Matt Crafton is a throwback.
If you’re yearning for a racer whose passion and grit takes you back to the ‘good ole days’, Crafton is your guy.
“When I came into this deal when I was seven-years-old racing go-karts, I was there to win races and win trophies,” says Crafton. “That’s still my mindset. To bring home trophies and win races.”
For 18 years and counting, Crafton has been a fixture in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Having started 414 consecutive races, he’s the true ironman of the series. Maybe even more impressive is his loyalty to ThorSport Racing. Aside from the 2004 season, Crafton has spent his entire career driving for Duke Thorson.
“It’s been one hell of a ride to get where I’m at and one hell of a good ride,” Crafton says. “To see what we started with when I first came here – I raced once at the end of 2000 and raced full-time in 2001 – people would never believe it if they saw what we raced with back then to what we have now.”
His commitment has paid off and then some. He’s one of only four drivers to win multiple Truck Series championships and he’s the only one to win titles in back to back seasons, pulling off that feat in 2013 and 2014. With 14 wins, he ranks tied for tenth all-time in the series.
“To be a part of building it, every part of it, every year getting it better, and to win championships and races, it’s very, very sweet. And not many people can say that” he says.
The chance to move on from the Truck Series has been there. Multiple times. And every time Crafton politely said thanks, but no thanks. With ThorSport, he’s in equipment that makes him a threat to win in every race he enters. He has no desire to give that up.
“I didn’t want to drive something I couldn’t win in,” says Crafton. “There are plenty of Cup teams and Xfinity teams that I could drive for and they were underfunded.
“When people lose that mindset and it’s about going to try and make the almighty dollar, they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. They’re not doing it to win trophies and that’s what it’s all about to me.”
Crafton did get his shot to drive a Cup car for an elite team but in the worst set of circumstances. He filled in for Kyle Busch in the 2015 Daytona 500 when Busch broke his right leg and left foot in the Xfinity Series race the day prior. Crafton had just pulled into his driveway at home in Mooresville, North Carolina when he got the call.
“I literally got to the race track at about ten or eleven o’clock the night before the race,” he says. “Joe Gibbs’ plane was sitting in Concord so I packed my bags and drove to the airport, jumped into a plane and flew back to Daytona. I got up the next morning and sat in the seat and adjusted everything for me. It was such a quick, quick deal. It was crazy how fast it went by.”
Save for a last-lap crash not of his doing, Crafton avoided trouble all day and finished 18th, a more than respectable showing given the previous 24 hours.
“It definitely wasn’t what you wanted,” said Crafton. “I’m good friends with Kyle and to see him get hurt that day, and then to get the call that evening was definitely a hard situation to step into. And that was pretty much the best ride to step into. I didn’t have any practice in it and it was nerve-wracking for sure.”
Given the recent trend of drivers retiring in their 40’s, it’s easy to assume Crafton, 41, is entering the twilight of his career. Crafton says not so fast.
“A lot of those guys retiring have made so much money and have just been burned out running so many races,” he says. “Those Cup schedules can be so grueling. I look at Ron Hornaday. He was one of the guys I looked up to. He used to whip our asses each and every week and won a lot of championships when he was 50 years-old. I don’t see myself quitting until at least around there.”
And why would he quit soon anyway? His passion for racing is just as strong today as when he first jumped in a go-kart at seven-years-old.
“It’s still the same. I have a huge passion to win and run well. That’s what it’s all about. I love, love what I do.”
Just what you would expect to hear from a throwback.