Justin Peck had been counting the laps down in his head, and now hoped for confirmation from the flagstand. For his part, Glenn Wanbaugh was dutifully looking down the long Williams Grove Speedway frontstretch and was now prepared to show him the checkered flag. It was a surreal moment.
This was the Grove; unquestionably one of the most storied short tracks in America. To win here is always special, but for Peck this was a particularly satisfying moment.
In the course of Peck’s relatively short career this track had become his personal nemesis. Not this night. This was a different day, a different time, and a different racer.
“I have always stunk at the Grove, to be honest,” Peck admitted. “I tend to do OK at Port Royal, but I have been coming to Williams Grove since 2019 and just couldn’t figure it out. When I was driving for (John) Trone last year there were several times when I felt like we had a good car. But I had to change it up a little bit. I was over-driving the track most of the time and just pushing the car a little too hard. Once I started backing off a little bit, I was actually able to make those tight turns and that’s what made us a lot better.
“I talked to Anthony Macri last year and he gave me a few pointers on using the brakes more than I’m used to. That helped a lot.”
What Justin had learned about getting around Williams Grove, odd as it may sound, was applicable to all aspects of his young life. For all of us there are times when it is important to stab the brakes, recalibrate our goals, and get back to work. By successfully navigating some difficult moments in his life it was all coming together for Peck. The proof was there for all to see. The 2021 season had barely dipped into April and he had already bagged three important victories.
Justin’s involvement in racing can be traced back to his grandfather, Ray Peck. Ray worked in a foundry as a welder, but developed an interest in motorsports of all stripes. As his son Steve came of age, Ray got him involved in karting and quarter-midget racing. It took. Steve would eventually gravitate to pavement late model racing and could be found at places like Ohio’s Columbus Motor Speedway and Shadybowl Speedway in DeGraff.
When he met the former Kim Nuckles, she had never been exposed to the sport. Kim was born in West Virginia but when her father, who worked at Jupiter Aluminum, was transferred to Merrillville, Ind., she fit right in. Describing herself as “very competitive,” Kim played softball and basketball in high school, but could easily transfer that drive to nearly any life endeavor. She would attend Indiana University and earn a degree in kinesiology, and would eventually return to earn a teaching certificate.
Today she serves as a fifth grade teacher, while her husband serves as a firefighter for the city of Indianapolis.
When Justin was born, Steve was still actively racing, and on a trip to Columbus Motor Speedway he seized on a chance to expose his wife to quarter-midget racing. It is a day Kim remembers well.
“I go over there with Steve,” she said with a laugh, “and these little bitty things are hanging out of race cars. My exact words were ‘Absolutely not!’”
In spite of that early reaction, when Steve suggested that they should load their son up and let him get a glimpse of the Gasoline Alley Nationals in Indianapolis, Kim didn’t object. Regardless of what was going through his parent’s mind, Kim remembers that Justin took one look and proclaimed that this was something he could do.
He wasn’t quite old enough, but it was decided it wouldn’t hurt to eventually let him get a taste of the sport. As fate would have it, Ray Peck still had an old quarter-midget tucked away in his garage, and Steve picked it up and took the time needed to get it race-ready.
Justin’s first time in the car was a novice day. It was memorable.
“We take him,” Kim said, “and there are 11 kids there. They told us, ‘Look, they are going to hit the wall, they are going to go through the infield, and they are going to flip over.’ Every one of those things happened. We put a helmet on Justin and found out he is claustrophobic. He weighed 34 pounds and when we cinched him down the belts hit his collarbone. He told us he would just hold his breath. So, he goes out and just loved it.”
It was at this point that Mom’s competitive urge hit overdrive.
“I saw the look on his face,” she recalled, “and I said, ‘OK, this is what we are doing.’ Steve tried to talk me out of it. He said, ‘Kim, you don’t know what you are getting into.’ I said, ‘No, we’re doing it.’”
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