A young driver. A former champion. An innovative company. And a passion for racing. When you put them all together at the North Carolina Quarter Midget Association Speedway in Salisbury, North Carolina, it adds up to a very bright future for the youth movement in racing.
The young star is Nick Loden, a 12-year-old native of Stanley, North Carolina, and a product of Ingersoll Rand’s driver development program. The former champion is none other than track owner Bobby Labonte, a native of Corpus Christi, Texas, who won the 2000 NASCAR premier series title with Joe Gibbs Racing. The company is Ingersoll Rand, whose tools are mainstays at community tracks like these all across the country as well as in the highest levels of racing like today’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
And the passion for racing? Well, if you know anything about this area of North Carolina, then you don’t even have to ask about that.
But every story has to start somewhere, and for the former champion, his start came in a quarter-midget race car in Texas when he was just 5 years old. Back then the Labonte family’s hobby was racing, and weekends consisted of trips to places like San Antonio, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, just to name a few.
Sometimes the family drove for multiple hours to find a track. Sometimes, there wasn’t a track to be found, so Labonte’s dad and some friends would build one themselves.
“My dad and a few other guys, we traveled every weekend to go race,” Labonte said. “There was an old (airport) runway not being used, and I remember as a kid them putting fence posts up and making a circle track in the middle. They’d start putting hay bales up and they created an environment for youth to come race.
“What my dad provided for me and my brother and many other families was the opportunity to race.”
That sacrifice wasn’t lost on Labonte, so when he set out to build the track in Salisbury, he became a ground-breaker in more ways than one. The track was the first of its kind in North Carolina that was dedicated strictly to quarter-midget racing. Labonte tried to provide a proving ground for quarter-midget racers to enjoy, somewhere they could build memories and strike up relationships to help their racing careers.
One such racer is the young Loden, who has competed on Labonte’s track as he builds up experience. Loden has compiled 130 wins over the past two years on tracks all over the country and has raced in prestigious events such as the USAC Battle at the Brickyard, held each year at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Whatever track he is on, Loden can be seen flying past other drivers, a red-white-and-black blur in the familiar colors of Ingersoll Rand. Like Labonte, Loden is following in the footsteps of his dad, who was a successful racer in his own right.
Nick’s father Andy Loden started competing at the age of 17 in Williamson, New York. After moving to North Carolina, he was crowned the track champion at Hickory Motor Speedway in 2006, ’07, and ’08. He was also the track champion at Tri-County Motor Speedway in 2008 along with capturing the NASCAR Whelen All American Series North Carolina State Championship.
Loden’s father credits his successes in motorsports to his mechanical background as a service technician. And he feels those skills are exactly what his son Nick needs to be successful in motorsports.
Andy’s way of encouraging those skills is allowing Nick to build and repair his own cars, and at the track, Nick’s primary tool of choice is Ingersoll Rand’s W1120 ¼” 12-volt impact wrench to remove lug nuts when changing tires during practice.
When at the shop, Nick helps mount his own bodies with the D1130 12-volt 3/8″ drill. And in those untimely situations when Nick gets caught up in an on-track incident, he relies on one of Ingersoll Rand’s latest products, the G1811 12-volt cordless belt sander, when the focus turns to fabrication.
Loden’s level of participation and success align with Ingersoll Rand’s objective to be the best in class. In addition to being Loden’s tools of choice, Ingersoll Rand is the official Power Tool of NASCAR and provides products to teams at the highest levels. Within the Monster Energy Series garage, you will find teams using everything from the W5132 20-volt 3/8″ Impact for changing gears under race cars to the W5330 20-volt 3/8″ Right Angle Impact for making chassis adjustments.
Labonte knows what it takes to succeed on that higher level, and luckily for kids like Loden, there are people like Labonte who enjoy giving back to the racing community by building tracks where dedicated young racers can perfect their craft. But the young racers aren’t the only ones getting a kick out of what’s going on at places like the North Carolina Quarter Midget Association Speedway.
“I’m really proud of the guys and girls that come through (Salisbury),” Labonte said. “There’s nothing more fun than seeing a 5-, 7-, 8-, 9-, 12-year-old kid with a smile on their face after they get done racing, no matter what happened. It’s awesome!”
At the Salisbury track, kids like Loden get to hone their skills and compete against drivers who someday might go on to the next levels in the sport. You never know what future stars might appear at tracks like this, in a fertile racing hotbed like North Carolina.
“When the track was built in Salisbury, it was an opportunity for Ryan Blaney, Harrison Burton and others to race there,” Labonte said. “Not everybody is going to be where Ryan Blaney is at today. But racing creates structure, it helps them develop skills.
“It impacted me, whether it was the main catalyst, I had no idea at 5 years old. But at the same time, it provides a catalyst for many things, and it is a great sport.
“It’s so many other things than just driving a car. This is the feeding ground for a lot of kids who get to start in something like this, and they might not have had that opportunity if we didn’t build a track.”