Last year, the son of a legendary Delaware Speedway driver rolled to rookie of the year honours in the APC United Late Model series.
The same thing might happen again this summer.
Jo Lawrence has set the early first-year pace on the tour, taking over from now-sophomore Jake Sheridan. He sits third place in the point standings with a Saturday stop at Jukasa, the third of the 10-race schedule, on deck.
“It’s really early to judge how we’re doing,” Lawrence, a 24-year-old Londoner, said. “We’ve had a really good start and base to work off. It’s never been about rookie of the year or a championship. It’s have some fun and make the cars perform. If we focus on that, everything else will follow.”
Lawrence views the driving part as a bonus.
“I really enjoy working on cars,” he said. “It’s fun to wrench on them. I’ve always been into it and, with my dad (the late super stock star Dave Lawrence), I was around it since I was no taller than one of the tires.”
When he finished high school, Jo Lawrence sold his own car but immersed himself in the business by enrolling at the University of Northwestern Ohio. The Lima-based school features a high-performance automotive program with a number of instructors with racing experience.
“One of my teachers used to race USAC midgets and told us about winning a championship one year over Jeff Gordon,” Lawrence recalled. “The opportunities you got to talk to him were amazing. The class sizes really impressed me in my years there. The most we ever had in a class was 30, so there was a lot of one-on-one time.
“I really think there it taught me to look at the full picture of what you’re doing and not get caught up in the single moment.”
When classes ended, he was happy to lend a hand back home.
“I was going where people wanted me,” he said. “I was helping at Delaware and I was helping Nick Goetz with his limiteds at Sunset Speedway. There, I occasionally drove the backup car and that started to turn into a little more driving than just the one-off here and there.”
When Goetz Motorsports decided to enter two cars in the APC series, Lawrence was the obvious next man up with some familiar backing of the No. 78 Dodge.
“APC jumped on with Pennzoil, who used to sponsor my dad, too,” he said. “It was a good connection to gain and run with them. I never really honestly thought about driving in this series until the opportunity came about. The competition and talent level is beyond anything else I’ve done so far.
“It’s been a big challenge — nothing but lots of fun.”
The first race, fittingly was at Sunset. He finished seventh, then followed up with a top-five result at Flamboro.
“I’ve run a lot of years at Delaware,” he said. “The most recent, I’ve been at Sunset. I feel like they’re both my home tracks. It was definitely a confidence-booster to do well in the first race. You’re always a little nervous. I feel l have the experience to be up there with everybody, but I’ve never had the challenge to prove it.”
He is also running the weekly late model series at Delaware, but weather has limited that class to just one race day to date. Lawrence won a feature and finished second, behind Sheridan, in another. Last year, as a part-timer, he was the only driver other than Sheridan and champion Jesse Kennedy to reach Victory Lane.
There is little question he shares his dad’s fundamental belief in the camaraderie of the sport. Last year, Jo was feted at Delaware with the track’s highest honour — the Harborne/Lawrence Spirit of racing award, named in memory of Stan Harborne and Dave Lawrence.
“I learned from watching him in the way he went about racing others,” Jo said. “He always wanted to beat someone on the track. If we have spare parts and somebody needed something, then they got it. It’s no fun beating someone because they can’t race and they’re stuck in the pits.”
Jo’s current team is a nice collection of friends who used to help his dad and the united Goetz crew. Despite early success, they have been busy.
“We’re doing this altogether and we’ve been changing a lot,” Lawrence said. “The car always had speed. We’re trying to find that comfortable drive I’m looking for. We’ve been searching for it.
“I don’t feel out of place at all in this series, but I think it’s quite a challenge. Anyone can win on any given week, but I do believe, come our time, we can get a win this year.”