Justin Boston's road to ARCA success was filled with detours

23-year-old driver raised in Baltimore County is fourth in series in points as a rookie heading into Sunday's race in New Jersey

  • Justin Boston seen here as he prepares for Talladega ARCA 200.
Justin Boston seen here as he prepares for Talladega ARCA 200. (Venturini Motorsports…)
July 27, 2013|By Dan Appenfeller, The Baltimore Sun

Tucked between Towson's York and Joppa roads, among four-square and hopscotch courts, Immaculate Conception School's parking lots teem with parents in station wagons and minivans awaiting their clamoring children Fridays after dismissal.

In the late 1990s, a hulking motor home, with a 20-foot trailer holding four dirt bikes in tow, indiscreetly joined those ranks. And an adolescent Justin Boston, focused on the weekend ahead, would climb in and get to work.

“We would stick out like a sore thumb,” Boston said. “We'd travel eight, 10 hours, 14 hours, whatever it had to be when I was little. And I would do all of my homework on the way to the racetrack in the motor home.”

Boston, now one of the few professional racers to hail from Maryland, is regularly getting top-10 finishes in the Automobile Racing Club of America, or ARCA, series. And he credits his past with preparing him.

“Everybody has a different path to the Sprint Cup Series, or wherever they're going to go,” said Boston, who will compete today in the Barbera's Autoland 150 in Millville, N.J. “My path just so happened that I started on motocross. … Everybody has their own way to get where they're going.”

At 23, Boston is one of the older riders in the series, despite being a rookie, but his teammates rarely notice.

“We don't look at it that way,” said Brennan Poole, Boston's current teammate-turned-roommate, golf partner and video game buddy. “As a rookie, you just have to go out every week and … learn as much as you can and ask as many questions of the guys around you. And Justin's the kind of guy who does those things.”

Racing apprenticeship

From 6 to 13, Boston and his parents, Bob and Caron, spent their Fridays trekking from Towson to tracks such as Loretta Lynn's Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., and Steel City Raceway outside Pittsburgh.

The hobby began with a fifth-birthday present: a dirt bike, the first of several — ranging from less than 50cc engines to past 100 — he would receive in his career.

Boston spent his weeks practicing on the asphalt and dirt at places like the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium while peers were catching fly balls or perfecting their lacrosse cradle. And the work paid off.

“It was really a wonderful experience being able to spend time with your son and your family doing something that everyone enjoys,” Bob Boston said. “I really think it ended up bringing everyone in the family closer together.”

Success soon followed, as Justin Boston raced in several national championships at Loretta Lynn's, including a 22nd-place finish in 1998 as well as a state championship win at Mechanicsville's Budds Creek. By the time he was 13, he was knocking on the nation's top spot and had collected more than 300 wins around the country.

But a few tough tumbles led the family to take stock. He broke his arm and elbow, got bitten by a snake on the course and even ran a race with a fever of 102.

“You get so caught up in your child's success that it's almost like a drug,” Boston's father said. “Your mind doesn't allow you to realize that you're putting your son in harm's risk.”

When he saw his son's bike hit him in the head and “demolish his helmet” while a tire pin caught his lip and severely cut his face, Bob Boston made one of his most difficult decisions.

“When I looked at him, just because it was his face and his smile, it upset me so much that I said, ‘That's it, we can't do this anymore.'”

Not quite ready

Boston wasn't long for staying off the track. Before he finished his high school career at Boys' Latin, he was back at it, albeit with a couple of more wheels.

“He wants to ride anything that has a motor except a lawn mower,” Bob Boston said.

Justin Boston tried his hand at tennis, lacrosse, soccer and even a little ice hockey in his time after getting off his bike. None of it stuck. Then, during a trip to Dover International Speedway, Boston realized it was time to race again.

Visiting a friend of his father's who was working on a truck-racing team, Boston had an epiphany.

“There's no reason why I can't do this,” he told his father. And after research and some relief to see roll cages and strict safety guidelines, his parents agreed.

Boston enrolled in the Buck Baker Racing School at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. While his peers were diligently and slowly learning, Boston was blazing through the courses, so much so that the instructors would make him get out of the car because he had nothing left to learn.

“He wasn't on the radar at all at the beginning,” said Billy Venturini, general manager of Boston's current team, Venturini Motorsports. “He started having success with no experience.”

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