From New Smyrna to Hickory, Luke Baldwin hopes to keep turning heads

Many storylines came out of this year’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway on Feb. 10-18. Perhaps the most surprising was the winning speed shown by 16-year-old Luke Baldwin.

The son of 2002 Daytona 500-winning crew chief and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour team owner Tommy Baldwin Jr., Luke Baldwin surprised even himself by earning two wins and a championship in the 602 Modified division at the World Series of Asphalt.

As if that weren‘t impressive enough, the victories and championship came in his first four starts behind the wheel of a 602 Modified.

“I caught everybody off guard. I caught myself off guard, as well,” Baldwin said. “Going down there, first time in a modified, [I was] expecting to just hopefully finish all the races and finish all the laps, learn a few things and gain some experience.

“To go out there and do that, it‘s pretty mind blowing for me. It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. Racing with the guys up front was a blast. We all had so much respect for each other. It was awesome.”

Baldwin started his run at New Smyrna with a fourth-place finish in the first 602 Modified race on Feb. 12, which was followed by an eighth-place finish one day later. He broke through for his first 602 Modified victory on Feb. 14 before winning the 66-lap finale on Feb. 16 to claim the division title.

The elder Baldwin, who is known to show little emotion, couldn‘t hide the smile on his face in Victory Lane after his son won the division finale. Amusingly, he had told his son that he would be on “restricted mode” during the World Series while he learned how to race a Modified.

That went out the window in a hurry after he finished fourth in his first race.

“As soon as I got out of the car and started giving him feedback, he was kind of mad at first that he had to treat it like another race-winning car,” Luke Baldwin said of his father. “Obviously he wasn‘t mad. He was super excited. Even after night one when I finished fourth on my first time out there, he was really proud of me.

“He was really excited, and as we went on, he got more and more excited and more happy. He was having a lot of fun with it.”

Luke Baldwin celebrates after winning the 602 Modified feature and championship during night 7 of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing event at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna, Florida on February 17, 2023. (Adam Fenwick/NASCAR)
Luke Baldwin celebrates after winning the 602 Modified feature and championship during night 7 of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing event at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna, Florida on February 17, 2023. (Adam Fenwick/NASCAR)

The impressive performance at New Smyrna has already paid dividends for Baldwin, who has secured an opportunity to race a pro late model in Hickory Motor Speedway’s season-opening event Saturday.

The deal came together in the pits at New Smyrna while Baldwin was talking to his friend Gavan Boschele, who was racing a pro late model for DLP Motorsports owner David “Buggy” Pletcher.

“I was over there at his trailer hanging out a lot,” Baldwin explained. “I got into a conversation about what it takes to drive (a Pro Late Model) not actually thinking that I was going to be doing it. Then me and my dad got to talking with Lorin Ranier at Speedweeks and he kind of got me setup with Buggy.

“Me and Buggy talked a lot and got a pretty good relationship going at New Smyrna. So he set me up with that, and I think we‘ve got a pretty good ride for this weekend.”

Baldwin’s car at Hickory will carry sponsorship from Shoreside Support, a mega yacht provisioning company owned by his older brother Tommy Baldwin III.

Luke Baldwin has never raced a pro late model, but last week at Hickory, he did get a chance to test the car he‘ll be racing. He said the 602 Modifieds and pro late models, while different, are surprisingly similar to drive.

“The late model is a little wider. That‘s going to be something, but I think I got used to that pretty quickly,” Baldwin said. “They‘re pretty similar with the pro late model being an offset chassis. I think it would be a lot different if I was driving a late model stock.

“Honestly, it just feels a little lighter with a little less grip with the skinnier tire. It shouldn‘t be too hard. I got the hang of it pretty quick [at the test]. The brakes are a little different; I‘ve got to work on that. It‘s going to be different with the people I‘m racing around and the racing style of everybody, but I‘m really excited to do it.”

If his performance at New Smyrna is any indication, Baldwin‘s pro late model debut could be one for the record books.

In addition to the 100-lap Pro Late Model event, Hickory will host the opening race of the season for all of its NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series divisions. The headlining class is the Late Model Stock Car division, which will compete in twin 40-lap features Saturday. Defending track champion Landon Huffman will be in the field as he looks to defend his title.

Other drivers expected to participate include Florence Motor Speedway IceBreaker winner Doug Barnes Jr., two-time Hickory track champion Austin McDaniel, defending Florence track champion Kade Brown, Clark Houston, Michael Bumgarner, Landon S. Huffman, Annabeth Barnes Crum and eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race winner Vicente Salas, among others.

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