A simple trip to the batting cages has led Quin Houff to stock car racing’s big leagues.
A decade and a half ago, Houff was a youth baseball player in tiny Weyers Cave, Virginia, a town of roughly 3,000 residents about a 20-minute drive south on I-81 from Harrisonburg. One day, when he was about 6 years old, he went to the cages with his father to take some swings.
That’s when he noticed the go-kart track in the back.
“I’d always go out there and mess around with my dad, and that’s where I got the bug,” Houff said. “I bugged him for two years that I wanted to do it for real, and he finally broke and got into our local go-karting series there in Waynesboro, Virginia. And the rest is history.”
Houff relayed that memory by phone Wednesday from Daytona Beach, Florida, where he is participating in his first Speedweeks. The 22-year-old is getting set to run his first full season in NASCAR’s Cup Series as the driver of the No. 00 car for StarCom Racing.
Houff is slated to start 20th in the 22-car field in Thursday’s first qualifying duel race (7 p.m., FS1). The results of those two events will set the remainder of the field for Sunday’s Daytona 500 behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman, who locked up the top two spots in last Sunday’s qualifying.
Houff took an unusual route to the big time. He’s run only five ARCA races and 10 Xfinity events in his career. He competed in 17 Cup races last season for Spire Motorsports before moving to his current team, which plans to have him race every Cup event this year and next.
“I feel fortunate,” Houff said. “I’m very humbled by the career path I’ve taken. A lot of people aren’t willing to take it. I gave up running up front. I gave up running full time. I gave up looking flashy a long time ago.
“That’s where I feel like a lot of young drivers in my position get stuck. They spend too much of their sponsorship and funding side of things trying to get full time in some lower division. And I understand the experience part of that, but if you’re really ready and you’ve really got the talent to go forward with it, you’ve got to run the business side as good as you can and get the most out of the dollar that you bring for your sponsors.”
Houff, who grew up attending races at Martinsville Speedway, raced Late Model Stocks as a teenager at South Boston Speedway and at Motor Mile Speedway in Fairlawn.
“That’s where I cut my teeth, learned race craft,” he said of the local Saturday night tracks. “There’s a lot of great talent that’s been there and is still there. There was a lot of great talent that came through with me, and those are the guys I got to learn around.
“Anything from a simple how to set up a pass — those cars are very tough to pass — to restarts to race links to the heat in the cars, qualifying procedures, all that stuff.”
Houff had an average finish of 32.6 in his 17 Cup races last season.
While many drivers went home after the on-track action last weekend, Houff stuck around to hit the beach, play golf with a buddy and soak up the atmosphere of Daytona.
He had the 38th-fastest time out of 42 cars that made qualifying runs, but he’s confident the car is set up well for the drafting of race day.
“We didn’t get quite as much drafting done in practice as we hoped to, but we’ll get a good simulation on Thursday in the duel as to what we’re going to have,” he said.
“I look forward to testing the air out and earning some respect, showing some guys that they can jump up with the Double-Zero and know that we’re going to take care of them and get them to the front.”
Whatever happens this week, Houff knows he has plenty of support back home in Augusta County. The Wikipedia entry for Weyers Cave lists just two “notable people”: religious music composer Ananias Davisson and Houff.
“Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, you’re so famous!’ ” Houff said. “No, I’m locally famous. I have such a great surrounding there back at home with family and friends. I loved growing up in the valley, and I love going back home to the valley. I’m trying not to move down or move away from the valley.
“I get the opportunity to travel a lot of places in the country, and I always love coming back home to Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains. There’s nothing like it. Those are the people that made me who I am.”