“As long as I’m preparing my race car the best of what I think my capability is, making good decisions during the race on my race car and driving at my best capability, I can’t go back to my trailer and hang my head,” Allen noted. “I think as long as I stay focused on that then there really isn’t pressure. You can create your own pressure of what it is. I think I’m just happier as a person with life.
“I think by not putting so much pressure into racing, like I have to be this amazing race car driver and that’s what it takes to be happy. That’s not a good way to look at life. I’m just going to be happy with life and do my best at racing and I’ll just add some happiness to it.”